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Got widgets? Now what?

Marti Funk
Got widgets? Now what? Marti Funk

Call them what you will -- widgets, gadgets, wadgets, minis or whatever else the industry drums up. The bottom line is that these "things" (we'll call them widgets in this article) have created an enormous buzz in online media. And for good reason. Widgets represent a powerful means to connect advertisers with a mass of users, in the spirit of increasing customer loyalty and, ultimately, revenue -- but only when deployed smartly.

Widget defined
First, let's establish a basic understanding of widgets. Technically, "widget" is the common term for a portable chunk of code that can be embedded on any web page to add utilities or content that is not static (e.g., a news feed). Functionally, widgets have gained popularity as a way for websites to enhance the user experience, particularly on the rapidly growing number of social media sites, by allowing people to add, share and create information relative to their interests.

While the industry has seen a handful of successful installations with scale (e.g., maps, weather, calendars, horoscopes, music, etc.), widgets have created -- thus far, in one person's humble opinion -- more noise than value. If media companies don't take a more disciplined approach around widgets, we will see their novelty wear off like many other innovations. That said, there still is a tremendous opportunity to move beyond the hype and deploy widgets in a manner that truly enhances your brand and the user experience.

Start by focusing on the following basic media planning strategies:

Thoughtful concept development
From the onset, it's important to clearly define your widget and its role within your broader media mix. Often, widgets are deployed without much consideration for their true business value. When developing your widget strategy, adhere to the basic tenets of media planning: timeliness, frequency and relevance.

Like any strategic planning, start by clearly identifying your target audience, first placing yourself in your customers' shoes and then in your brand's shoes. By no means is this a new concept. Yet you'd be surprised by how many widgets are developed that don't gain significant traction. Ultimately, you want your customers to answer "Yes!" when asked if they would place your widget on their profile page. In fact, it wouldn't hurt to conduct a customer survey or poll to that effect.

Next, before moving forward with any widget development and deployment, address the question, "How can I leverage my audience needs to create an affinity with my product, service or brand?"

Below are guidelines on how to add value for your users through widgets:

  • Save them time. Deliver the information that users want and seek out on a regular basis by personalizing their experience (e.g., "Remember Me" and "My Preferences") and creating frequency (e.g., stock quotes, weather reports, election results and so forth).

  • Save them money. Offer promotions that entice them based on their interests, wants and needs. For example, PETCO might consider offering discounts on a pet-related site, while Patagonia and Sidestep target lifestyle sites.

  • Reinforce the relationship. Let users know you care by consistently delivering fresh, relevant content. For music junkies, this might be concert ticket promotions and memorabilia. Or scoreboard tickers and schedules for sports enthusiasts.

  • Entertain them. Offer light content (e.g., videos, event coverage, movie trailers) that they can digest quickly -- when they have time.

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Targeted distribution
While it worked in the movie "Field of Dreams," in the world of widgets, "if you build it, they will come" does not apply. Simply developing and deploying a widget does not mean people automatically will see it, much less use it.

When it comes to rolling out a new widget, success hinges on a well-defined and valid distribution strategy that, again, incorporates the basics of media planning by including timely and personalized content.

Also, while distribution is not synonymous with a broad-based media plan, it does need to focus on a clear understanding of your audience and its role within the larger marketing and communications effort.

We all will learn more as the widget paradigm evolves. In the interim, it's wise to focus on your "lowest hanging fruit" -- or core audience. We are in a fascinating digital space where convergence and consumer control are leading communication mechanisms and successful distribution of your widgets can play a significant role in attracting and retaining customers.

Below are general guidelines for creating targeted distribution of widgets:

  • Leverage your brand ambassadors. Ensure that your internal and external influencers (including placement on lists and websites) are at the top of your distribution list. They often have a broad network of associates within your targeted communities, thereby quickly extending your reach. 

  • Entice and engage. Reward users for their participation and advocacy of your widgets. Customer loyalty programs that offer discounts for usage and referrals are an excellent way to keep users coming back.

  • Keep it simple. Don't recreate the wheel. Advertising.com's Joel Fisher highlighted a few key techniques at iMedia's Brand Summit on Feb. 11, such as leveraging industry standards, following publisher specifications and utilizing Flash technology.

Modeling and measurement
It's imperative to track and measure both engagement and exposure, to know whether your widgets strategy is working or not.

Good, bad or indifferent, digital media will continue -- at least through 2008 -- to rely on metrics and accountability. Therefore, the industry must seek ways to understand intentions through merging qualitative and quantitative objectives.

Below are guidelines for ensuring accurate measurement of widgets:

  • Set clear objectives. Tie your widget execution to your overall marketing strategy. Define what you are trying to achieve, whether it's better awareness, more traffic or increased revenue.

  • Establish success metrics. Set milestones or "test" metrics to measure against your objectives, particularly if this is your first foray into widgets.

  • Test, analyze and optimize. Follow this measurement rule of thumb from digital disciplinarians. Project primary exposure, installations, pass-alongs, secondary exposure and usage. Enable measurement tools to track those metrics. And set optimization timing and tactics.

Other considerations and cautions
Keep in mind that, even though heavyweights such as Facebook, iGoogle and MySpace have a huge potential audience, all of our great widget exploits further yield media fragmentation. Monitoring the impact of the following will help you create and deploy widgets with scale and effectiveness, as opposed to creating additional noise.

  • Convergence. We need to be honest with potential usage based on a couple of factors: 1) Beware of audience double-dipping and 2) Allow your consumers to bring an experience to life in their third-party environment.

  • Technology. Consumer-controlled media and open APIs have allowed platforms such as Facebook, iGoogle and other social communities to thrive, making it even more imperative to consider usage and target-ability.

  • Content. Even though the audience may be counted under a particular address (e.g. facebook.com), valuable content will drive usage. Trusted content providers that create relevant extensions on for third-party platforms have had good success, particularly in terms of brand integration.

  • Return on investment. To further increase revenue, consider content licensing and syndication, setup and production fees, and server/tracking technologies.

By beginning to apply these media planning principles to your widget strategy, you'll be ahead of the game in both serving your audience and improving your business results.

Marti Funk is vice president of client solutions and insights  for Sportgenic.

Marti Funk

As Senior Vice President of iMedia Communications NA, Marti Funk is responsible for the iMedia business.Marti has over 15 years of experience in marketing, media, business management and has a unique perspective having time spent on the agency,...

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