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4 winning widget strategies

Mitchel K. Ahern
4 winning widget strategies Mitchel K. Ahern

Marketers are talking about widgets; a search of just iMedia Connection turns up 244 results, and comScore reports that during November 2007, nearly 148 million U.S. internet users viewed a widget, representing more than 80 percent of the total audience. There are a number of well-funded companies focusing on widget marketing implementations.

Marketers seem mostly to be looking at widgets as a new form of advertising media with a potentially large viral component, and  indeed there have been some highly successful viral widget campaigns. The Cloverfield movie widget was viewed more than 17 million times, with more than 25,000 consumer embeds.

Certainly placing a widget on a public blog or social media site can lead to a large number of viewers, depending on popularity. However, users are also placing widgets on their personal start pages and desktops. Many users are using social media platforms such as Facebook as personal information spaces, without a large "audience" of watchers.

While these sorts of users are not going to contribute significantly to the viral reach of a widget media campaign, they are highly valuable to brands as part of their relationship marketing strategy. As customers continue to shift their attention online, and as online customers shift their attention away from banner ads and monolithic websites, branded widget networks are becoming the new ground to engage customers in an ongoing dialogue.

Beyond acquisition: relationship marketing engagement
The retention and nurturing of existing customers has become increasingly important to brands and marketing agencies as the costs and difficulty of acquiring new customers continues to rise. The reasons for the rise of acquisition costs are various: declining clickthrough rates on banner ads, the difficulty of getting people to return to websites, and most of all the increasing costs of search marketing terms, particularly for highly competitive terms.

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Given the costs of acquisition, brand marketers are shifting some resources to managing the lifetime value of their existing customers. By developing an ongoing relationship with their audience, brands can learn more about their customers both individually and as a group. This enables better targeting of content and offers and lowers the cost of conversion. By increasing the relevancy of ongoing brand interaction, more and longer-term relationships emerge, which keeps the brand top-of-mind and can even help drive desired behaviors. By progressively building a profile of their customers, brand marketers enable new opportunities for efficiently cross-selling and up-selling products to their existing audience.

A valuable side effect of establishing a deeper, richer relationship with your customers is that you enable them to share their brand enthusiasm within their social circle. While high-percentage viral campaigns are a wonderful jackpot to achieve, an ongoing 5-10 percent viral boost to your audience can add significant numbers over time.

Private and public facing widget platforms
There has been a tendency in the discussion of the evolving field of widget marketing to think of widgets as a single technology, and from a technical standpoint that is mostly true -- with light modification a widget can be made to run on a large number of different platforms. However, despite the technical similarities, there are different classes of widgets that are used in quite divergent ways.

These classes are:

  1. Public widget platforms

  2. Private widget platforms

  3. Public/private social media platforms

  4. Branded desktop applications.

Understanding the differences will enable you to reach your audience in the best way.

Public widget platforms are blogs and personal websites, generally running on platforms such as WordPress, TypePad, Blogger and others. Each of these platforms has its own particular technical quirks and policies. For example, the current WordPress.com policy is that absolutely no commercial widgets are allowed to be installed on their platform. These public widget platforms tend to be the focus of the "write once run anywhere" business model used by providers such as ClearSpring.

Private widget platforms cover a wider variety of technologies and are used by consumers as elements of their own personal build-it-yourself information/entertainment spaces. Technologies include: personalized start pages such as Netvibes, iGoogle, Live.com and My Yahoo; desktop widgets such as Yahoo Widgets, Mac Dashboard, Vista Sidebar and Google Gadgets; and mobile widget applications such as Yahoo Mobile, Nokia Widsets, Zumobi and iPhone applications.

Public/private social media platforms are used as both a personal information/entertainment space and as a public-facing display platform with deeply embedded viral capabilities. The two most prominent of these are Facebook and MySpace, with others such as LinkedIn focusing on more defined niche audiences. Social media platforms support not only the same style of widget found in pubic and private platforms, but also a broader range of social media applications.

Branded desktop applications (BDAs) are a technology that pre-dates the widget era but partakes of many of the same features as other widget platforms. The chief differentiator is that since BDAs are stand-alone applications, they are much more powerful and can directly access system resources so they can support features like slide-up alerts, complex data management, desktop document delivery and windowless interactive animation.

Managing widget networks and widget meta-applications
The build-once-run-anywhere model is very attractive for media-style campaigns that are looking for a significant viral take-up of naturally attractive content such as movie campaigns. When developing a widget strategy for long-term relationship engagement, the goals and techniques are quite different and require more nuanced widget implementations tailored to the strengths, features and audience of each constituent platform.

A branded widget network is a suite of related widgets, desktop applications and Web 2.0 social media applications deployed as a focused, brand-centric relationship engagement strategy. It differs from a syndicated set of widgets in that its constituent widget elements and the content channels that feed them are managed separately depending on the technical nature of each platform and that platform’s audience.

A widget meta-application is a branded widget network that is being driven by an over-arching application that manages the interaction between content channels, content management, user management and meta-application functionality. A user of a widget meta-application might use a desktop application to set parameters for their personal start pages, or remember purchase options selected on their mobile application when they order from their social media applications.
Beyond the platform considerations, brands and marketers need to clearly understand their business goals, and which parameters of a relationship marketing strategy will attain them. For example, a branded widget network may include authentication to enable more personalized content delivery and product ordering.

Private widget networks in the real world
While branded syndicated widgets have been in play for a while now, true branded widget networks and widget meta-applications are only now beginning to come on line. 

One application that has recently launched is for a national retail quick-serve food chain. They developed a branded widget network driven by a widget meta-application that makes it easy for the customer to order their favorite take-out meal from any node of their branded widget network. The network is authenticated and principally private-facing and displays offer content to the user based on their preferences and geographic location. For users who view the widget on someone’s page, such as their Facebook page, they can access their own account or download the application to their own page.

A multi-location resort that we work with has been at the forefront of the widget revolution, and has expanded its original desktop application into a multi-node widget network that includes a screenmate, Mac communicator, Mac Dashboard Widget, IE toolbar, Zumobi application, Facebook application, MySpace widget and web widget. This widget network has generated 18:1 positive ROI, with 85 percent of that revenue coming not from the offers, but from other widget network engagement tactics.

Outlook and conclusions
It is clear that the way consumers are interacting with news, entertainment and brands is rapidly changing. The rush to digital by traditional print media is accelerating, and the boundaries between radio, television, cable and mobile are becoming harder to find. For the time being, the only constant will be more change, with new media platforms continuing to debut, and formerly robust platforms collapsing in on themselves. It is imperative for brands to establish communication channels within these platforms just to keep up with their customers.

A key aspect to nearly all of these new technologies is the enablement of user control and communication, which means all marketing is going to become more like a dialogue and less like an eyeball hunt.

Understanding and leveraging the difference between pubic and private widgets is one way marketers and brands can maintain an ongoing dialogue with their audience. You must engage with your audience where they are.

Mitchel Ahern is the director of product management for OTOlabs.


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Commenter: peter lee

2008, July 18

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