Don't let their size fool you. These tiny, web-enabled applications are changing the way we consume content, and in a very big way.
The earliest form of widgets dates back to the early 1980s, with the introduction of Apple's Mac OS with Desk Accessories. These were simple desktop applications that ran in their own windows -- calculator, calendar, clock, notepad and games, to name a few. In the mid-1990s, My Yahoo introduced customizable start pages with web-enabled news, weather, sports scores, and other content delivered to its members from across the Yahoo network.
Elizabeth Heldenbrand is a media analyst at Mediasmith.
Fast forward to the 21st century, web-enabled applications known as widgets (or gadgets, if you prefer the Google term; applications if you prefer the Facebook term) now live on the desktop, in customizable start pages such as My Yahoo and iGoogle, and they are thriving within social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Widgets are also gaining traction on mobile devices, but it is within their online environment that they are making the greatest impact.
As many marketers know, the media environment has become increasingly fragmented, yet full of opportunity; TV ratings are far lower on average, yet flat in aggregate. Consumers are taking control of their media consumption, and in the process becoming increasingly savvy and more advertising averse. On the flip side, this has opened a window of opportunity for advertisers and agencies to develop innovative technologies and techniques to align with this change in media consumption. The primary change is that consumers are much more involved with their media consumption -- to the point that they are not so much consuming their experience, but rather programming it.
In this digital world, we must learn to be less intrusive, to abide by the consumer's rules and operate on their own terms if we want to succeed. Widgets represent one small, yet powerful opportunity marketers are employing to do just that. How so? Here are some key points to consider about widgets and their marketing potential:
- Pull vs. push: Unlike other marketing tactics, widgets represent pull vs. push. By downloading or embedding your widgets, the user has chosen to engage with your widget or brand on their own terms.
- Earn the real estate: Widgets can easily be added, but also easily removed. In order to stay in a user's environment, a widget must justify itself by providing something of value -- either it must be really fun or really useful. While these are ultimately subjective, and adoption/retention is impossible to predict, users don't want purely promotional widgets that don't give them something back in return.
- Frequency: It's not just the quality of content that counts, but also the frequency of updates. Don't let widgets get stale.
Essentially, anything that can be found on the internet can be "widgetized." But be careful to follow point No. 2. If you build it, they won't necessarily come or even stay.
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