The first flush of widget marketing has passed, lessons have been learned, and best practices are beginning to emerge. But where are widgets now, what is working, what isn't, and where is widget marketing going?
As widget marketing expands, evolves and matures, a new relationship-focused messaging model has emerged. This poses organizational challenges; widgets may look like banner ads, but they are starting to behave more like email.
Email is the internet's original "killer app," and an enormous industry has grown up around the commercial aspects of using email as a brand communication channel. Display media, search and email form the three pillars of internet marketing, and most brands spend considerable resources on all three. Widgets represent a new addition to the mix. But where do they fit in exactly?
As with any mature industry, search, email and display media have evolved their own best practices, supporting businesses and professional specialists (generally with their own departments within their organizations).
Email marketing is generally focused on long-term relationship-building activity such as messaging, growing lists, managing and segmenting users, messaging and tracking those users -- all with ultimate goal of demonstrable ROI.
Display media and search are almost exclusively focused on acquisition and tend to be organized around relatively short-term campaigns with very specific goals. So far, widget marketing is not functioning as a new form of digital marketing, but rather as an adjunct to relationship and acquisition marketing, which poses an organizational challenge: Who manages widget campaigns? Early widget marketing has tended to look rather like banner campaigns, but with a potentially large viral component. Now widgets are being deployed that deliver targeted messages and content in order to build long-term brand relationships.
Widgets have different roles for different goals
Let's take a closer look at some of the different roles widgets are playing as part of a brand's marketing strategy. By better understanding these categories, widget developers will be better able to use their own widgets to meet their ROI goals.
Branded social widgets: These widgets can behave like banner ads and are often campaign-based for events like movie releases. Companies like ClearSpring and Gigya deliver these sorts of widgets by the millions. Target platforms tend to be blog platforms such as TypePad or blogger and widgets for social media widget environments like Facebook or MySpace. One of the challenges of these campaign-based widgets is that of audience -- when the campaign is over, what happens to all of those widget installations? The widget could be updated to a new campaign, but it might be impolite to the user if they downloaded one widget and it turned into something else they were not interested in.
Branded relationship widgets: These are widgets whose lead goal is to deliver highly relevant personal messaging or functionality. Target platforms tend to be personalized start pages such as NetVibes, social media applications, desktop widgets like Google Desktop, and desktop applications. These get more interesting the more relevant the widgets are, either through user-selected parameters or by user authentication. Direct response personal widgets enable the user to receive personalized messages and make one-click orders right through the widget.
B2B enterprise 2.0 widgets: These are widgets deployed by businesses for other business users; this seems to be a growth area. The problems of deliverability and inbox clutter are even more vexing for companies with distributed sales forces or large numbers of employees, and many businesses are using out-of-date and expensive means of information deliverability (CDs and faxes even). Saving money, delivering more relevant and timely documents, establishing new communication channels and the ability to measure all of the above is making sense to companies with networks of agents, advisors and franchises. These B2B-facing widgets are generally desktop applications, although mobile applications are starting to be seen as well, with LinkedIn and Facebook becoming interesting platforms.
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