In the effort to get portable media like widgets or applications approved and into market, the process will often dilute the ability of the program to "just like" status.
But releasing a widget that is just like your website, just what can be produced in six weeks, or just what's left over in the quarter's budget will only test those parameters. To realize significant results from the channel, consider these exercises. You'll end up with a product that makes a difference in the market.
The courage to invest in not knowing the answer first
There are a million easy answers for quickly creating widgets. Pursuing this path usually means the only difference between your widget and the 10 million other ones is the logo. That won't differentiate your brand or your value in the marketplace.
Having a starting point of "something a lot like this one we saw" is great in an internal brainstorm, but it may not make a bit of a difference to your audience. Invest in a design phase to understand and test against your audience. You'll be thanked with a widget that has greater impact in less time and budget than you thought.
Think less in terms of websites, more about industrial design
When considering a widget launch, "website, but smaller" will only get you so far. What you present in the widget is more akin to an application or appliance than your dotcom. Take advantage of the fact that this isn't the website. You're not restricted to the parameters of the browser in creating an experience that resonates with your audience. Look at ways to optimize what you offer in more familiar contexts that replicate tangible experience.
Who are the people that will use the widget?
The short answer: Not everyone. You should take at least two groups into account: The people who will use the widget, and the people who will be affected by that use. Because you're focusing on utility, you need to look at what the people key to your brand will need the widget for, and then how those actions will impact or improve someone else's experience.
In the most basic sense, this is the "share" button. What would someone share? Why would they share that information? How and where will that information be used by the recipient?
Where does your widget fit in the daily discourse?
What does the average day look like to the person who needs your widget? What is the physical context of the application? Is it most likely used during the day? At work in a cube? At home in the living room? Or on a laptop inside a work truck? Answering these questions about the space will naturally lead to valuable insight into what functionality to offer, and how to design for it.
Don't leave it on an island
How will you support the widget deployment and adoption? Email is a good bet, as is a supporting section of your site with information to help both savvy early-adopters and the inexperienced alike.
Another terrifically under-utilized area is your display buy. Often, the widget will be created in Flash. Accounting for this production method up-front will allow you to create a version of the widget that users can try within Flash banners and download straight from the banner.
Hopefully, these few forgotten items will help you uncover new ways to help your audience in the space. It's more important than ever in this economy to show an audience you can be useful to them at the times they need you than it is to throw another bauble at people who are already inundated with them.
What have your experiences been? Share your insights in the comment section below.
Michael Leis is a strategic consultant helping brand leadership and agencies find new ways to connect with people who matter. He blogs at blog.michaelleis.com.