3 tips for building branded browser applications

Add-ons, plug-ins, and browser extensions are all pretty much the same: small technology applications users can download into their browsers. These applications make browsing the internet more convenient for users, but they also provide opportunities for you to promote your brand, products, and services.

But why are they important? Well, remember when email was an essential part of the marketing mix? We loved it because everybody checked email. Now, inboxes are flooded, and all of us need a new way to reach our audiences. Where else do our customers go every day? The internet -- and they get there with a browser. Therefore, understandably, the latest trend in marketing is to get your brand, content, and products right into the users' browser windows. How do you do that? Enter add-ons, plug-ins, and browser extensions.

You may be intimidated by technology and don't know where to begin. Or you might be concerned that you need technical skills to use and maintain these applications. In actuality, you will be surprised how easy it is to do.

You should begin at the end, by considering the outcomes. Think about what you want to occur, and then decide how to get there.

Consider the user action
First, consider what action you want users to take -- come to your website, buy your product, participate in an online discussion, etc. An excellent example of a company who took this approach is Travelocity. It first determined that it wanted to improve engagement and keep travelers coming back more often. The company then found a proven engagement and retention tool in a community toolbar, which enables users to book flights, hotels, and vacations directly in their browser windows.

This toolbar has opened a direct selling channel and includes a news ticker to announce special deals available only to toolbar users. Travelocity no longer has to wait for users to visit its site because the brand is prominent in browser windows every time users log onto the internet. All told, Travelocity toolbar users participate more frequently with the company, because the community toolbar produces new opportunities each day for Travelocity to market to them.

What's your best stuff?
Next, consider what software or content you can offer -- at no cost -- to entice your audience to come to your site or buy your products. In other words, what is your best stuff? An example of a company that did just that is Babystrology, which created a baby countdown pregnancy ticker widget. The pregnancy ticker is addictive and a constant reminder of the brand, special offers, new products, and more. There have been nearly 630,000 installs of this extension, continually linking customers and users to the Babystrology online store.

Also, consider if your customers would use your product more often if they didn't have to come to your site to get it. In other words, does it need to be more convenient to access? If so, consider the example of WeatherBug. WeatherBug targets consumers, governments, schools/school districts, and broadcasters with its 8,000 WeatherBug tracking stations and more than 1,000 cameras. WeatherBug created a desktop application for consumer and business users with the purpose of delivering live local weather conditions, forecasts, and life-saving severe weather alerts -- all leveraging the existing WeatherBug Tracking Station network. Within eight months of the initial launch, 1.5 million users had downloaded WeatherBug to their computers, and now the company has many more users because it no longer must rely on users remembering to visit their site.

Think about how to deploy the content
Finally, think about how your content might be best deployed using an add-on. Could it be delivered as a game, a news feed, or a content distribution tool? If your audience is kids, maybe a game will be best. If it is working adults, a productivity tool would be better. One example is the ShareThis gadget, a great content syndication tool that any publisher can place on their site.

The gadget gives readers a quick and easy way to share information through social media sites and blogs. Companies such as Boston.com, Sony Online Entertainment, and the Cincinnati Bengals use ShareThis to syndicate information about new products, specials, and events. If the information is interesting enough, fans will share the information with others and take care of distribution, with no further effort required by these companies.

Once you know the outcome you want, it is easy to find or create the add-on, plug-in, or browser extension you need. When applied strategically, browser applications can enhance e-commerce returns, broaden your available audience, increase engagement and site traffic, and improve the overall recognition of your brand. Of course, email has its place, but as you've seen, browser extensions have the power to give your brand flight. This is good news for all marketers competing for eyeballs and returns in today's crowded online atmosphere.

Adam Boyden is president of Conduit.

 

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