Widgets are, by definition, rich media. They're experiences created for consumers and, in many instances, by consumers. According to comScore's April widget data (very outdated since the May launch of Facebook's f8 application development platform, not to mention the fact comScore only tracks Flash-based widgets), as well as Facebook's most-popular widget list, none of the most popular Web-based widgets are advertiser-branded.
ComScore says over 40 percent of Internet users have visited a page using embedded/widgetized content. If these widgets are so popular, how can brands utilize this rapidly growing technology to satisfy marketing goals?
It starts with their agencies, most likely their interactive agencies. Brands should rely on their agencies to be on top of emerging trends and technologies. But who's responsible for leading the charge? The media agency? The creative agency? The public relations firm?
The answer may be all three. Each should look at how this not-so-new technology fits into a very new advertising and marketing model. Let's explore both the present and future of widgets' role in the advertising agency model.
Currently, widgets are the realm of developers and creatives (is there really much of a difference anymore?). The questions of "How can we build it?" "How can we host it?" and "How can we track it?" are ones the developers can answer. The virality, usability, or practicality of any individual widget is usually left for the user-interface-focused creative teams. But the problem is that within the average traditional digital agency infrastructure, these departments are siloed from the account, strategy, and media teams. Though it may be possible to build a widget, it becomes very difficult to build, distribute to, and sustain an audience with a successful widget strategy.
That audience retention is what will mature the widget ecosystem from a buzzword into a full-blown marketing strategy for all brands to consider.
Retention begins with a good experience. I recently came across a blog post that provided six guidelines for a widget's success: incentive, interactivity, viral elements, traffic-driving elements, linking, and branding. In this context, "branding" means branding the widget using the creator's (e.g., RockYou's) identity. Branding with an advertiser's identity is something completely different.
Most advertiser-branded widgets out there are promotional. They're short-term initiatives, requiring a burst of media dollars to distribute them to a critical mass in a short time. If a widget is only embedded for that short period, fewer people see, use, and share it, dampening long-term impact. The maturation of promotional widgets into relationship-driving tools will be what eventually gets brands to commit time, resources, and dollars. It's agencies' responsibility to create these opportunities.
A relationship-sustaining widget strategy would simply be an application (in more ways than one) of the principles behind good CRM (define). For these strategies to be implemented, they must be presented by agencies that truly understand how those principles can be applied. It requires not only developers and creatives working closely with media teams but public relations as well. If social media's evolution in general hasn't made this abundantly clear, the widget evolution will reinforce the point.
Creatives must understand the context of distribution systems when developing widgets. Media teams must learn how to negotiate widget-distribution fees and costs. PR professionals must evolve from spin doctors into relationship builders and managers.
When someone commits to friending (define) a social network profile, or accepting or downloading a widget, they're saying "yes" to the beginning of a relationship. Unless that relationship stays relevant, we're merely engaging in a one-night stand with the consumer. In one-night stands, one party usually wants more out of the relationship than the other. Guess which one the brand is?
So now that we agree on what a successful widget is and what a successful advertiser-branded widget should be, how do we do it?
That's the million-dollar question. It begins with understanding your consumers: their online usage habits, their site visitation patterns, the content they share, and the information they seek. If you can develop an application that satisfies your audience's needs (even if they didn't realize they had those needs), associating it with your brand should be rather simple. Consumers aren't necessarily passionate about the average brand. But the brands consumers are loyal to consistently provide them with relatable solutions to everyday problems.
Want a clean-smelling room? Here's a desktop widget to remind you when to change your air freshener.
Want to let everyone know what your current energy level is? Here's a link to have your friends buy you a tall, grande, or venti coffee.
Distribution is every bit as important as quality. Though quality may beget distribution, media dollars can lubricate the adoption process. But if brands don't maintain the relationship with consumers over time, widgets become temporary. Being evergreen should not only be every brand's goal but also every widget's goal. Those goals can only be reached by a universal understanding by all facets of advertising, marketing, and public relations of what makes a successful widget -- and what makes a widget successful.
A successful, evergreen, branded widget? Now we're talking.
Is your agency engineered to raise a mature widget strategy?
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Ian Schafer, CEO and founder of Deep Focus, consistently redefines the way entertainment properties are marketed online. Ian founded Deep Focus in 2002 to bring a holistic suite of interactive marketing and promotional solutions to the entertainment industry. The company's clients include America Online, Dimension Films, HBO, MGM, Nickelodeon, Sony/BMG Music, 20th Century Fox, Universal Music Group, and many others. As former VP of New Media at Miramax and Dimension Films, Ian was responsible for their most popular online campaigns. He's been featured as an expert in online entertainment marketing and advertising in numerous media outlets including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Advertising Age, and CNN.