What’s Up With Widgets?

Until now widgets (a.k.a., gadgets, modules, badges, blog bling, and bligets) have been viewed more as technology toys than marketing tools. Recently, with an increase in offerings from established companies as well as a number of startups, widgets have gained popularity with marketers.

Widgets can be fun, useful, and cost-effective. They can exist on a user’s desktop, a Web site, an aggregation site (e.g., Pageflakes and Netvibes), or a third-party site or be incorporated into an ad unit. At their best, widgets keep a brand in front of customers and are a click away from your Web site. They can also enable your customers to express their affiliation with a product or brand.

Seven Ways to Use Widgets

From a marketing perspective, widgets are useful to:

  • Extend branding. Discretely apply branding to widgets to keep your brand prominent. But if the message overwhelms the widget, it will turn off potential users.

  • Drive traffic to your site. With feeds of pertinent information, you can drive users back to your Web site while creating in-bound links that aid search.
  • Create a persistent presence. If users download your widgets to their desktops, aggregators, or other sites they visit frequently, they’ll find it easier to access your Web site and offering.
  • Develop cool viral tools to reach a broader audience. Consider the consumer perspective. If your widget is useful or fun, they’ll pass it along.
  • Piggyback on emerging media. Expand your presence in formats where it may be difficult or expensive to create a new channel, such as social media, desktop applications, mobile, instant messaging, and blogs.
  • Distribute targeted, dynamic information through an ad-served unit. Integrate information through feeds disseminated through ad units on third-party sites.
  • Embed content on other sites or blogs via partnerships. Use widgets to distribute information through partner sites.

Marketing Considerations

Assess the following factors when deciding to use widgets in a marketing program:

  • Solve one user problem. Widgets work best when they have a single focus.

  • Tap into compelling, continually updated information. This information must be readily useful and targeted from a consumer perspective. Weather, time, game scores, and current prices all fit this profile.
  • Use different types of content. Try RSS feeds, text, pictures, video, or audio.
  • Integrate your product or brand into the experience. To ensure the widget supports marketing goals, incorporate product branding. For example, consider a countdown clock for a major event tied to your brand.
  • Ensure ease of use and usability. If consumers have problems with a widget, they won’t use it. Remember to test on a full range of technology clients to avoid complaints.
  • Use multiple methods of distribution:
    • Post on sites that aggregate widgets, such as Google, Yahoo, Pageflakes, and Netvibes.

    • Add tools to facilitate social action and tagging, such as del.ico.us and digg, as well as forward-to-a-friend functionality.
    • Post and promote widgets at all customer touch points to expand usage.
    • Promote widgets on your Web site, including on the home page, in footers, and across the site.
    • Promote your widget in e-mail newsletters.
    • Cross-promote widgets in customer service and other high-volume e-mailings.

Widget Marketing Caveats

Some problems to watch out for when using widgets are: they may hurt site performance, create a security issue by adding new JavaScript code to a site, and not work on every user’s client system. They also may create branding, clutter, and design issues, as Jeremy Zawodny has pointed out.

FeedBurner’s Don Loeb suggests using a third-party solution to mitigate these potential issues’ effect with better infrastructure, security, and partnerships with sites like MySpace to enable marketers to create widgets that operate on platforms that may not otherwise accept them.

Measuring a Widget’s Marketing Results

Since using widgets in marketing is still evolving, so are the metrics that assess their results. It’s important to determine business objectives and the indicators needed to measure success before building the widget. ClickTracks’ John Marshall notes that in doing this, you can ensure the appropriate metrics are incorporated into the execution.

Basic metrics to watch:

  • User interface usability. Apply usability measures to widgets to ensure consumers find them easy to use. Utility and coolness must outweigh difficulty of use.

  • Downloads. The most basic way to track widget use is to count the number of times it’s been downloaded.
  • Activity. This can be measured in terms of time spent with your brand or content. Depending on how your widget is executed and the type of content it contains, metrics may vary. If the widget provides information via RSS feeds, feed volume can be tracked.
  • Buzz. Consider both consumer feedback, such as that for Purina’s widget, as well as broader measures. Since many marketers may use widgets primarily to drive viral marketing, online buzz metrics, including blog mentions, can be used.

While widgets can be great for consumer engagement, the best executions contain compelling content, are easy to use, and fulfill a clear consumer need. Before starting your campaign, assess potential issues that can discourage rapid market adoption. Remember to consider campaign measurement issues up front and include the capture of the relevant data before you roll out your nifty new widget.

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