Your guide to working with widgets


iMedia Connection

What the heck is a widget?

Over the past couple of years, yet another new term has entered the marketer’s vocabulary; that term of course is “widget.” And while many people are already talking about widgets 2.0, many others are just starting to pay attention. Whether you think widgets are the most annoying fad ever or the most innovative trend in interactive, there is no denying they are part of our industry dialogue. These days, I can’t have a conversation with a publisher, salesman or colleague, read an article or attend a conference where the word and topic is not being debated. Often the debate centers on the mere definition of a widget — not how or when they should be used, or who is leading the way.

Beyond the definition of a widget, what qualifies as a widget is being debated in marketing conference rooms around the world. Depending on the size and focus of your company, and your role within it, you may have debated whether this new “thing” should be called a widget, a gadget, a desktop application, a downloadable application, or some cool new name native to your company.

With that said, let’s take a deeper look at the what, why, when, who and how of widgets. Beyond the definitions I’ve heard, I thought I would first see what had to say. As I expected, the results were as varied as the debate:

1. Widget [wij-it] — noun — a small mechanical device, as a knob or switch, esp. one whose name is not known or cannot be recalled; gadget: a row of widgets on the instrument panel. 2. In graphical user interfaces, a combination of a graphic symbol and some program code to perform a specific function (e.g. a scroll-bar or button). 3. A device or control that is very useful for a particular job usually provides widget libraries containing commonly used widgets drawn in a certain style and with consistent behavior.

Or what about this simple and more industry-specific definition found at — “Widgets are small content features that help make your site personal and unique.”

Some of these definitions are relevant to our everyday businesses, some are not. For the purposes of moving forward, let’s assume that widgets in this article’s context mean everything from Facebook widgets to unique on-site widgets that brands develop to drive engagement, sales and/or ad revenue to more complex downloadable widgets/desktop apps that have multiple functions. In the end, the common thread across all of these widgets is that they all aim to drive some type of customer action (purchase/revenue, brand awareness/engagement, pass-along, etc.).

Why and when should I care about widgets?

Many brands have harnessed the power of widgets over the years. As the use and marketing of these tools become more commonplace, it’s only natural that more marketers are asking if widgets are right for them. Whether you are a publisher looking to gain traction and loyalty on the crowded web, a retailer attempting to make it easier for customers to interact with you while building your brand, or an aspiring developer anxious to create the next great widget, there are many reasons why more people are listening when it comes to widgets. But should you care? And if so, why?

The industry is still working to develop standards when it comes to measuring the success of a widget (beyond how many people “grabbed” your widget) and the growth forecast for the industry. Part of the challenge may be that there are many different types of widgets with many different types of goals. Some aim to simply build brands while others are part of a sophisticated content distribution strategy. Others are viral tools to support a new product, service, movie, etc. And then, of course, you can sponsor or serve a banner ad in someone else’s widget, or you can build your own. However, if we were to just use anecdotal stories as a way to determine why one should care about widgets, there would most likely be enough to convince most marketers that there is a sea of opportunity. At the same time, there are as many failed ventures to scare off those still new to the world of widgets before they even get started.

Despite all of the buzz and headlines that a few of the big breakthroughs have garnered, widget success is not guaranteed. With that said, companies should consider the following points before embarking on the journey of creating their own widget:

1. Creating the widget is not enough. Before you even go down the path of building your own widget, do your homework and decide if a widget is right for you. Understand what your customers want from your site/brand and how your widget will make it easier, more fun, more memorable or worth talking about. If you feel you have a homerun on your hands and widgets are indeed right for you based on your priorities and customer needs, it’s time to decide how you will market your widget to break through the clutter and be sustainable.

2. Does my widget idea already exist? In today’s competitive environment many ideas may already exist. This doesn’t mean you can’t improve on an existing concept, just that you should be aware of it and determine how you can best improve on it to get people to interact with your widget.

3. Define your goals and set clear success metrics. Although industry standards are still being developed, most companies know what is important to them. Whether you are a publisher fighting for eyeballs to monetize, a branded site looking to get customers to download your app, or you have distribution partners use and market your widget/sales engine to their audiences, you can’t achieve success if you haven’t defined it. This process should also help you decide who you should partner with and how much you can spend on your venture.

When should I develop a widget?
Whenever I am asked this question by colleagues, my boss or friends in the industry, I revert back to my previous points about first understanding if you should even be talking about widgets. It really does depend on your goals, your budget and your customer base. Do your customers care about widgets, does this help support your higher level goals as a brand/company, and do you have the budget to take a swing and a miss?

Before you decide if the time is right for your team to develop the next great widget, you might want to consider following the advice of a fellow writer, Evan Gerber, whose thoughtful article “Avoid these Facebook faux pas” offered these words of wisdom. “Do some serious soul searching. Are you embarking on a social networking (widget initiative in this case) campaign because someone thinks it’s cool, or because it fits in with a larger approach? Think of it like any other marketing channel — if it’s not part of a larger holistic strategy, it’s likely to fail.”

Although his comments were specific to a social media campaign, they are relevant to the widget decision as well. I couldn’t think of a better way to put it, so thanks for the words here, Evan!

Who is using widgets?

Although there are new widgets popping up every day, there are some clear leaders who are setting the bar in terms of development, innovation and success. Here are a few from the many that I think are doing it well.

When you go to the tripadvisor site, the directions and value proposition to downloading its “cities I’ve visited” widget are simple, but the functionality and buzz factor of this widget is off the charts. “Where have YOU traveled?” asks the widget. Create an interactive travel map to share with your friends and help them plan their trips. Nearly everyone I know is using this widget — from my teenage cousin to my 60-year-old father-in-law. I can’t wait to plan my next trip… nice job!

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve heard probably heard of iLike. In its words, “iLike lets you add music and videos to your profile, dedicate songs to your friends, and see who’s going to what concerts. Bonus: get free MP3s matching your tastes, and beat your friends at the Music Challenge.”

The bottom line is that this popular widget makes it even easier for people to do what they already like to do anyway — talk about what music and videos they like most, learn what favorites they share with their friends, test their music knowledge, and, of course, share content and dedicate songs. It’s easy to get started, the value is clear, and it’s completely relevant to the target audience. No wonder it’s been a huge success.

More great examples

This last one might only be for weather nerds like me, but I’m guessing not. continues to add new features to this tool every month/quarter, which tells me they either like to waste money or people are downloading the app and staying engaged. Gauging by the advertisers you see within it and the constant innovation, I’m going with the latter scenario.

Again, here we have a simple tool, which by its very nature will be filled with fresh content. People like to know what the weather is going to be like for their morning commute, their weekend picnic, or their upcoming vacation to Spain. Or sometimes, especially in the middle of a cold Chicago winter, it’s just fun to check the weather of all the hot spots around the world wishing you were there. I would be hooked just by that, but the fact is that the tool also serves up real-time weather alerts, local traffic reports, and allows you to customize your view to make staying in the weather loop even easier. The forecast for this widget is continued success.

SnowMate Desktop Application for your PC (v5)
Download here.

Check out the latest snow alert technology from Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly featuring the following:

  • Daily snow — reports sent straight to your desktop
  • Snow alert — snow on your screen = new snow at our resorts.
  • Trevvor (at top right) — he’ll be your animated snow guide who will ski or snowboard around your desktop and do cool tricks.
  • Video and photo gallery — featuring daily snap shots from the slopes.
  • Micro bar mode — reduce the SnowMate desktop application to a small dockable mode that displays current snow conditions.
  • Live mountain cameras
  • Screensaver, wallpaper and e-cards

As York Baur, EVP of business development for Zango, recently wrote, “Widgets are unquestionably unique and afford exiting new opportunities for advertisers. But no macro-event in business is unprecedented, and widget marketing is uncommonly similar to other marketing applications that have come before. Avoiding near-future missteps by studying the recent past is widget marketing’s greatest opportunity for smooth and steady growth.”

The barriers to entry in the world of widgets are going down, and while that is exciting, it’s also dangerous. Email continues to get easier, but just because you can email customers everyday doesn’t mean you should. Just because widgets are now easier to develop, distribute and market, it doesn’t mean you should do that either.

Do your homework, research the market, and don’t rush to be the next widget wizard just to say you have one. As I end, I must tell you that I’m currently going through the widget analysis process myself. Through my own research, it’s become clear that there is a lot of potential gain with widgets, but as with most business decisions, there is also much to lose. Regardless of the approach you end up taking, consider this: “Courage is the discovery that you may not win and trying when you know you can lose.” Good luck!

2 Responses to “Your guide to working with widgets”

  1. The-Anh Vuong Says:

    Your report is very informative.

  2. neomas Says:

    Wowww it’s cool I’ll try to download.

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