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Widgets and Toolbars: Personalize or Die July 19, 2007

Online marketers have done such a great job that we've landed ourselves in trouble. Online users are absolutely rebelling against the onslaught of information thrust upon them when they are online. Ads, banners, pop-ups, email, newsletters, the list goes on. Users are demanding more control over what information they get and how they get this information.

I call this new online generation the "my" generation. They want a my-centric web universe, my landing pages, my favorite things, my music, my friends, my life. So the new challenge for interactive marketers is to become a "my" application: personalized, pint-sized and portable.

Here are the three Ps of the new age interactive marketing:

Personalized:Imagine each visitor having a uniquely personal experience with your service and website. It drives loyalty and interaction because it's "mine." Make it a priority to allow personalized access to your site.

Pint-sized:Think capsules, small but potent; the hottest parts of your site and service in a bite-sized format so users can custom aggregate from you and other favorite publishers. Remember, with all the user ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) out there, less is more. So what are the top three things your visitors want to stay connected with constantly? Answer that and well, that's your pint.

Portable:Your users want to connect with you beyond the boundaries of your website. Think browser, desktop, mobile device and any other "my" application such as MySpace or Facebook. Users don't want to constantly come to your website; they want your website (content and services) to come to them. Being compatible, portable and accessible is the key to being top-of-mind for your customer.

So how do you get a personalized, pint-sized and portable version of your website to engage with the new generation? The answer lies in community toolbars and widgets.

Community Toolbars
The concept of toolbars is not new and I am sure you are familiar with Google and Yahoo! toolbars. They occupy the most valuable real estate on the browser, providing incredible brand exposure and driving user loyalty.

Community toolbars are a particularly interesting option for publishers. This option allows publishers to offer powerful interactive functionality to their users via their own branded space on a user's browser. It has quickly become a hot trend with major brands, including Major League Baseball, Greenpeace, eBay, Fox Carolina TV and even Kevin Federline, joining the movement with their own community toolbars. Community toolbars are quick to create, free, completely customizable, quite small and portable to the browser. Take a look at an example of a couple here:

Major League Baseball Community Toolbar
For baseball fans everywhere, this community toolbar allows constant connection with MLB radio, breaking news, tickets, live chat with other fans, scores, playoff information and much more.

TechCrunch CRUNCHbar Community Toolbar
For TechCrunch addicts, the CRUNCHbar community toolbar is an absolute necessity. It hooks users up with content updates, podcasts and a constant stream of "CrunchStuff" from their favorite blog.

Lufthansa Community Toolbar
The Lufthansa community toolbar puts customers one click away from the Lufthansa booking engine and has given Lufthansa an exclusive venue for advertising low fares, special deals and discounts on flights.

What community toolbars deliver:

  • Persistent relationships with users. No matter where they are on the web, you are there. Now that's face time that even money can't buy.
  • Increased monetization of your user community. Typically, community toolbars can drive two extra clicks per user, per day. You do the math in terms of the impact on ad revenue and sales with that level of deeper engagement.
  • Extensive features to engage users and keep them coming back. Multimedia such as TV and radio, the hottest new gadgets, weather forecaster, an email notifier, RSS feeds and more. Alerts to capture attention, which can be used to announce special offers, free giveaways, breaking news, and more. Live chat for community interaction. Single sign-on for increased account usage.

 

Community toolbars are a powerful and free way to quickly enter into the new age of interactive marketing and drive higher revenue through engaged interactive communities.

Widgets
The concept of widgets is new but has seen remarkable traction recently with the big websites such as Google, Yahoo, and social networking sites like Facebook embracing them.

For the uninitiated, a widget is an application or a plug-in that can be embedded onto a webpage to stream relevant and contextual content or commerce. There's a lot of potential there for usage as an online marketing tool. Confused? Think of a widget as a small box of unique and dynamic content you can add to your site to engage your users without building out that content. For instance, if you run an online retail store for fishing equipment, you could add a weather widget to your site for your users.

Not only can you add third-party widgets to your site, but you can easily create widgets of your own and distribute them to other sites. Better yet, you can further increase exposure by placing your widgets onto your community toolbar to increase their distribution.

Widgets have really exploded with the rise of social networks and personal landing pages, as users love the simplicity and self expression they bring. Not to mention you can place ads on the widgets and monetize your user base with yet another revenue stream.

Here are a few great examples of widgets:

SexyWidget
A blog devoted to reviewing and testing widgets, badges and "blog bling" of all types. Check out SexyWidget here: http://www.sexywidget.com/

Widgetslab
A blog featuring the top "Wild Web Widgets" Check out Widgetslab here: http://www.widgetslab.com/

Labpixies
Your source for the coolest gadgets on the web, LabPixies is a free online directory for web gadgets.
Check out Labpixies here: http://www.labpixies.com/

The advantage of widgets is that they deliver one-to-one relationships with your users through interactivity, increasing the breadth of content and user engagement with very little investment of time or money, and increasing monetization of your user community by serving ads via the widgets.

Feel free to join the new hot trend and add a widget or two to your website, or create your own. You can find a whole host of widgets here: http://www.labpixies.com/ and here: http://directory.snipperoo.com/.

Marketers and publishers who rely solely on mainstream tactics such as RSS, SEO and email marketing are missing a major opportunity and the constant, intimate, real-time connection that community toolbars and widgets offer.

The possibilities and opportunities that these powerful user-engagement tools create for marketing, advertising, branding and content distribution are only beginning to be realized. Are you on board yet?

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