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By Josh Perlstein

RISMEDIA, June 2008-As consumers become increasingly bombarded with messages, images and ads, marketers and advertisers are being challenged to break through the ever-growing clutter and get noticed and received positively.Developing relationships between brand and consumer that truly have relevance and value to each party is the secret to rising above today’s information overload.

Although the Internet allows for cost-efficient relationship building through websites, e-mail and Web-based promotions, the current methods, channels and tactics are either declining in efficacy or efficiency.

E-mail is too cluttered, postal mail is too expensive, search engine marketing has hit its plateau and banner ads are ignored.

Here are some ways marketers can use new tactics and channels such as widgets and social networks to reach out and build relationships with consumers in an efficient, effective and less-cluttered way.

Widgets

Newsweek magazine named 2007 “The Year of the Widget,” and 2007 certainly lived up to the title. In November, comScore reported nearly 148 million people in the U.S. had viewed a widget. That’s approximately 81% of the active U.S. Internet population.

Widgets are small applications that can be placed on desktops or in browsers. They’re like portable Web pages and applications that are shrunk down and “moved” to other locations.

For marketers, widgets deliver decentralization of content and/or commerce. Instead of the expense and inefficiency of driving a consumer to a site then putting them through multiple pages for content, registration or shopping, it can all happen within the widget. You can interact, communicate, build relationships, and transact with consumers where they are or where they want to be, rather than making them come to you.

Consumers use social network widgets like those commonly seen on Facebook profiles to share favorite things like music, photos, videos, games and movies. Marketers can create activities that users can invite their friends into and play against through the widget, much like the wildly popular Scrabble or Poker widgets. Also, widgets built for Facebook often default to alerting friends when you use the widget. This translates to an endorsement for the application. Talk about a marketer’s dream.

Further, widgets can be measured. Tracking downloads, usage, views, interactions and transactions can be combined with typical tracking tools used with SEM, Web analytics, ad-serving and media. Widgets can also help your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts through generation of links to your site, as long as they contain keyword-rich anchor text.

Widget Tips

The following are keys to getting consumers to download widgets:

– Be honest about what a consumer can expect from the widget; then deliver.
– Be honest about what you do with the relationship-access to a consumer’s page or desktop, updates, personally identifiable information, etc.
– Promote your widget in all communications and media, including e-mail campaigns and display ads.
– Find top online influencers (bloggers, content creators) and ask them to promote your widget with you.
– Make it genuinely fun or useful to your audience.
– Make it easy to use.
– Position widget users as a part of an exclusive club, or the widget as a way to receive “Exclusive Deals” or “Special Sales” that you can only get if you are a widget user.
– Create incentives for your customers to recommend it to their friends.
– Create widgets that adapt/work in a variety of different environments (operating systems and/or social networks).

To ensure the success of your widget, make sure your goals are clear, your value propositions are strong, correct tracking and keyword links are contained, and promotion and proliferation strategies are fully considered and supported.

Social Networks

Advertising within social networks might appear to be a bit of a conundrum, but there are a number of marketing options for advertisers within social networks, including:

1. Display media/banner ads. Expect really low click-throughs-like sub-0.05% in many cases, and conversion to be even lower. Although the impression inventory on MySpace seems endless, we have not seen many ads generating high interest. The good news is that much of the ad inventory on social networks is priced appropriately.

2. Create a group for your brand. Many brands have created groups on Facebook to support their message, specific brand initiatives or even specific campaigns.

3. Incorporate some social aspects into your site. You can build a blog, message board or allow your customers to create their own groups on your website. If you don’t want to build it, companies, such as Ripple6, have a plug-and-play platform that can easily be integrated into your site.

4. Get involved in advertising on “feeds,” such as Facebook’s News Feed. This tactic, perhaps the most powerful, integrates your advertising and marketing messages within the conversation on news-feed pages. These ads are served in the context of Facebook news feeds, attached to relevant social stories.

There is a wealth of marketing opportunities available when you enable your customers to do the talking for you. Widgets and social networks give them tools to do it easily.

Josh Perlstein is president of Response Media, a Norcross, Ga.-based provider of direct marketing solutions including online marketing and list brokerage services. Reach him at joshp@responsemedia.com. The above article is based on a whitepaper written by Josh Perlstein called “Widgets, Feeds, and Text — Oh My.”

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