Integrating Interactive and Mobile: The Power of Widgets as Brand Extenders

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It seems that everyone these days is so incredibly fascinated with their mobile phones.  Who can blame them really?

With the ever increasing number of applications on them, these various handheld devices occupy an ever increasing amount of our time.

From popular Facebook and Myspace apps, to practical ones like iWant (which direct you to nearby banks, gas station etc. using GPS) to the trivial (WeatherBug, which gives up to date weather feeds on locations in the United States), there are endless things that can keep you glued to your mobile phone. 

Combine this with the increasing proliferation of new functional handheld devices like the Blackberry Bold, Samsung Instinct and the G1, and we can expect this phenomenon to continue.  As marketers, this would seem to provide us a chance to extend our brands’ reach further into the lives of our consumers.

There is a major caveat here, however.  In the rush to get on board with the emerging mobile marketing platform, marketers need to be aware of its limitations as a media platform. 

This holds true both in terms of its physical (small screen size, lack of a functional mobile internet) and economic (cost of SMS campaigns in North America, cost of using mobile internet, etc.) limitations, and  in terms of how receptive customers are to receiving mobile marketing messages.

Given the continuing development of mobile marketing platforms, it is vital that marketers get on board with this rapidly evolving marketing form.  In order to do so, it is important to ensure that mobile is a platform that makes sense for reaching and engaging your customer base.

In order to ascertain whether the mobile platform is right for them, companies need a way to test the effectiveness of mobile marketing.  The logical step is to find a way to bridge the gap between the platforms that their customers are comfortable and familiar with, and the newer evolving ones (in this case mobile marketing). But the key question is how?

The answer to this marketing riddle may come about through via mobile widgets and other applications that allow marketers to reach their customers with tiny extensions of branded web content on their mobile phones. 

Essentially, widgets provide a way for marketers to reach customers in yet another forum, thereby extending their reach and helping to develop the brand-consumer relationship into more of an ongoing one. Furthermore, given their small size, widgets can be placed on any handheld device, at any time and for any subsequent re-release.  Moreover, their portability makes them inherently viral at the same time.

Currently there are a number of instances of extending branded web content onto one’s mobile browser.  One example includes receiving relevant news alerts about commodity or stock prices.  Other applications include two way photo sharing capabilities between websites and mobile devices (which help to extend social networking capabilities from the web) and uploading of video content from mobile to websites. 

Other popular commercial applications include Nike’s use of a widget to help runners keep track of their total distance travelled over a set time period, and Amazon’s providing mobile alerts on suggestions for books to buy.

The beauty of these widgets and APIs lies in the fact that these are low cost, relatively low risk ways for companies to extend their branding efforts and messages into a space that is still very much evolving. It allows marketers to gain insights into the mobile space and how to best use it to reach their customers.  Given the speed and ease at which such applications can be developed, this allows one to easily test market new content in order to determine what works best in order to extend their brand’s reach.

At its greatest potential, mobile widgets allow marketers to build two way relationships between their product/service and their customers.  Not only do you allow the customer to take your message wherever they go, but in the case of stock alerts they allow you to transmit relevant, current information wherever they go (which only serves to build brand goodwill). 

Moreover, once you have gotten people to download your widget to their mobile phones, it allows for an incredible amount of personal interaction between your client and your brand.  Once people have done this, you greatly increase the chance of creating brand ambassadors who will talk about your widget (and by extension your brand) and its awesome features.  And spreading the word is made all the more easy by cellular phones.  These small but powerful snippets of code truly represent the beginning of the convergence of the desktop and the mobile space.

To be completely fair however, the mobile widget is by no means a perfect solution.  Problems include:

  • The lack of an accepted platform or software for creating widgets
  • The fact that a widget needs to be specifically applicable for a brand and its customers in order to be sufficiently downloaded
  • The fact there is only so much space on a cellular phone screen to download applications. 

It is imperative that mobile widgets aim for long term adoption and usage.  This bears mentioning because most widgets typically emphasize fun over functionality.  This is great if you're just looking  to catch someone’s attention with something unique.  But from the perspective of a marketer, we’re looking for long term engagement and interaction, not simply for quick viral propagation.  

In the end, there is no one size fits all type of solution in order to link the mobile and the web worlds.  However, it is crucial that we as marketers strive to try and successfully bridge the gap between the two spheres. The current limitations of the mobile world for marketing are quickly diminishing, especially with the advent of 3G.  We need to be ready for this eventuality.  Mobile widgets are one way to make sure that we will be.

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