Monday, February 11, 2008

Why widgets are worth watching

Two top execs from Clearspring and Gigya offer a glimpse at what the future holds for widgets and how to capitalize on this rapidly growing trend.

Without question, widgets have emerged as the leading vehicles to provide new digital marketing and publishing opportunities, commonly, but not exclusively, attached to social networks. And while many marketers are eager to explore this burgeoning platform, the range of options to create, distribute and measure widget campaigns in light of a rapidly changing online media environment can seem daunting.

To help lend some insight and clarity on the state of the widget space, I spoke with Hooman Radfar, CEO and co-founder of Clearspring, and Ben Pashman, VP of business development for Gigya, for a glimpse at what the future holds for widgets.

iMedia: Are you seeing a lot of confusion in the marketplace regarding widgets, how they can be produced, utilized, measured, etc?

Radfar: This space is evolving quickly, so there is no question that there is some confusion. What is success? Is it the number of installs or engagements? What tools are available? That being said, I think people are really starting to get it as the value chain begins to emerge. Last year, the market was characterized by early adopters experimenting to understand the medium. I think this year you are going to see some serious movement from publishers and advertisers making aggressive spends against this category.

I believe that our [Clearspring] position as the original one-stop-shop widget platform and service provider for the media space has helped us gain some serious advantages. Our ability to enable widgets to be shared across social networks, start pages, blogs and the desktop, coupled with our analytics and reporting platform, provide a 360-degree solution for people who are serious about optimizing the performance of distributed content. This enables our clients to focus on what they do best -- building great brands and content.

Pashman: Yes, there is confusion. I hear questions every day such as what are best practices behind building a successful widget, how do you ensure a significant number of users actually embed and share a widget, what metrics are most important for measuring campaign effectiveness for social media or widget campaigns? Much of the confusion is coming simply from the terminology. Words such as distribution, network, platform application and even "widget" are used differently by different companies in the widget space. We can do a better job as an industry getting on the same page to clear up much of this confusion.

The problem advertisers face, however, is that they have no idea if and when users will actually see and share their widget, even if they've invested a huge amount of money to build it. The opportunity we [Gigya] offer advertisers is to buy widget installs in a specific timeframe and for a specific budget. This allows advertisers to execute on a dedicated brand widget campaign (as opposed to a sponsored widget campaign) the same way they do a traditional online ad buy, aligning it with an overarching campaign or promotion. We are platform-agnostic, so even if an advertiser has built a widget on another company's widget development platform, it is still a great candidate for running on the Gigya network to increase the number of installs to user pages.

iMedia: Can you cite some examples of how top marketers and publishers are currently using your platform? What have been the signature executions to date?

Radfar: My recent favorite was the campaign for the movie "Cloverfield." The studio leveraged our platform and services to create a first-of-a-kind viral contest. In the contest, the fan that spreads the trailer the most wins a hometown screening of "Cloverfield." This campaign leveraged our creative services to build the widget, our robust analytics engine to measure the campaign, our sharing tools to make the widget viral, and our reporting API to show users how they were doing. The exposure to the widget has been amazing.

Another example of an interesting implementation was between a publisher and advertiser. Fox Television recently created the "Futurama" widget and ran an advertising sponsorship with us via Virgin Mobile. Fox TV extends its brand to the Web 2.0 world and Virgin Mobile hits its target audience in a hard-to-reach medium.

Pashman: Gigya has produced widgets and run distribution campaigns for several big-name entertainment companies including MTV, Comedy Central and others. But we had a widget campaign launch in January for Kimberly Clarke that is unique in many ways and should get the industry buzzing. The TV-like quality of the content is the first thing you will notice (along with the dancing toilet paper). In this case, the widget is a cornerstone of the online integration with both print and broadcast.

iMedia: On the creative front, widgets appear to be the natural evolution of rich media display advertising. There are already established players in this space. How are you integrating with those platforms?

Radfar: Widgets served as rich media is clearly where things are going. We are a partner-driven company and believe that by working with leaders in the advertising and reach media space, we can make our clients more successful. As such, Clearspring has established an exclusive partnership to integrate with PointRoll to create our SnaggableAd product. With PointRoll owning nearly 70 percent market share in rich media online advertising, we think that we can create some serious value. In addition, we have also integrated with most of the leading ad networks and ad servers including DoubleClick and MediaPlex.

Pashman: Clearly rich media ad units are a natural starting point for branded widgets. We announced the first deal in the marketplace back in November with Eyewonder. Our Wildfire technology enables users to install content directly from an ad unit -- basically converting an Eyewonder ad unit into a widget. We expect to see lots more activity in the rich media space throughout the first quarter of this year.

iMedia: We're starting to see more examples of quantifying the momentum effect enabled via widget-based campaigns on social networks. What are your firm's capabilities regarding tracking interaction/engagement?

Radfar: Since creating the first viral analytics hubs for widgets in 2006, we have invested heavily in understanding widget distribution and have developed patent-pending technology in that area. We understand what the affinity distribution paths are and then visualize a topography that identifies the hubs responsible for the higher performing through-put.

Metrics standards are critical for the success of any space. As such, we are working tightly with folks in the online measurement space to standardize viral metrics like these, as adoption of metrics is crucial to the success of the ecosystem.

Pashman: Gigya is tracking approximately 2 billon widget impressions per month. We track stats like total posts and impressions -- both of which can be queried by day -- and date range as well as by unique ID. We also track viral distribution patterns so advertisers gain insight into where their ad is getting traction. Because widgets allow advertisers to interact with their audience in new ways, we also give advertisers the ability to track any interaction metrics they want. So if the widget has three videos and six MP3s, the advertiser can give us nine different tags and track the interaction of the widget and what songs/videos are most popular. There is no restriction on the amount or type of interaction metrics an advertiser can track inside the widget.

iMedia: Are marketers "getting it" for these types of analytics?

Radfar: I think so. Clearly CPM is not going to disappear right away, but there is definitely a trend toward embracing new models and metrics. We are engaged with web metrics experts at all levels. Those parties, as well as our customers, are definitely asking the right questions -- they want to understand how you could look at particular data on a page. They're interested in the fact that we're calculating time spent, grabbing all of the clicks and how to instrument their widgets to collect custom events, like unique sequences of interaction.

Keep in mind that for the advertiser, there are analytics about the widget, where it's going, what it is doing, etc. And then you have an ad tag, potentially, that's served into the middle of that widget that's capturing different metrics. And that's where I see our value, pulling in that unique widget engagement data versus the data that the ad tag will produce. In the near term, I think we're most likely going to see variations on CPC/CPA type models applied to widget-based ad buys -- a CPI (interaction) if you will -- because whatever is simplest will be the most used and marketers are comfortable with pay-for-performance metrics. But realize that the way in which companies measure, value and pay for widget campaigns is changing rapidly.

Pashman: I think the question you are asking is, "How are advertisers defining success" for these kinds of campaigns? Even in traditional campaigns, hitting CPC or impression metrics doesn't mean a campaign is successful, but experience shows that hitting certain metrics is likely to impact brand awareness, sales or other business and marketing goals. We think it's important to work closely with advertisers to define campaign success in the early stages, both to figure out how these campaigns can achieve some traditional brand goals, but more importantly how to achieve other goals -- new brand insights, identifying and getting feedback from real brand advocates.

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