Widgets are catching on for two good reasons

When marketers first realized that user-generated content was a major force to be reckoned with, the next logical question was hard to answer: How? Widgets have emerged as a serviceable start in our attempt at benefiting from this phenomenon.

Widgets allow people who have online social network profiles (such as MySpace or Facebook) — or who blog — to insert something useful that happens to be pulled from someone else’s site. Probably the most ubiquitous widget is the YouTube video player you see embedded in so many web pages. Another example is from the freshly minted widgets at BuyCostumes.com:

Spooky, boys and girls.

Widgets are catching on for two reasons:

  1. They make a home-grown page more interesting — and more useful
  2. They allow those displaying them to help enhance their own image through the use of the brand

That latter point is important. If you have a strong brand, it is strong because people feel good about using it, and probably feel like their own image is enhanced by its use. Whether it’s as simple as the difference between a Coke person versus a Pepsi person (versus a Red Bull person!), a brand tells the world more about the person who consumes it.

The widget above probably doesn’t say much, except that I enjoy the Halloween holiday (and I do) and wanted to show that in an interesting way. But I can imagine BuyCostume’s “Sexy Costume of the Day” widget gracing many profile pages, and saying something fun and provocative in the process.

From a marketer’s standpoint, widgets are a simple and measurable way to grab a small corner of the user generated content juggernaut. Most click through to a brand’s landing page, but others can conduct transactions (at least leading up to a sale) right within the site.

The future will see these widgets becoming far more useful and flexible. I’m also predicting an entirely new set of metrics will arise to measure their branding and sales effectiveness. In the meantime, they are definitely making the web a more interesting place, for both consumers and marketers.