Embracing the Widget

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The growth of social networks and personalized Web sites are making it harder for multichannel retailers to connect with online consumers. To stay on their shoppers’ radar, The North Face is taking steps to reach them where they already spend time online.

“Getting content out to consumers is a challenge because people need a reason to go to a site,” said Sarah Gallagher, senior manager of interactive marketing, The North Face, San Leandro, Calif. “We wanted a way for them to interact with the brand and our content even if they weren’t on our site.”

That’s when the company began exploring the power of widgets—which are small interactive applications, ranging from games to news alerts, that can be downloaded onto host sites such as Facebook or iGoogle.

Eager to reach consumers on a daily basis, The North Face developed a widget with the help of San Francisco-based Fluid Inc., a digital-product-development firm specializing in rich Internet applications and e-commerce solutions.

In November 2007, the widget went live as The North Face launched its “Video of the Day” application. After a consumer downloads the widget onto iGoogle, a box appears on the host site that is sponsored by The North Face. It displays fresh user-contributed clips or video from the retailer’s own Snowsports team for consumers to watch.

The widget features an interactive merchandising component that allows consumers to explore an assortment of products while watching the video. The North Face is able to micro-target merchandise to the community where the widget is deployed.

It can push skiing, climbing or hiking merchandise to appropriate users. This allows the retailer to keep its customer relationships fresh and meaningful.

“We also want to make sure our consumers are always in touch with our communities so we deliver information about relevant athletes, sponsoring events and provide overall value to our audience,” Gallagher said.

“It’s one thing to have this content on The North Face site, but it’s another to reach out to people who are already involved in these communities of interest and allow them to subscribe to it,” Gallagher said. “This becomes a pipeline for us to push content to people who’ve self-identified as deeply interested in the topic, products, company and content.”

The North Face decided to integrate video into its widget because it sees it as the No. 1 growing Web 2.0 phenomenon.

“A lot of these sports are highly visual, but video takes this one step further,” Gallagher noted.

Click-through rates on Google ads have jumped, but consumers have yet to spend significant dollars through widgets. Unfazed, The North Face hopes to get a head start on this emerging trend, which is still in its infancy.

“Right now, the majority of shoppers want to make their online purchases on a Web site,” Gallagher said. “But widgets are a way to connect them to the content, products and community while engaging them with a deeper brand experience. And as people become more familiar with widgets and the security technology that surrounds them, we’ll see people making purchases through widgets in the future.”

The North Face is planning to expand its widget application to multiple social-networking platforms. “Social networking is evolving into one of the most dominant paradigms for how people interact online, and how content is distributed,” Gallagher said. “To keep up, social networking will need to become a prime platform for us to interact with potential consumers.”

“Right now, we are creating a lot of engaging content, but it’s important to figure out the most relevant content and get it to the right communities,” she added.

The North Face plans to gauge the results of its widget initiative before implementing it for other sports and on other social-networking platforms.

"Social networking is evolving into one of the most dominant paradigms for how people interact online, and how content is distributed," Gallagher said. "To keep up, social networking will need to become a prime platform for us to interact with potential consumers."

"Right now, we are creating a lot of engaging content, but it’s important to figure out the most relevant content and get it to the right communities," she added.

The North Face plans to gauge the results of its widget initiative before implementing it for other sports and on other social-networking platforms.

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