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So what would make an email campaign more personal? How can social community members be alerted to new responses to questions they've asked, or about additional photos posted? What's the best way to instill and nourish loyalty in your customers?

The answer to all of these questions is the same: widgets.

A widget in this context refers to a desktop icon that is branded for the company offering it and is installed on customers' desktops on an opt-in basis. The icon can blink, slide up or down, or alert the customer in other ways to check in with it.

And checking in with the widget means going through a portal that takes the customer wherever the emarketer wants the customer to go.

If the customer has indicated an interest in special sales and promotions, the widget can announce a new one directly to the customer's desktop-and before the sale is announced via an email list or on the website.

If the customer is interested in learning more about a given topic covered by the company's blog or newsletter, the widget can announce a new blog post or article waiting for perusal.

Best of all, however, is the use of the widget in instilling and augmenting customer loyalty when used in the context of the branded social network, what I like to call a customer-centric community.

Branded social communities are a focused equivalent of internet sites such as Facebook and MySpace-an arena for like-minded people to gather, exchange photos, files, and information, participate in forums and discussion groups, and invite others to join. Communities can reside on the emarketer's website and be branded in a similar manner. The company can maintain contact with customers and provide a positive experience there that translates into customer loyalty. And all of it because of the desktop widget!

A widget that connects customers directly to the emarketer's social community keeps that community (and by extension the marketer) literally in front of the customer all the time. It's quick and easy to access and makes the customer feel that the company is easy to access as well.

Here's an example of a landing page inviting customers and prospects to join the company's customer-centric community-in this case a food network-and install the widget on their desktops:

How would you like to have a new recipe, or special offer, or grilling tip delivered directly to you, every day -- right on your desktop, not in your email folders? We've invited a select group of customers to join our Dining On Your Desktop club and receive recipes, suggestions, and special offers... all delivered directly to your desktop!

That's right -- you can receive these offers without ever leaving your desktop or logging into your conventional email. Dining On Your Desktop contains no adware or spyware, and is only used by. If you don't love it once it's on your desktop, it's easy to uninstall.

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