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In her yearly report of major Internet Trends, Mary Meeker of KPCB typically examines a number of businesses that are being disrupted — or, as she describes it, “re-imagined” — by digital technology: Recruiting (LinkedIn); Music (Pandora); Television (Netflix); Money (Bitcoin).
This year, she included a slide on re-imagining content and content delivery. One of her examples was BuzzFeed, which achieved spectacular traffic growth by publishing a new kind of article format: interactive quizzes. Instead of just reading a post, visitors could take a quiz and learn something in the process.
While BuzzFeed’s quizzes were mostly for low-brow entertainment value — e.g., What State Do You Actually Belong In? — the engagement and social sharing levels they attained were remarkable. That silly state quiz? It generated more than 40 million views. This quiz-as-content format has since moved upmarket, and last month, The New York Times ran an interactive quiz for one for their popular op/ed columns.
As marketers are being told to “think like publishers” with content marketing, this new trend has caught their attention too. Interactive content is significantly expanding what’s possible in content marketing — not just quizzes, but calculators, configurators, assessment tools, workbooks, contests, and more.
Marketo created an interactive lookbook to show off new email design templates. BloomReach created a crowdsourced survey to demonstrate the importance of their ecommerce personalization technology. Dell created an online advisor to help customers explore different virtualization solution configurations. Interactive content can take on many app-like forms to engage prospects and customers far better than traditional passive content.
3 ways interactive content breaks through the noise
The biggest challenge content marketers face is breaking through the cacophony of content flooding the web. The Content Marketing Institute’s latest 2015 benchmarks for B2B content marketing found that 70 percent of marketers are planning to increase the amount of content they produce in the coming year — with nearly one third planning to produce significantly more.
In other words, how are most marketers hoping to break through all the noise of content out there? By producing even more content. In system dynamics, this is known as a vicious circle.
However, interactive content can rise above this onslaught in several ways.
First, it opens up new ways to innovate the presentation of content. Most content marketing takes the form of blog posts, infographics, ebooks, white papers, reports, and webinars. These passive formats have become so common as to be often be mundane. But by adding functional capabilities into the repertoire of content design, marketers gain a new dimension of creative freedom in how they present their material.
Ask questions. Give choices. Let visitors experiment with different scenarios. Incorporate game dynamics. Interactive content can mix-and-match different participatory elements in unique and compelling ways. For example, instead of a standard quiz, you might imagine an interactive content experience that combines a series of micro-quizes and explainer videos into a multi-step teaching exercise.
Second, interactive content can be a more effective way for audiences to consume new material. One of the primary goals of content marketing is to educate prospects. Yet we know from years of educational research that simply giving students a stack of reading assignments and having them sit quietly through lectures — which is what most passive content marketing is like — isn’t nearly as effective as engaging them in more experiential learning.
In a study on content marketing for the buyer’s journey, conducted earlier this year by the research firm Demand Metric, 45 percent of marketers who deployed interactive content reported that they were “very effective” at educating buyers — in contrast with only 6 percent of marketers relying solely on passive content who felt that way. That’s more than a 7X difference.
Third, interactive content can have a significantly longer shelf life. Most passive content is judged by its publish date — older posts and reports tend to be discounted in the eyes of visitors who have become accustomed to a continuous stream of new content offers. But app-like interactive content, such as a calculator or a configurator, isn’t typically anchored to a publish date. As long as the functional benefit it provides remains relevant to prospects, it can be an evergreen asset.
While few people will consume the same piece of passive content twice (“hey, let’s re-watch that webinar from last month!” said no one, ever), useful interactive content, such as a calculator, can have repeat value. The pinnacle of interactive content marketing is to produce something that prospects view as a reusable — and therefore memorable — utility, not merely a fleeting moment of consumption
Innovation in lead generation and lead qualification
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s benchmarks, 83 percent of B2B marketers say that lead generation is a key goal of their content marketing program. And not just any leads. Forty-nine percent report that sales lead quality is a metric by which their success is measured.
Most content marketing programs generate leads by gating premium content, such as ebooks or webinars, behind web forms. Visitors have to give up their name, company, and email address to gain access. Which content prospects sign up for — and how many different pieces of content they collect over time — usually serves as a major factor in their lead score, a crude approximation of lead quality.
But as common as that content strategy is, it’s not very good. Unless they know what’s on the other side of that web form, most visitors are reluctant to give up their contact information, reflected by the low conversion rate of most premium content offers. But how can they know without seeing it first? It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma.
Interactive content can overcome that dilemma by engaging visitors with more of a freemium content model. For example, a visitor may be able to take an assessment without providing any contact information. At the end of the assessment, they get to see their own rating. But if they want to learn how they compared with peers, or receive recommendations on ways to advance, then they can fill out an optional form for a “bonus offer.”
By engaging prospects in a useful and ungated interactive experience, the marketer gets to demonstrate the value of their content before making an ask. That builds credibility and interest, giving them a better chance of converting those visitors with a premium bonus offer at the end. However, even prospects who don’t convert will still have been introduced to the brand in a helpful and memorable way.
And the type of data collected through interactive content can differ in quality. Instead of a simple binary signal — the content was either requested or not — the marketer can learn a tremendous amount about prospects by the way they interact with these app-like experiences. How did a prospect assess themselves? How well did they do on a subject matter quiz? What kind of scenarios did they explore with a calculator or configurator?
That enables a whole new level of marketing-driven lead qualification and sales enablement.
Thanks to a new generation of marketing software tools — including, in full disclosure, my company, ion interactive — it’s becoming easier and more economical for marketers to incorporate interactive content into their content marketing programs. It’s a new and exciting canvas for marketers to re-imagine what content marketing can be.
Scott Brinker is the co-founder and CTO of ion interactive. You can reach him on Twitter as @chiefmartec.
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