Interactive content: the good, bad, and wicked cool
Quick confession: I am addicted to taking BuzzFeed-style online quizzes.
Yes, I know they are designed to artificially inflate the site’s page views and engagement metrics; and I fully realize that the results will likely be vague and unsatisfying. But somehow, I don’t care. In fact, any time a company offers me an opportunity to see a bit of myself reflected in its content, I find myself more drawn to that company, and more willing to explore what else they have to offer.
Isn’t that the exact result all marketers hope for when they create content?
The increased potential for engagement is a compelling reason why marketers should consider adding interactive content – quizzes, assessments, customization tools, games, and other participative features – to their marketing arsenal. But that’s certainly not the only advantage these tech-enhanced content formats can offer.
Let’s take a deeper look at interactive content, how it works, and how it can be used to help you achieve your marketing goals.
Value proposition of interactivity
Interactive content enables users to personalize and participate in the content presented to them. By helping consumers see themselves in the brand’s experience, the technique offers the potential to deepen engagement and drive greater satisfaction.
Interactive content offers the potential to deepen engagement & drive greater satisfaction
Common interactive formats: Enterprise marketers who are looking to make a big splash with their audiences can tap into a host of compelling content features, ranging from the simple to the surreal. Here are just some of the most popular interactive formats along with a few suggestions on uses:
- Calculators and configurators – Frequently used by e-commerce companies and automotive brands, these tools can help your customers estimate and compare the costs of various product features, as well as evaluate the benefits of purchase options they may be considering.
- Quizzes, polls, and surveys – Use them to test your audience’s knowledge or opinions on a relevant topic and then generate a shareable “report card” so they can compare their results to those of their peers.
- Multi-touch photos and videos – Giving consumers a 360-degree view of the goods, services, or experiences you offer (think cars, clothing, or resort vacations) helps them virtually try before they buy, making the experience more tangible and potentially leading to greater satisfaction with their purchase decisions.
- Interactive e-books – If you publish long-form content, such as white papers or research reports, creating a navigable version can help readers locate the most relevant sections more quickly.
- Live chats, diagnostic tests, and troubleshooting tools – These techniques can be used to enhance online customer service, increase a brand’s ability to respond to customers’ inquiries and issues, and reduce wait times for technical support by phone or in person (more on this in the U-Verse example below).
- Assessments – Particularly well-suited to moving prospects through complex sales processes, these comprehensive surveys can be used to offer personalized information and benchmarks that your audience can use to track their progress toward a relevant goal.
- Interactive infographics and data visualizations – Creating an animated, navigable infographic or other dynamic visualization that drills down to stats can help you position the data in a context that will be easier for your audience to understand and internalize.
- Content wizards and recommendation engines – Acting as an online tour guide to your content library, content wizards use an initial assessment to understand your site visitors’ needs, and then serve up the content that’s most likely to satisfy them.
- Interactive timelines, heat maps, and map overlays – Authoritative and influential brands can lend their events some added gravitas by placing them in the context of relevant history (like the Art Gallery of New South Wales did - click the image below to see the full timeline)…
…or geography (like Guesty’s Airbnb service map does).
- Virtual reality and augmented reality overlays – Use these technological advances to take your audience into a world of your brand’s unique creation and enable them to experience life in a way they may never have imagined would be possible. (See the Expedia Dream Adventures example below.)
Interactive examples at every funnel stage
Leveraging high-tech advances like scrolling video or virtual reality can certainly help your brand break through the noise of a crowded content landscape. But “cool factor” aside, interactive content doesn’t have to be flashy or feature-rich to contribute to your top content marketing goals. With a little ingenuity, even the simplest formats can be instrumental in helping you identify and address key consumer pain points, guide consumers through a complex purchase process, or increase sales.
As I just mentioned, interactive content doesn’t have to be high-tech to contribute to your marketing goals. But it doesn’t hurt to add a little pizzazz when it comes to associating your brand name with the unique, memorable, or even life-changing experiences that you are uniquely qualified to provide.
Example: Expedia and St. Jude’s Hospital’s Dream Adventures
Expedia recognizes just how powerful an impact travel can have on a person’s worldview. Though cancer-stricken children undergoing treatment at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital may not be able to experience the energizing effects of travel firsthand, Expedia has found a way to bring the world to them. As the above film demonstrates, through the use of virtual-reality camera technology, interactive live-streaming, and a specially built screening room, Expedia’s Dream Adventures takes St. Jude’s patients on explorations of places like jungles and exotic seascapes, and helps them transcend their physical limitations by expanding the boundaries of their imagination.
Providing key insights and advice that help consumers make more informed decisions always reflects well on a brand’s value proposition. Interactive content formats like augmented-reality apps, 360-degree video tours, and interactive brochures and e-books are ideal for helping your education-hungry prospects to explore available options, select their priorities and preferences, and truly experience what life might be like as one of your satisfied customers.
Example: Tourism Australia 360-degree experience
Riffing off its tagline that Australia is a place “you don’t just visit, you feel,” the official website for Australia’s tourism agency has created a series of stunningly realistic 360-degree scrolling videos that simulate an action-packed vacation experience at some of the country’s iconic adventure spots. From swimming with a pod of playful dolphins in Tasmania to snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef to feeding marsupials on the shores of Kangaroo Island, each video is designed to entice tourists to explore Australia’s exotic shores for themselves – virtually first, and then in person.
With the help of the right copy, a landing page, and a carefully constructed call to action, interactive content can help you draw in leads and prospects, and entice them into forging a more meaningful connection with your brand.
Example: Orbitz’s Perfect Match Quiz
As ion interactive co-founder Scott Brinker describes in his recent Intelligent Content Conference presentation, Orbitz for Business created a quiz that shows business travelers just how compatible they really are (or aren’t) with their travel service provider. Users whose results indicate dissatisfaction are served a message that’s personalized to the pain points they provided and a little encouragement to consider Orbitz as a solution to improve their travel-planning experience.
Done well, interactive content can also offer marketers invaluable information about their user base, which can be instrumental when applied to the lead-nurturing process.
Example: NetProspex Data HealthScan
NetProspex, a B2B data and contact management company, created a data health scan tool in conjunction with The State of Marketing Data interactive white paper about record completeness. Not only did the white paper achieve a high click-through rate, the assessment (which required registration to access) provided the company’s marketing team with vital information on how each prospect answered each question.
You may think of interactivity as little more than a fun, attention-grabbing feature that has little impact on a brand’s bottom line. But don’t discount the bottom-of-the-funnel benefits these versatile tools can offer, particularly when it comes to bringing consumers to the last, vital step in their purchase process. Interactive content tools like solution planners, product configurators, and price calculators can help consumers prepare their desired product profile, reconcile any last minute cost considerations they may be struggling with, and even complete their desired transaction with confidence that they have found exactly what they’ve been shopping for.
Example: Target’s House on Hallow Hill
As a seller of seasonal novelties and holiday decor, Target knows a few things about invoking the spooky spirit of Halloween. To inspire and assist consumers’ efforts to deck their own haunted hallways, the retail brand created a mysterious storytelling adventure using an interconnected series of clickable videos.
Each room visitors explore in The House on Hallow Hill displays merchandise Target sells to help party planners set the right mood – such as a skull-themed cantina fiesta or a ghoulishly moonlit graveside gathering. But before “House” guests are allowed to escape, they are invited to click to visit Target’s online Halloween shop where they can browse, select, and purchase the decorations they saw inside.
Even after consumers have converted, you’ll want content to extend their engagement, provide support, and ensure that they are satisfied with their purchase over the long term. Interactive features like diagnostic tools, webinars, and live chats can be instrumental in helping customers learn more about working with the products they’ve purchased, troubleshooting any issues that may arise, and staying connected so they can share the positive experience they have had with your brand.
Example: AT&T U-Verse’s UFix service troubleshooting tool
AT&T U-Verse recognizes the importance of responding to customer-service inquiries quickly and resolving phone, television, or Internet connectivity issues promptly. Its UFix diagnostic system was designed to offer customers on-demand, self-service access (both online and on mobile devices) to some of the same troubleshooting tools its own call-center technicians use. The tool helps the company cut down on wait times by enabling customers to check for local service outages, diagnose the most likely cause of the problem, follow step-by-step instructions for managing simple fixes, and schedule a home visit when on-site support is needed.
What to consider before incorporating interactivity
If interactive content is so versatile, powerful, and immersive, why don’t all content efforts incorporate these techniques?
For starters, interactive features can be more expensive and time-consuming to produce than their static content counterparts. Yet, this isn’t always the case: For example, some interactive elements – like quizzes, polls, or heat maps – can easily be generated with the help of online software tools and templates.
In addition, some of the most innovative or tech-forward interactive techniques may require specialized coding and design expertise to develop and deploy or specific equipment to create and manage – resources that not all marketers have at their disposal. Again, third-party software and services may be able to shoulder some of this burden; so brands looking to “go big or go home” should carefully consider whether it will be best to build or buy the capabilities required.
Then there’s the user side of the equation. Interactive features often have longer load times than simple text or static images do, which can suck up more bandwidth than your audience may wish to devote to your content. Not to mention that some features may need to be optimized for use on a specific browser, device, or platform, which can create a frustrating or disappointing experience for users who are accustomed to accessing content in any way they choose.
And while consumers likely enjoy playing around with interactive bells and whistles from time to time, these content efforts don’t necessarily guarantee increased or sustained interest in your content, let alone improved marketing results. For example, some users may just be looking for a straightforward experience or a specific piece of information. Requiring these consumers to click, swipe, give personal information, or jump through a bunch of hoops to get what they want can have the opposite of the intended effect – driving them away instead of increasing their engagement.
Tips for getting the most out of interactive content
Make sure you have a compelling reason to use interactivity.
Interactivity should enhance the natural appeal and longevity of your message – not serve as a substitute for real substance. If these features won’t give your brand an advantage – like making it more relatable, engaging, useful, memorable, or distinctive – it may not be worth the extra time and expense.
Interactive content should enhance your message not serve as a substitute for real substance
Match the interactive format to its intended function.
When planning to work with interactivity, ask yourself what attributes of your products/services are most useful for helping your customers address their pain points. Then, work backward to select an appropriate interactive format based on how well it suits your message and fits in with your content mission and strategic goals.
Why invent when you can iterate?
Interactive content efforts don’t always have to be built from scratch. Instead, try taking some of your top-performing blog posts, white papers, or images and repurposing them as interactive versions.
Take advantage of interactivity tools.
Consider working with interactive content platform providers.
Not only can they help with the heavy lifting in developing tech-enhanced content, they can also configure to integrate the performance data you gather with your marketing automation systems, CRM tools, or other content management solutions you have implemented.
Plan ahead for how you will measure the impact of your interactive content.
Downloads, social shares, and data generated through Google Analytics (e.g., bounce rates, time spent on page, traffic sources, and conversion rates) can help you set initial performance benchmarks. But for a more fully rounded view of performance, you may want to set up more sophisticated analytics capabilities, like click tracking, engagement scoring, and behavioral tagging.
Interactive content is a powerful, versatile way for marketers to enhance their content’s reach, impact, and performance. But with higher-than-average resource requirements and such a vast array of formats and functionalities to consider, businesses will want to carefully weigh the pros and cons against their content mission and goals before trying to incorporate interactivity into their marketing mix.
Adding interactive content to your content marketing game? Consider adding some other ones from the 2016 Content Marketing Playbook.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute