Editor’s note: Scott Brinker is the CTO of ion Interactive.
Not long ago, in a marketing department not far, far away, we saw the rise of content marketing. It began as a young, idealistic movement to help educate, enlighten, and entertain self-empowered buyers in the digital world. An elegant marketing for a more civilized age.
But increasingly, it’s become seduced to the dark side, pursuing an imperialistic march toward volume over value. In too many companies, it’s more machine now than human, churning out rote blog posts, statistically unsound survey reports, and clone armies of e-books, infographics, white papers and webinars.
Many marketers live in fear of falling behind on ever more aggressive content publishing schedules. Fear leads to quantity. Quantity leads to haste. Haste leads to suffering — quality suffers, the audience suffers, and customer acquisition suffers.
(“I assure you, Lord Vader. My content producers are writing as fast as they can.”)
There’s so much content blasting the web these days that the odds of any one piece of content successfully breaking through the noise are approximately 3,720 to 1. Or worse.
It’s enough to make a scruffy-looking marketer protest, “It’s not my fault!”
Attack of the Clones: Disposable, Passive Content
There are two core problems with the content wars today.
First, most content is disposable. You look at it once, and then you’re done. For a marketer to reengage you, they need to produce new content — which they now obligingly do at an accelerating pace. But it’s hard to do that without just saying the same thing in different words. Or frankly, saying nothing at all (but using a lot of words to say it). “How rude!”
Second, most content consumption is passive. You read it, watch it or listen to it. But that takes time and attention, which are in short supply. We get bored and zone out. There are only so many ebooks you can flip through, or webinars you can sit through, before your eyelids droop.
These two problems intersect. We’re assaulted by disposable, passive content on all sides — and we’re tuning out the far majority of it. The efficacy of content marketing is waning. Yet the way most marketers are battling that is by producing even more content. It’s a vicious cycle.
A New Hope: Interactive Content
But there’s a new hope in the galaxy of content marketing: interactive content.
Interactive content has a participatory element to it — it’s not just passively consumed, but engages the audience in an activity. Examples of interactive content include quizzes, games, assessments, workbooks, configurators, calculators, contests and more. There are also interactive versions of ebooks, look books, and infographics that let people manipulate the way in which the content is presented.
When done well, this provides creative ways to make content more interesting. But it’s not just about novelty. We know from decades of educational research that people learn better by doing experiential exercises and “constructivist” activities. A well-designed quiz can better teach a prospect about a subject than dropping an ebook on their desktop. It can actually be a faster way for them to absorb the key points of the material. And more fun.
This helps address the challenge of disposable content in two ways.
First, it provides many more creative ways to present and package your content that genuinely deliver new value to your audience. It’s not merely a different way of saying the same thing. It’s a different way of teaching and reinforcing your material. For example, a white paper about ROI can be accompanied by a calculator to try out different scenarios, an assessment tool to see how your practices compare with peers, and a game-like quiz to myth-bust common misunderstandings.
Second, great interactive content can provide reusable value. It’s highly unlikely that someone will ever read a blog post of yours twice (if they even read it once). But a helpful calculator or configurator may be useful to them again and again. This is what the content marketing strategist Jay Baer calls “youtility.” It shifts the balance in the force from volume back to value: a useful and reusable interactive content asset can pay dividends for a long time to come.
“These Are Not The Leads We’re Looking For”
For many marketers, content marketing and lead generation form a symbian circle. The most common pattern is to create a premium piece of content— such as an ebook, a report, or a webinar — and then gate it behind a form that requires the visitor’s name, company, and email address.
The reaction of most prospects: “It’s a trap!”
Because, frankly, a lot of so-called premium content ends up not being very premium at all. Something that should have been a short blog post is inflated into an overblown ebook, or a supposedly objective research study ends up being thinly veiled propaganda. Even if you would never produce such disreputable content, enough other bad actors have that prospects consider it unwise to lower their defenses. (“I have a bad feeling about this.”)
Interactive content can overcome this by adopting a freemium-like model. You can let prospects engage with these app-like assets without any barriers. Go ahead and take the assessment, use the calculator, or play with the configurator — no form required. They can immediately sample the value you’re offering, building credibility and trust.
Once you’ve pulled them in, you can then offer an optional “upgrade” in exchange for their lead information. For example, at the end of the assessment, you might offer them a personalized set of recommendations based on their score. When well integrated, these upgrades can achieve incredibly high conversion rates.
But interactive content generates more than typical lead records. With passive content, all you know is that someone was interested in it, and then whatever information they’re willing to provide in a form (not much). With interactive content, though, you can learn a tremendous amount from a prospect’s participation — how they answered an assessment, what scenarios they explored with a calculator, which choices they made in a configurator.
Instead of just throwing contact records with mysterious lead scores over the wall to sales — where inevitably a bunch of them are rejected (“these are not the leads we’re looking for”) — marketing can use interactive content to generate leads with rich qualification profiles. Salespeople can focus their attention on the right prospects and speak specifically to their needs, like a Jedi mind trick.
“You Truly Belong Here With Us Among The Clouds”
Until recently, creating such interactive content typically required custom development, which made it expensive, time consuming, and technically complex to build and maintain. (“Sorry about the mess.”)
However, a new generation of marketing technology companies — Ceros, ion interactive (disclosure: my company), SnapApp, Wishpond, and more — are now offering cloud-based tools to enable non-technical marketers to produce app-like interactive content without programmers or IT resources. These aren’t just simple Facebook apps. They’re responsive web experiences that can be as advanced as you like and deployed anywhere on any device.
There is good in content marketing. With interactive content, we can save it and turn it back to the good side — useful experiences that educate, enlighten, and entertain our prospects and customers.