The first time I downloaded a white paper was in 2000. The first blog post I read was in 2004, my first SlideShare viewing was in 2009, and I scanned my first infographic in 2011. Since then, I’ve consumed more B2B content than I’ve read articles about my favorite sports teams or TV shows.
As Mark Schaefer rightfully notes, we live in an age of content shock. There’s so much content produced every day (every hour, and every minute) that consumer attention is a scarce commodity. You’re competing against everyone who sells similar products and services, but you’re also competing against everyone who produces content of any type. In my role as director of content marketing at DNN, I think about this every day.
So how can you, your company, and your content marketing stand apart?
The Fourth Wave of Content Marketing
I recently came across a blog post by Scott Brinker of ion interactive, explaining why they bet the whole company on marketing apps. He sees interactive web experiences (fueled by these marketing apps) as the fourth wave of content marketing. The first three waves, according to Scott, are 1) text-based web content, 2) rich media content, and 3) personalization.
As Scott notes in his post, interactive content can include wizards, configurators, calculators, assessment tools, contests, interactive white papers, games, quizzes, surveys, guided tours, portals, social hubs, diagnostics, workbooks, galleries, utilities, sweepstakes, learning exercises – in short, anything that consumers interact with. As the fourth wave of content marketing, this interactive content is the future.
The “Guess Which Won” App
To give you an idea of how powerful this kind of marketing can be, check out ion interactive’s Guess Which Won app. The app gives you five A/B tests to judge, and for each test, you’re shown two variations of a landing page and asked to guess which one performed best.
As marketers, we defer to data to make decisions for us. That being said, we design so many landing pages and receive so many emails (from other marketers) that we think we know what works best – even when we aren’t backed by data. Despite my professional experience, I scored a 3 out of 5, for a whopping score of 60%.
After reading Scott’s blog post and experimenting with the Guess Which Won app, I came away with five reasons to invest in interactive content:
Reason #1: Engagement
All in all, the experience of interacting with this app was both entertaining and valuable to me. Even more importantly, it got me to engage. Be honest – regardless of how valuable it was, have you ever really engaged with a whitepaper?
Consuming text-based content (e.g. whitepapers, ebooks, blogs) is passive. Slides require you to hit the “Next” button to advance through a story, and videos can be watched as a group, promoting discussion and interaction. But while consuming most content is like watching a baseball game, interactive content puts you on the pitcher’s mound or in the batter’s box.
Reason #2: Gamification
Interactive content often involves a reward to its users upon completion, which makes engaging with content feel like a game. The “Guess Which Won?” app promises to score your answers, which motivated me to finish the activity.
One of the most difficult challenges for content marketers is keeping reader attention. Downloads are great, but what if your audience stops reading halfway through? By gamifying the experience (e.g. the prize at the end of a game), interactive content creates an engagement cycle that lasts from beginning to end.
Reason #3: Higher Retention
Content marketing aims to reach buyers in the awareness stage, differentiate our brands in the consideration stage, and make our brands the clear winner in the selection stage. Interactive content clearly works in the awareness stage – as we’ve just covered, these assets grab and hold user attention.
But interactive content also works in the consideration stage. Why? Because it leaves an impression. For example, if I was interested in an A/B testing tool, the A/B testing quiz would come to mind.
We measure prospects who fail to complete a white paper registration form in terms of “abandonment rate.” They came, they left, and we may never hear from them again. But if a prospect took the time to interact with you, the term “abandonment” doesn’t apply.
Reason #4: Multi-Dimensional Experiences
There are only so many ways to present a whitepaper or ebook, but designing interactive content is akin to creating a mobile app, or a piece of web software. While this obviously requires a greater investment of time/money to create, every screen, click and interaction is an opportunity to impress and delight the end user.
Beyond that, interactive content has the ability to incorporate an unlimited mix of multimedia content: videos, slide shows, animations, audio and more. If you consider the “interaction experience” combined with multimedia, it’s clear: content marketers need to think beyond the written word and consider that “content” is the end-to-end experience we create for our users.
Reason #5: Accelerated Sales Cycle
It’s great that 200 people downloaded my latest whitepaper, but how much of it did they read? I have no idea. When you can’t measure and quantify the consumption of your content, it’s challenging for both Marketing and Sales to decipher clues on the sales readiness of prospects.
With interactive content, however, every interaction can be measured and recorded. If you create an app like “Guess Which Won?”, you can record how each participant answers each question. You could design the content to discover how ready a sales lead is to buy, their preferred method of communication, or other relevant data.
The conventional mechanism for qualifying leads is to ask lots of questions on the registration form (e.g. budget, authority, industry, etc.), but with interactive content, you ask less questions up front and receive more valuable information as they interact. By measuring and quantifying interactions, you can infer more accurate and valuable information about them. And with that, you’re already further along in the sales cycle.
Interactive content does come with limitations and considerations. For one, the novelty effect – interactive content is fresh now, but so were infographics in 2010, and so were blogs in the early 2000s. Soon, a lot of marketers will be using interactive content, and only the highest quality examples will stand out.
But going forward, content marketing will be less about words and images, and more about the holistic experiences that you create for the consumer of your content. As interactive content becomes more commonplace, consumers will come to expect active, powerful experiences of your brand.