Updated Aug. 12, 2020
I never thought I would say this, but I am getting tired of sitting on my couch, mindlessly scrolling through endless feeds of online news, entertainment, and reading materials in lieu of leaving the house and actually doing things.
I suspect many of your audience members feel the same way. Sure, we all love having the ability to access all the information and entertainment we want with the tap of a button. But we also long to go back to having interactions, responding to our physical environments, and feeling like we’re connecting with people who understand our challenges and want to help provide solutions.
This is one of the many reasons why creating interactive content – experiences that give audiences something to do, say, see, and feel – is critical.
Value proposition of interactivity
Interactive content lets users personalize and participate in it. While interactive pieces often are worth considering for the wow factor alone, they also serve meaningful business purposes.
For example, practical, utility-centric content tools – product configurators, needs assessments, or clickable training exercises, etc. – can help convince prospects your offerings are a good match for their needs.
Other types of interactivity – polls, quizzes, video experiences, and even high-touch offline activities – can bring your brand’s vision and value to life while giving audiences a chance to participate. It deepens engagement with your brand and might drive greater customer satisfaction.
An additional payoff might be even more valuable: Interactive content generates first-party audience data. Consumers who access and customize an interactive experience typically must share personal information, thus you gain direct insights on their interests, preferences, and behaviors, and learn personal identification data points, which was never possible with passive content techniques.
Common interactive formats
Convinced interactive content is worth exploring? Great. You have a lot of formats to choose from and they don’t all offer the same benefits or suit the same marketing purposes equally. Start by looking at some of the most popular formats:
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, games, and surveys
Test your audience’s knowledge or opinions on a relevant topic, discover the subjects they are most passionate about, or generate first-party data that can be used to inform future content initiatives. You can also take them to the next level by providing a shareable report card so they can compare their results to those of their peers.
Multi-touch photos and videos
Creating interactive image galleries, look books, and video walk-throughs that give consumers a 360-degree view of the goods, services, or experiences you offer (think cars, clothing, or resort vacations) can help them try before they buy, making the experience more tangible – and potentially leading to greater satisfaction with their purchase decisions.
If you typically publish long-form content, such as white papers or research reports, creating a version that readers can navigate in a customized way will help them locate the most relevant sections more quickly.
Live chats, diagnostics, and troubleshooting tools
Whether you leverage automation tools like chatbots or develop your own DIY diagnostic and repair tools, these features are great for delivering personalized responses to customers’ inquiries and issues, streamlining customer service, and reducing wait times for technical support by phone or in person.
Well suited to moving prospects through complex sales processes, these comprehensive surveys can be used to offer personalized information and benchmarks that your audience members can use to track their progress toward a relevant goal.
Interactive infographics and data visualizations
Creating dynamic or animated visual content pieces that drill down to stats can help you position data in an easier context 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 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 great historical, geographical, or societal significance.
Virtual reality and augmented reality overlays
Use these advanced imaging techniques 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.
Interactive content suits most marketing purposes
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 (or even online) to contribute to your top business goals.
With the right focus and a little ingenuity, both the simplest and the most sophisticated of these formats can attract and engage consumers, identify and address their pain points, guide them through a complex marketing life cycle, and even increase conversion potential and deepen loyalty.
Interactive content doesn’t have to be high tech to further your marketing goals. But, it doesn’t hurt to add a little pizzazz to associating your brand name with desirable, memorable, and uniquely valuable experiences.
Example: Adobe’s Creative Types Quiz
Adobe Create produced Creative Types – an interactive quiz to help designers and artists discover and explore their signature creative personality. The effort doubles as a clever way to demonstrate how creators can use Adobe’s design tools to express their style aesthetic and skills.
While personality quizzes are common online fare, Creative Types stands out with its eye-catching typography, colorful imagery, and playful animations. Its smartest content feature is the option to download the quiz results: The ZIP file includes images and other media assets sized and formatted for sharing across social media networks, as well as a full-page PDF that can be printed and posted on users’ drawing boards for inspiration.
Distributing relevant data and practical insights via your interactive content can help potential customers make smarter decisions – and make them more likely to do so in your brand’s favor. Content tools like configurators and recommendation engines are well suited to this purpose, as they can offer distinctive, eye-catching ways to learn more about your areas of expertise and help frame the use of your products and services in a relevant, relatable context.
Example: Idealista’s real estate research tool
Idealista – one of Spain’s leading online real estate classified services – developed an interactive website tool using data previously analyzed for an original research project on housing trends across municipalities. Prospective buyers could input their desired locations and other selection criteria to get an instantaneous view of target housing prices’ evolution. The fresh content angle not only served a useful purpose, it earned mentions in other media outlets and backlinks to its research study – driving greater brand awareness and increasing brand relevance and authority on search.
Example: The New York Times’ How the Virus Won
Here’s another example of how hard facts can be combined with interactivity to share valuable insights and information with a target audience. The New York Times recently produced a stunningly simple yet effective infographic that uses animation to illustrate how coronavirus cases in the United States quickly escalated from isolated regional outbreaks to a countrywide calamity. Seeing a clear, visual depiction of the science behind the spread – without all the posturing and politicizing – drives home the importance of taking safety precautions like social distancing and mask wearing. It also makes the information easy to digest even for viewers who don’t read all the accompanying copy.
Alternately, other tech-enhanced content types, like 360-degree video tours, augmented reality overlays, and virtual reality experiences, can plunge audiences into exciting, entertaining, or otherworldly contexts they might have an interest in exploring. These formats are ideal when your content goal is to deliver a moment of delight rather than serve a utilitarian purpose.
Example: The Smithsonian Channel’s Apollo Moon Shot AR app
As part of its six-part Apollo Moon Shot TV special, The Smithsonian Channel created an augmented reality app that gives moon-minded users a personal lunar experience. Armchair astronauts can explore the moon’s landscape, move around in an altered field of gravity, and take a space-suited selfie for posterity. The immersive experience is supplemented with facts, quizzes, and videos about the moon landing, as well as two simulation games that let users test their ability to navigate through outer space and make a smooth lunar landing.
With the help of the right copy, a landing page, and a carefully constructed call to action, information-driven interactive efforts like quizzes, infographics, and e-books can be used to help marketers generate leads and identify potential prospects who can be nurtured to conversion with additional content assets.
Example: Bloom energy’s power outage map
Bloom Energy makes fuel cells that keep businesses and communities powered during blackouts – a big concern for residents in its California service areas who are commonly subjected to lengthy and unexpected service interruptions due to efforts to prevent and contain wildfires.
To show the fragility of aging utility services and take advantage of heightened demand for alternative energy, Bloom built a unique interactive power outage map that shows users just how often these blackouts occur in their area. Users can zoom in and out, search for their city, and change the date ranges to see how many people were affected by each blackout. The map makes clear at a glance how big a problem energy resiliency is for California and serves as a valuable resource for Bloom’s sales team.
After consumers profess their brand admiration and make their purchases, they want content that provides ongoing support and ensures their long-term satisfaction.
Chatbots, troubleshooting tools, and other automation-driven customer service features can be instrumental for this, as well as for responding to customer inquiries and addressing technical or service concerns as they arise.
Alternately, more immersive interactive features like 360-degree video tours, aspirational experiences, and fun offline activities can deepen their connection to your business – and motivate them to share their positive sentiments with other potential customers.
Example: NRMA’s Arlo the Koala chatbot
Australian insurance company NRMA wanted to demonstrate its commitment to protecting homes – including the home environment of the endangered Australian icon – koalas. This animal population was severely threatened during the widespread fires that hit the country in 2019 and the species itself is projected to become extinct by 2050.
Among its efforts to promote both its business and conservation goals, NRMA created a Facebook Messenger chatbot featuring its mascot, Arlo the Koala. Arlo is always on hand to answer customer questions about insurance coverage and provide helpful advice on how to get help or find shelter during home-related emergencies.
But Arlo also takes to the “sharewaves” to showcase emotional stories related to koala preservation, highlight opportunities for its audience to contribute to the koala cause, and deliver tips on what homeowners should do if they find a sick or injured koala.
Remember: Great interactive content doesn’t have to involve high-tech capabilities and flashy online features. If our ongoing days of social distancing have taught us anything, it is that audiences are hungry for anything they can do at home to indulge in their passions, keep their kiddos entertained, and maintain some semblance of sanity while they wait for the world to reopen. That makes it a great time to occupy their free time with a brand-focused craft project, culinary challenge, or other offline activity.
Example: New York Yankees’ opening day checklist
COVID-19 has issued a harsh reality check on live sporting events. Major League Baseball was finally able to kick off its season in late July – much to the delight of passionate fans.
Though those fans can’t cheer from the stands, the New York Yankees gave its email subscribers a clickable checklist to help them simulate the ballpark experience at home – from creating team signs and decorations using printable templates to serving up signature stadium snack recipes to having their photo featured on the Jumbotron™.
What to consider before incorporating interactivity
If interactive content is versatile, powerful, and immersive, why don’t all content efforts incorporate these techniques?
They can come with added costs and resource requirements
Some interactive content – such as e-books, infographics, and white papers – can require your content team to add processes to their workflow and contend with unfamiliar technical requirements. That can make them 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 third-party software tools and plug-ins or created directly in social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
In addition, the most innovative or tech-forward interactive techniques may require specialized coding and design expertise or equipment to create and manage – resources that not all marketers have at their disposal. Again, third-party software and services may shoulder some of this burden. Brands looking to go big or go home should carefully consider whether it will be best to build or buy the capabilities required.
They don’t always reflect the customer’s purpose and user preferences
Then there’s the user side of the equation. Interactive features often have longer load times than simple text or static images and suck up more bandwidth than your audience may wish to give them. Some features may need to be optimized for each browser, device, or platform, or else the interactive content will leave some users frustrated or disappointed.
While consumers likely enjoy playing around with interactive bells and whistles from time to time, interactive content doesn’t 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 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.
Make interactivity a purpose-driven creative format
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 an array of formats and functionalities to consider, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons against your business’s content mission and goals before incorporating interactivity into your marketing mix.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute