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4. Campaign for Interactive Content

Master strategies for engaging content 

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.

Featured Image: Ozerina Anna/Shutterstock

Coca-Cola's ' Share a Coke' is back but with an even bigger marketing campaign. For its summer campaign, Coca-Cola decides to trade out its iconic logo on their 20-ounce bottles for 250 of the country's most popular names for sale. The campaign went viral persuading people to use their hashtag, "#ShareaCoke" on social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, to share your experience and stories with the world. Consumers even have a chance to have their photos shared on the company's website and across Coke billboards.

What is making this campaign so successful? 1. Prompting the consumer to participate and create media content online

Coca-Cola targeted consumers who use social media to promote the campaign. By giving them creative control and brand ownership with the names attached to a product the Coke brand interacted with their audience on a whole new level. Coke lovers, especially young adults, are creating and posting memes, telling stories through pictures, and creating short video clips with friends with the personalize cokes through their lives as they see it.

Sara Kasper, Marketing Assistant, TriVision agrees it's all about self-expression; "I think one of the reasons this campaign is doing so well is because the personalization of the product gives way to a multitude of conversation topics. These conversation topics conducted by people as they produce media content through social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. gives the brand a lot of favorable visibility."

2. Connects with consumers on a personal level

By putting the consumers personal identification on the can it's making a strong appeal to the consumer's value of individuality and desire for human connection. "For teens and Millennials, personalization is not a fad, it's a way of life. It's about self-expression, individual storytelling and staying connected with friends. 'Share a Coke' taps into all of those passions," said Stuart Kronauge, senior vice president, sparkling brands, Coca-Cola North America.

For those who have a unique name and can't find it on store shelves, not to worry. A 500-stop, cross-country "Share a Coke" tour will allow fans to customize a Coca-Cola mini can for themselves and a second can for someone special. Or if you don't care too much about your name, Coca-Cola has an alternative option: nicknames, such as "bestie," "star", "BFF," and "wingman" for sale. Just take TriVision's Sales Manager, Ron Gulick ( picture on top), clearly he is a huge fan of the cans!

3. The slogan's language is a call to action with several implications

The slogan "Share a Coke" is a call to action phrase. A very cleverly designed phrase because "Share a Coke" implies both purchasing a coke to share as well as to 'share' about coke via social media.

This Coke campaign may spark further efforts by companies to pick up on the personalization marketing trend.

Well, it looks like it is finally calming down. Patios are being cleaned off. Ice buckets are being put away. But only after the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge generated more than $100 million in donations in a single month, a staggering amount considering the organization took in only $2.5 million for all of 2013. How in the world did this happen?

Why is it that some ideas take flight and spread like wildfire, while others, seemingly equally worthy, fall mostly on deaf ears? Why did the Ice Bucket Challenge go viral, raising millions without spending a penny on marketing, while other non-profits can never seem to lift their message above the noise?

Just as some species share traits that make them more likely to spread through evolution-enjoyable orgasms being one example-so do some ideas have traits that put them at a distinct advantage to captivate and spread. Big ideas get noticed; Selfless ideas inspire action; Simple ideas write us into the story. Understand how to make your ideas big, selfless and simple and you will be able to control growth.

Long before we were pouring millions of gallons of ice water on our heads, there was an even more compelling case study in contagion: British punk rocker Bob Geldof. In the fall of 1984, Geldof was about as flatlined and rut-stuck as you can get in the rarified air of rock 'n' roll. His band, the Boomtown Rats, had had some regional success in the United Kingdom, but none of its songs had climbed higher than number 67 on the U.S. charts. And then, their seemingly promising single, "I Don't Like Mondays," hit the airwaves. After word leaked out that Geldof had written the song about a woman shooting schoolchildren from her apartment window, the song was boycotted by the radio industry.

Geldof was broke, fast fading from public memory, and completely alone. Then one dreary London evening in mid-November 1984, as he sat slouched in front of his television, BBC aired a documentary about a hundred-year drought that was threatening millions of Ethiopians with starvation.

The next day Geldof began calling fellow musicians, suggesting a group single to benefit starvation victims. With the passion of the idea behind him, he was able to pull together the core of British rock royalty in only three weeks to record "Do They Know It's Christmas?" The record generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for famine relief.

But the momentum didn't stop there. Bakers began donating food. Schools held canned-goods drives. Children were knitting blankets. Like a spiraling contagion, people enlisted in the cause. As the momentum spread to America, Geldof latched on to an even bigger idea. Conceived in January 1985, the Live Aid concert was successfully birthed less than seven months later.

The fact is that absolutely nothing in the history of entertainment-not Woodstock or any other mass event-comes anywhere close to matching Live Aid in scope, in numbers, in impact, or in the grandeur of its concept. An estimated 1.5 billion viewers in 100 countries watched at least some part of the 16 hours' worth of performances. When the final tally was in, Live Aid had raised a little over $245 million from every corner of the world.

How did something so epic happen so quickly? What was it about Live Aid that so caught the world's attention that one-third of all the people alive on the planet would tune in to watch it and collectively donate just shy of a quarter billion dollars to famine relief? What do famine relief and self-inflicted refrigeration have in common?

You might see the phrase "interactive content marketing" and think that it's something contemporary. But interactive content marketing, as I define it, is a groundbreaking new spin on content marketing that has yet to fully take hold, and when it does, it will change the world of content marketing.

The problem with content marketing today

Content marketing wasn't always popular, nor was it always possible. Before every business in the world had a website, most businesses relied on traditional advertising tactics, such as printed flyers or television ads, to spread the word about their products and services. But in the wake of the information age, traditional advertising is no longer as effective. There are three main reasons for this:

  • Audiences are bombarded with advertisements, and quite frankly, are sick of them. Advertisements became so commonplace and so blatant that they started to become white noise to their target audiences, even if they would otherwise be interested in the product.
  • Audiences don't trust corporations as much as they trust individuals. For this reason, any advertisement that does catch their attention tends to be treated as garbage, disregarded and thrown away.
  • Audiences have access to unlimited information, and would rather do research to find the products and services they need than be subjected to a flashy, manipulative advertisement.

These three motivations actually spurred the rise of content marketing's popularity. It addressed each problem respectively by:

  • Offering a niche environment in a new space, so audiences aren't bombarded.
  • Demonstrating authority with facts and expertise.
  • Giving users the information they're looking for directly.

By positioning content in this way, content marketers have aligned themselves with the changing views and preferences of modern audiences. Countless businesses have reaped the benefits of being seen as experts, without ever needing to resort to traditional advertising. But now, there's a big problem with content marketing: Everybody's doing it.

Now, there are still thousands of sites operating as experts in their own respective niches, and they're still enjoying streams of revenue as a result of their efforts, but content marketing has exploded in popularity because of its benefits. This accumulation of content marketers has been great for consumers--who are now able to find an article covering pretty much any need they can imagine--but for business owners, things are getting a little crowded.

Currently, content marketing is alive and well, but this trend is unlikely to continue. Eventually, content marketing will hit the same obstacles as traditional marketing:

  • Audiences will be so bombarded with content that most of it will become white noise.
  • Audiences will not trust traditional content, at least not immediately, because there are so many competing so-called experts.
  • Audiences will find new ways to find information that circumvent traditional content marketing.

The last point is speculative, based on the idea that interactive content marketing will someday come to replace content marketing as we know it today.

The significance of visual content

Before I delve into the idea of interactive content marketing, I want to examine the rising trend of visual content marketing and how it ties into the idea that traditional content is falling into the same trap of traditional advertising.

As a content marketer, you've naturally realized the importance of visual content. Having an image associated with your blog results in a much higher click rate, and images and videos have a much higher chance of going viral through social media. As a result, most content marketers have integrated visual content--such as infographics and short video demonstrations or testimonials--into their campaigns.

Audiences react to this visual content more significantly because it engages them more. Rather than needing to read several hundred words, they can immerse themselves in the visual medium. It's more of an experience, and therefore, it gets more attention and more favoritism. This is an important concept to understand when I start discussing the possibilities and implications of interactive content marketing.

How content marketing will become interactive

We know that traditional content marketing will someday become as passed over as traditional advertising, and we know that users favor media that give them a better experience. In order to identify the next marketing breakthrough, we need to find a strategy that addresses the three main problems we discussed earlier and give users an engaging experience.

Interactive content marketing does this. Because it's new, it won't be overwhelming. Because it will be personally customized, it will be trusted. Because it's personally informative, it's more valuable than traditional content marketing. And because it's personally immersive, it's a more engaging experience.

So what exactly is it? Put simply, interactive content marketing is a strategy that uses the personal information of your users to generate a unique, customized experience. We see small, rudimentary examples of this today. For example, remarketing advertisement display ads for specific products to people who have expressed interest in those products in the past. Also, interactive online quizzes such as "Which Game of Thrones character are you?" rely on individual user input to generate a unique result. Combine these ideas with information you've gathered with big data, and you have content fully adapted to a user's profile and input.

This could mean displaying different articles for different types of users when they visit your site. It could mean producing a "choose your own adventure" style video that explores different ideas depending on the input of the user. These are simple ideas that will likely become radically complex once technology evolves to support such a platform. Companies that are able to find a way to integrate big data insights into real world content applications, with an emphasis on catering to the individual user, will win out in the next phase of marketing evolution.

How to prepare today

Of course, at this point, that highly advanced form of integrated content marketing is speculative, and therefore somewhat unpredictable. However, it's important to be aware of the possibility of its development and, if you can, prepare for it. There are several actions you can take to get yourself ready for the dawn of interactive content marketing--and they'll all help you refine and execute your current content marketing strategy:

  • Work on open-ended content. Instead of writing an article with a beginning, middle, and end, experiment with articles that explore a specific premise in multiple different directions.
  • Start collecting more data on your customers. Find out exactly what they like and don't like. Find out who they are and what they want. Use qualitative surveys and quantitative research methods to start compiling data and adjusting your strategy accordingly. For more information on how to do this, check out my article Why Knowing Your Audience Is the Key to Success.
  • Emphasize user input. Ask your readers' opinions on a given subject before you write about it. If you can, hand over the reins of your content development platform to your users by giving them a chance to suggest topics for discussion.

Eventually, your content marketing strategy will naturally become more interactive, and when more advanced forms of interactive content become available, you'll be ready to harness them.

Ch. 5: For the Marketing Maven ►