It seems like everything is interactive these days. Static content, no matter where you look, is becoming a thing of the past as audiences seek to take charge of the content they interact with and build their own digital experiences.
It’s difficult to follow this trend and not get overwhelmed. Following and satisfying audience needs is a core tenant of marketing, but with the industry moving so quickly, how do you keep up? How can you compete with a Netflix show that suddenly integrated a ‘choose your own adventure path’ and won an Emmy award as a result?
The reality is that brands, in a digital environment, don’t just compete with each other. They compete with all types of content their audience could consume and pay attention to instead. When that content becomes interactive, brands in all industries need to react and ensure their content is just as interactive and engaging.
Of course, that can be a difficult proposition, especially in usually slow-moving industries like education, healthcare, and hospitality. You cannot simply manufacture interaction and hope for the best. Instead, you need to understand exactly what makes interactive content so successful, and what you can learn from the various types of content your audience gravitates you.
Interactive Content: A Working Definition
Depending on your search, you will find plenty of definitions for interactive content online. Here’s one:
Interactive media is a method of communication in which the program’s outputs depend on the user’s inputs, and the user’s inputs, in turn, affect the program’s outputs. Simply put, it refers to the different ways in which people process and share information, or how they communicate with one another. Interactive media allows people to connect with others – whether that’s people or organizations – making them active participants in the media they consume.
Sounds complex. Let’s break it down into more digestible parts.
Put simply, the term refers to any content in which the user can take some kind of action that determines what the content actually looks like. The easiest facsimile here is a ‘choose your own adventure’ book: depending on the paths you choose, you will arrive at a different ending.
Other examples include digital quizzes and even content as simple as podcasts that answer audience questions. If the actions your audience takes shape the content, chances are it’s interactive.
Another useful exercise is to examine not just what interactive content is, but what it is at its best. In other words, what should this type of media achieve in order for it to make a difference? Two components are especially important to mention here:
- Unique. Interactive content succeeds when it creates unique experiences that are different from their static alternatives in which a necessary path is already chosen for the audience.
- Dynamic. Interactive content succeeds when the experience generated is distinctive for each user, based on that user’s input. That means not just increasing variability, but also the likelihood that the same user will come back later in search of a different outcome.
4 Marketing Benefits of Digital Interactivity
We’ve already hinted at it above, but it’s worth diving into further. Interactive content succeeds specifically because your audience loves it. Your audience loves it, in turn, because digital interactivity offers 4 distinct benefits that more static content simply cannot compete with.
1) Engaging Experiences
Let’s start with the most obvious part. As mentioned above, interactive content works because it does a better job of engaging your audience. Engaging your audience, in turn, is vital to building brand interactions and loyalty.
Starting with millennials and going through almost all age groups, consumers widely prefer experiences over things in their everyday life. That extends to marketing as well, where interactive content significantly increases the time your audience spends on your website.
That makes intuitive sense. Encouraging and even requiring the user to take action instead of just being a passive bystander prompts them to engage, and by engaging, they dive deeper into the experiences you publish. One goal naturally needs to the next.
2) Minimizing Unnecessary Clicks
At its best, interactive content also minimizes the number of clicks your audience needs to spend to get to where they need to go. Digital interactivity naturally narrows down the options they’re seeking in the process of the experience; instead of actively seeking it out, they find it right there, on your website.
That means less time and effort spent browsing for the right spot or content, and more time actually engaging with that content. Especially in crowded industries, where every second of engagement counts, minimizing the time spent searching naturally leads to more brand interactions and audience satisfaction.
3) Getting the Right Answer – Fast
Closely related to minimizing the number of unnecessary clicks for your audience is making sure that they get the answer they’re looking for, fast. We know that the average attention span online is now at less than eight seconds. You don’t have much time to give your audience what they’re looking for, and every split second counts in keeping their attention.
Recall the definition of “best case” content marketing mentioned above. Interactive content “succeeds when the experience is distinctive for each user based on their input.” That inherently includes the ability to quickly narrow down exactly what your audience is looking for and adjusting the content accordingly.
It sounds a bit vague, so let’s look at a specific example: the interactive quiz. Answering a few questions gives your audience exactly what answer they need, instead of either keeping it (unhelpfully) general or requiring significant browsing time. The ability to provide the right answer so quickly can be a significant advantage in your marketing.
4) Gaining Brand Differentiation
Finally, it’s important to consider digital interactivity as an opportunity to build differentiation. While marketers largely agree on the benefits of this content format, only 10 to 30% plan to build their marketing strategy in this direction.
That’s largely because this type of content is daunting. It requires more than just writing a blog post. Interactive quizzes need at least some HTML coding, and interactive maps are built on an entirely different software platform altogether. As a result, hesitant to try something new, many marketers stick with the status quo.
Naturally, the opportunity arises as a direct result of this resistance to change. Embracing the concept, and making your content more interactive, means almost automatically standing out from your competition sticking with static alternatives. Add the fact that your audience loves this type of content, and you have a natural differentiator.
Examples of Interactive Content in Modern Marketing
Even though many marketers haven’t fully embraced the concept, plenty of interactive content examples still exist in the world of marketing today. Examining them more closely allows you to understand just how you might be able to embrace the same, improving your marketing strategy as a result.
Each of these examples comes from thoughtful marketing strategies, specifically designed to embrace and engage audiences. We’ve mentioned many of them in the above sections; let’s dive in more deeply.
- Interactive quizzes, from simple Buzzfeed-style quizzes to job skills surveys and other, more complex topics.
- Customizable content sections, such as the ESPN app which customizes its headlines and scoreboards based on the user’s favorite teams.
- Podcasts, especially those answering fan questions and shaping their content based on customer feedback and input.
- Contests that allow you to gain audience submissions while offering something in return.
- Interactive calculators, especially for eCommerce companies (shipping) and for large purchases (mortgages or car loans).
- Webinars, presentations by experts that can include Q&A sessions and other types of audience interactions.
- Interactive maps.
Interactive Mapping: A Core Type of Digital Interactivity
All of the above examples, in at least some way, fit the definition of interactive content. Still, it’s worth taking a closer look at interactive maps, which are at once an exception to the rule and the quintessential example of it. Understanding why helps you uncover their value, especially in modern marketing reliant on interactivity.
Digital maps are quintessential examples of interactive content because they’re both unique and dynamic. The user experience is customizable to the point where almost no two experiences are the same. Consider the following features as examples of the type of interactivity a modern map can provide:
- Highlighting different buildings based on factors like opening hours and user reviews.
- Live data integration, such as bus routes and traffic, to make information more relevant at any given point in time.
- Directions to each relevant point on the map, such as individual sights or buildings.
- A filter system (think Zillow or Airbnb) that allows the user to feature specific items based on pre-defined parameters.
- Integrated virtual and virtual reality tours that can change and adjust the way a given user views the entire map, which now serves as a backdrop.
Combine any number of these features, and you have a truly interactive piece of content that will build unique experiences for any user who visits. And yet, at the same time, maps are also a unique case because they are not, in the most narrow sense, ‘content’. Instead, they are a visualizaIt’stion of physical space, the foundation for content like videos and virtual tours but typically not the content themselves.
That in turn, provides a valuable lesson in its own right. Interactive maps can host a large variety of interactive content, including many of the examples above. If the goal is to maximize audience engagement and leverage your uniqueness as a brand and business, this tactic allows you to be both in an elegant way that also happens to be functional. You just have to know how to leverage it the right way.
Is Your Marketing Strategy Ready to Embrace Interactive Content?
It’s important to emphasize that, while interactive content is doubtlessly a buzz word in 2020, it’s far from a new concept. There’s a reason we hinted at ‘choose your own adventure’ books above; almost as long as the content has existed, digital or otherwise, creators have thrived to make it more interactive and more engaging.
Buzzfeed first gained its quiz fame in 2006, almost 15 years ago now. It has since become a global media empire based on the simple fact that audiences like to create their own conclusions and customize their content in the process. Since then, these audiences have only become more expectant, more demanding, and more ready to embrace digital interactivity when they come across it.
That, in turn, can only lead to one conclusion: your marketing strategy has to embrace digital, interactive content in the same way that your audience has come to expect it. The concept, in various forms, has been around for more than a decade, and your marketing channels have to be able to match and exceed those expectations.
Of course, that can be easier said than done. The reason so few marketers have embraced interactive content is that it can be complex to build. It helps to start by asking yourself a few simple questions:
- What type of content does my audience expect?
- What type of content would help me reach my goals of audience engagements and interaction?
- What type of interactive content does my competition use, if any?
- What are my capabilities in building the types of content that are beneficial to both my business and my audiences?
- How can I measure the success of my interactive content to make improvements and drive success over time?
- Can I build interactive content now that I can build and expand on in the future?
- Do I have the resources to partner with an external company to build the interactive content I need?
That last question becomes especially relevant in something like interactive maps, which (as explained above) require a different process and platform to build out than most other types of content. Finding a vendor who can help you not just build an accurate map but also make it engaging and interactive is absolutely vital.
We can help with that process. Concept3D has been a leader in building interactive maps for years, and we could partner with you to make your own name in the space.