Content marketing is an ever-changing game. Just when you think you have it all figured out, audiences change their minds, Google changes its algorithms, and you have to re-format everything to suit new needs. Sure, it can be frustrating, but when you get it right, the results are downright exhilarating.
We know that classic online content formats, such as plain text and basic images, are slowly losing steam over time. Audiences still consume them, and often, but it’s becoming harder and harder to get noticed. Generating higher-quality content is one answer, but it isn’t foolproof, and even the best demographic analyses can fail.
In this post, I’ll start by explaining why standard content methods are faltering. Then, I’ll tell you what interactive content really is, why it works, and how you can use it to improve engagement throughout your campaigns.
The Human Need for Engagement
As humans, we love to be entertained and engaged. From infanthood, we thrive on sights, sounds, and experiences that tickle our senses and grab our attention, right from the first shiny, noisy rattle all the way to rock concerts and gourmet dinners over a glass of fine wine in adulthood.
Engagement plays a critical role in how we learn, how we pay attention, and what we remember over time. It’s influenced by a combination of our emotions and our built-in fight-or-flight system in the brain.
(No, that doesn’t mean you have to scare people into converting.)
Neil Patel touches on the psychology of engagement here. He explains that engagement is all about making people excited, and that excitement has “strong physiological responses” that make us more likely to act.
In content marketing, we use the very same desire for sensory input and excitement to tempt our audiences into paying attention. The goal is to create memorable content that’s so enjoyable everyone wants to share the “experience” with someone else. That’s where the entire concept of a “hook” and “engagement comes from.
The Problem With Non-Interactive Content
The problem is that we live in an increasingly over-saturated online world; audiences are barraged with text and images all day long. Just like a baby playing with the same toy for hours at a time, or someone eating the same gourmet meal over and over, too much of the same thing starts to become boring.
The result? Audiences stop paying attention. They tune your message out, considering it just another part of the noise. They think “too long; didn’t read” and turn to your competition, who just so happens to be using newer, exciting content formats (including interactivity) to succeed.
On the marketer’s end, it’s even worse. Conversions fall, sales suffer, and you’re left struggling to figure out what went wrong (and where). And that’s right about where interactive content’s powerful ability to engage comes in.
What is “Interactive” Content?
Interactive content is an umbrella term that refers to content formats requiring some sort of input or guidance from the consumer. I’m not talking about web forms, or multiple choice questions, or even simple button-clicking; I mean interactive storytelling that asks the user to be an active part of the message.
When we talk about interactiveness, we’re talking about content formats that require the user to give input at regular intervals in order to move on. It becomes a staccato back-and-forth player one, player two experience; deliver a small amount of content, ask for input, deliver a little bit more. In some ways, it’s like gamification because the user takes action to receive a reward (the next piece of content).
Making Content More Digestible
Alternatively, interactive content can also be about making difficult-to-digest or cumbersome topics more digestible. This includes simplifying technical topics, personalizing content flow for each audience member’s preferences, or creating a totally customized flow that uses the consumer’s own input to channel them into a sales funnel that’s more likely to succeed.
Interactive content engages multiple senses. It solves problems first and sells second. It listens to the user, responds to what they have to say, and values why they’re there in the first place – all of which make it inherently more engaging.
Envision a user playing a web game. They’re receiving audio, visual, and tactile sensory inputs while they actively consume that content. This multi-sensory approach matters because science shows engaging the senses improves attention, memory retention, brand awareness, and even consumer loyalty.
Interactive Content Formats
Seeing is believing, and revealing the most common forms of interactive content can help you envision this content strategy in a more realistic light. This list is far from exhaustive or conclusive, but here are a few of the most common forms of interactivity marketers are currently using to reach more people:
- Timelines – these are interactive “timelines” that progress through your message to drive home the idea of advancement. This includes click-through pathways for development and chronological reveals of how products or services benefit consumers over time.
- Competitions – Good, old-fashioned competition is still highly engaging, which is exactly why voting contests and “share to win” competitions still show significant efficacy in marketing. This is an especially good form of interactivity on social media outlets, like Facebook and Instagram.
- Interactive Infographics – Like traditional infographics, this format delivers complex information in a more digestible format. Input, ranging from simple clicks to self-provided numbers, give the user the power to explore the content at their own pace. See this example to see it in action.
- True Gamification – True gamification is the process of taking everyday content and making it more fun by “gamifying” the consumption process. This includes user leaderboards, quizzes, and point/reward systems.
- Polls – Adding a simple poll to the end of your content that asks users for feedback can be a very compelling form of interactivity, especially if you show results. Audiences feel heard and get the message that other people are paying attention when they can see other user responses, anon or not.
- Interactive Video – Video content is killing it in general within the content marketing industry, but interactive video is even more effective. This can be as simple as YouTube videos directing someone to the next video with an annotation, or as complex as a fully self-directed video experience that leads users through information with clicks and input.
- Guided Reveals – Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a big deal. Guided reveals as the user to give input to “reveal” content, usually the answer to a proposed question or curiosity. The idea of never seeing what’s behind that panel creates an itch that’s impossible to scratch without moving forward.
So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty – how should you move forward with including more interactive content in your campaigns? You may be surprised, but I’m not here to tell you to ditch older text and image methods entirely. In fact, interactive content works best among traditional content formats because it stands out more. Use it to highlight the most critical portions of your message for best results.