It was 2012 when the hype train left the station with all the early adopters. Google Glass dropped into our vernacular, and soon enough entire industries were buzzing, trying to get their hands on the product.
The hype was real. Time ranked it one of the top inventions of the year, dubbing Google Glass “the device that will make augmented reality part of our daily lives.” What we got instead was a clunker. The original iteration of Google Glass was buggy, awkward, and costly—the product just couldn’t stick.
The truth is: Technology has come a long way in the last few years. Although virtual reality and augmented reality have had a few peaks of success along the way—Pokémon Go, anyone?—neither technology has had the reliability or practicality for brands trying to reach audiences in creative ways.
But brands already have creative ways to reach their users: interactive content. You just have to know how to use it right.
What is interactive content marketing?
Interactive content requires active engagement from the user, not just a click to a download or another article. Think stickier, like online calculator tools, clickable videos and infographics, and interactive emails. In return for that longer engagement, brands provide users real-time, relevant results they were seeking.
Interactive content marketing is where content marketing was always destined to go. In digital spaces overrun with noise, content marketing is becoming less about the words on a page and more about the user experiences they create.
The results speak for themselves—interactive content gains twice the engagement as traditional static content and can oftentimes be a regular destination (like a mortgage calculator or surf forecast). Brand marketers in search of engaging content tactics are starting to get the hype.
But if you’re new to interactive content, how exactly do you start?
Give them what they need
People shop at pet stores for pet needs. They shop at grocery stores for food needs. Unless it’s Costco, in which case you can take care of your pet and food needs while buying a new car. Probably.
For content marketers, the rules of engagement haven’t changed. Content marketing is ultimately about the customer. Give them value along their journey without being salesy or annoying. Although interactive content is indeed meant to grab share of attention, it’s also a utility—something people need or want to use. Its purpose goes beyond information sharing or education—it’s active enlightenment.
To do interactive content well, brands must anchor to the needs, tendencies, and behaviors of their target users.
What information do they need? Financial brands have largely recognized the incredible value-add from calculator tools. B2C brands have built calculators that run the gamut, from helping users grapple with debt-to-income ratio all the way to helping them understand how much they should crank up their 401(k).
Similarly, B2B brands have built calculator tools that allow targeted CFOs and revenue-focused users to better understand the ROI of a new product or service investment.
How can we deliver that information instantly? 43% of consumers prefer interactive video content over traditional video content because it gives them control of what information they can access and how quickly they can get to it. This is hardly an outlier—in the digital age, consumers largely want information as soon as they can get it.
Brands are tapping into this eagerness. For example, adding interactive elements to live events helps give immediate context to a point being made. Think slides or polls that pop up on the screen during a webinar. Even the act of answering questions in real time during events is interactive by definition.
What comes next? The buyer journey may be a straight line to a sale, but it could also just as easily be a meandering trip past different digital touchpoints. Brands that do interactive content marketing effectively see the forest for the trees, recognizing the larger content strategy involved.
That calculator could be a fantastic lead generator tool. But it’ll come down to other types of content—interactive and static, organic and paid—to move people from curious to customer.
Typeform is a great example of a tool built for the user journey. Brands can embed elements of their interactive Typeform forms in emails, enticing the user to click through to a larger form or another piece of content entirely.
Think ahead. Take chances.
Even though virtual reality isn’t really a thing yet in the content marketing universe, hope abounds. Close to a quarter of VR users believe there’s a ton of potential for eventual adoption by brands and marketers.
The reason for such a sunny disposition? Emotional content works. In fact, studies show emotional content performs far better than rational content—up to 2x better in some cases. Interactive content gives marketers the opportunity to create compelling, sticky content that brings users into the moment they’re creating.
In fact, some of the earliest adopters of VR in marketing have been brands looking to level up emotional connections with their audiences. A few years ago, Toms Shoes partnered with AT&T to create an immersive experience that transported new shoppers to a village in Colombia to meet a child benefiting from their shoe purchase. The campaign was a hit, communicating powerfully how far a single purchase could go.
AT&T’s thoughts on the project? VR unlocked their ability to “create really interesting and innovative content” to ultimately “tell stories and connect people.”
When thinking about content distribution strategy, some calculated risks are better than others. Interactive content packs the kind of emotional punch that can stick with and drive audiences into action. Not to mention the fact that the virtual reality and augmented reality market is expected to be worth upwards of a trillion dollars by 2030. Needless to say, the future seems bright.
Don’t just go where your audience lives today—explore ways to reach your future audience, too. For example, financial brands may want to create more assessments and tap into gamification. The kind of content Buzzfeed gets social buzz for—but even better, obviously.
Brands are already realizing these tides are turning. Close to 90% of marketers say a portion of their existing static content will be turned into interactive content in the next couple of years.
Interactive content marketing isn’t just the future. It’s here.
Get started by treating people like—well, people.
Interactive content marketing delivers immediate value to your audience. That’s one good thing. But it also brings your users into your world for a moment. When they interact with that infographic or interactive video, they get a glimpse of the kinds of data and information your brand can talk about for days.
Content marketers must invest in interactive content and tools beyond static content. Users crave that level of engagement, and today’s tools allow marketers to craft compelling experiences quickly and cost effectively.
In a few years, VR and AR may be technically ready for more marketing investment. Truly immersive content is coming—that was never really in doubt. But interactive content marketing is here now, and it’s not going anywhere.
For content marketers, the point is still the same as ever. Don’t let the technology make you forget to treat your audience like they’re humans. Use technology to make them better humans.