You might have heard that content is king. 

And like the monarchy, it had medieval beginnings.

It went by the title of Poor Richard’s Almanack, a bestseller published on Benjamin Franklin’s own printing press. He used it to promote his printing business, and it succeeded. Wildly. It was a bestseller—with a run of 25 years.

He filled it with an eclectic mix of fun facts, recipes, advice, job opportunities, weather and astrological predictions, sayings, and poems. It had the usefulness of an encyclopedia and the personality of a tabloid.

Everyone from the neighbors to the colonial government read it—and it was on his customers’ minds when they were looking to get a printing job: 

Poor Richard’s Almanack

 

This was content marketing. 

Like the good brands of history and the present, Franklin produced a stream of high-value content that, as marketer Len Stein describes, is “packed with utility, seeded with inspiration, and… honestly empathetic.” 

And that is what modern day content marketing is still about—only now, with the democratization of tech and publishing, almost everyone’s becoming a content creator.

And it’s getting pretty crowded.

According to the Economist, “The average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages a day, interacting with a brand six to eight times before becoming a customer.”

Your brand has some stiff competition. Who wins? 

Enter the new king: interactive content.

Interactive content is defined as any form of content that invites or requires some level of interaction or engagement. Pretty self-explanatory.

Unlike its opposite, passive content, which is static, interactive content is far more immersive, visually rich, and attention-grabbing. 

Like an infographic. Or an immersive video. A Twitter poll. Or an animated Instagram story. 

Passive content is one-way. Interactive content is two-way. 

Passive content talks at its audience. Interactive content talks to its audience. 

Passive content is boring and easily ignored. Interactive content is enticing and highly shareable. 

And interactive content does well at the metrics that matter:

  1. Conversions
    Interactive content converts buyers 70% of the time compared to just 36% for passive content.
  2. Differentiation
    88% of interactive content users report that it’s somewhat or very effective at differentiating [a brand from its competitors], compared to just 55% of passive content users.
  3. Engagement
    Interactive content is more engaging than ordinary content. Fully engaged customers are four times more likely to appreciate branded messaging and seven times more likely to claim offers from a brand. Conversely, 91% of non-engaged customers become dissatisfied and, well, drop out. 

Okay, but why should businesses care about interactive content?

Because even though it takes both time and money to create, it can pay for itself in the long run. 

1. Interactive content allows you to get more nuanced information about your audience.

Data can be your strength—and interactive content is extremely measurable.

If you can create interactive content like like quizzes, calculators, and polls, you can go beyond demographics (age, sex, location, ethnicity) and get a psychographic level of understanding. 

This means you’ll have a richer picture of who your reader is. What do they want? What are their fears? What’s holding them back? Where are they in their buyer journey? (Or in marketing-speak, the “funnel”?) 

With static content, you only get to know things like “At what point did they drop out of reading this article?” or “Did they share it?” But with interactive content, you have a chance at knowing why.

2. Interactive content adds more value to your audience.

A survey by the Economist discovered that 75% of executives seek out business content for research.

93% of participants in the Ion Interactive study above reported interactive content as somewhat or very effective [in educating the buying audience]. In contrast, only 70% of passive content users reported the same level of effectiveness.

Why should you care? Because your customers are looking to you to educate themselves in their purchase journey! And you want to make your customers happy, right?

The sooner you’re able to give them something valuable, the more prominently you’ll feature in their purchase decision. Why not get in early?

3. Interactive content helps you build trust.

So, you have your data, you can visualize your customer in your head, and you know where exactly to intervene with your awesome-sauce content. Now what?

One of the biggest trends for 2020 is hyper-personalization. According to research conducted by Boostify, 90% of social users report feeling positively towards brands that treat them like an individual, but only 20% feel that brands really care.

If you’re able to build a content asset that your reader feels is made just for them, you can start building trust. That’s how you lay the foundation for a long-term relationship—and more loyal customers. 

13 examples of interactive content

1. Infographics

Infographics are designed to present information and tell a story. They are a great, economical, and easy way to condense large swathes of complex information into a quick glance. You can use them to present survey results, show parts of a process, or illustrate a system, like this Burning Man infographic

History of Burning Man.

Flint Hahn’s beautiful infographic details the history of Burning Man.

 

A little bit of Photoshop savvy goes a long way in capturing the attention of a reader. If you have the resources to make them, “Gifographics” make for a nice twist, bringing a sense of bubbling activity to the page. 

An example of Gifographics

 

Tools you can use: Canva, Adobe Spark.

2. Data visualization (or data viz)

Where infographics are made by humans, data visualizations are made by computer programs. They’re primarily tools for analyzing things and are often updated live.

Nikon’s interactive multimedia asset Universcale is a brand application that allows its target audience—camera lovers—to appreciate the full capabilities of its opto-electronics technologies:

Universcale, Nikon’s interactive multimedia asset

Nikon’s rich media visualization demonstrates its optic range in an innovative way.

 

It doesn’t have to be expensive to produce either. There are quite a few tools out there that can help make data visualizations painlessly.

Tools you can use: Google Charts, Datawrapper, or Tableau for data; Preceden or Sutori for timelines.

3. Polls and quizzes

Let’s be honest—this is a safe space—how many of us have spent entire work days on Buzzfeed to find out stuff like which Kim Kardashian Tweet To Put On Your Grave

In their heyday, sponsored Buzzfeed quizzes had a 96% completion rate.

Surveys and polls have an irresistible appeal because, well, they ask us about ourselves. 

And don’t we love to talk about ourselves. Polls and quizzes are incredibly inexpensive to produce, with built-in tools on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

Example of Polls and Quizzes on Instagram

Examples of how brands can use polls. Source: SproutSocial

 

The best part? While your prospects and customers are having fun answering questions, you’ll be learning tons about them yourself.

Tools you can use: Playbuzz, Pinpoll, Typeform.

4. Contests, sweepstakes, giveaways

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge?

Research by Ion Interactive and the Content Marketing Institute showed that content marketers found contests to be the most effective form of interactive content. When combined with freebies and giveaways, they work even better:

Most effective form of interactive content by content marketers

 

In this award-winning example, Behr Home Paints combined two interactive elements in its campaign: direct communication with consumers and sweepstakes. BEHR Color Clinic was a two-day, live social media event across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where seven influential experts answered consumer color questions in real time:

Behr Home Paints Instagram Campaign

Behr Home Paints Facebook Campaign

Behr Home Paints Twitter Campaign

 

Consumers who participated using the campaign hashtag were entered for a chance to win $10,000 and a one-on-one Skype design consultation with Sabrina Soto.

Here’s what Behr had to say about the results:

A total of 8,000 consumer questions and color expert responses were delivered using our campaign hashtag, with 95% of consumer social conversation expressing project intent… We acquired 39,000 campaign landing page visits, which was 324% above our initial projections, and nearly 55 million influencer, paid social and media impressions.”

Tools you can use: Shortstack.

5. Interactive video

Graph about the kind of content a user wants to see from a brand or business

 

Cisco projects that global internet traffic from videos will make up 82% of all consumer internet traffic by 2021. Videos by brands are jostling for space alongside entertainment content (and cat videos).

Making your videos interactive can give your brand the added edge and give you a unique way to gain brand awareness.

Interactive videos are basically regular videos that you can click on to get more information or to make the visuals do fun things.

And people love them. The Economist observed that in its experience, “..content programmes hosting an interactive data tool or video offer the best performance across reach and engagement.”

So, video is going to be a very crowded marketplace.

Here’s how ASOS, a popular fashion e-commerce brand, used interactive video:

Asos Interactive Video

 

And here’s a way an interactive video can elevate a detail as mundane and easily ignored as, well, doors:

Interactive video can elevate a detail

 

Tools you can use: Hapyak, Rapt.

6. User-generated content (UGC)

It doesn’t get more customer-first and interactive than user-generated content, which is basically content generated by your users (aka your customers and followers) for you. Think of your brand’s customer experience beyond just the purchasing step—what kind of culture and community would your customers want to be a part of?

79% of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions, finding it 9.8x more impactful than influencer content. (And unlike influencer content, this stuff is free.)

This can be in the form of unpaid reviews and testimonials, or deliberate, like when brands include users in the content creation process to lift them up and celebrate them.

For example, GoPro’s whole video channel is made up of footage by its users simply having fun with the GoPro:

 

Tools you can use: Videoly.

7. 360-degree media

As augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, brands are spending a lot of money on developing 360-degree video and photo capabilities.

A study by virtual reality and 360-degree video advertising platform Omnivirt discovered that 360-degree photo ads drive over 410% ROI when compared to flat photo ads:

Omnivirt study about ads that drive higher engagement

 

Kit Kat experimented with this format to promote its matcha chocolate bar:

Have a 360° Zen Break

Three hundred and sixty degrees of serenity awaits. Have a Zen break with our new Matcha Green Tea KITKAT.

Posted by KitKat on Wednesday, July 11, 2018

 

How effective was it? The Drum reported that the campaign “..resulted in a completion rate that was more than double the average. It also managed to deliver a 35% increase in consideration and a 100% rise in ad recall.”

Oh, and you don’t have to be a big brand with big bucks to do this kind of content. NC State University’s faculty rock band, The Quadrivium Project, also made use of a 360-degree photo to promote its show:

The Quadrivium Project 360-degree photo

 

According to Beaumonde, which ran the campaign on Facebook, it saw an engagement rate of 37.57% and a click-through rate of well over twice the industry standard. 

The Quadrivium Project Presents: Deep Cuts

Get your tickets today for Deep Cuts: The Spirit of FM Radio! 🎟🎸🎶 September 6th & 8th👉 bit.ly/GetQuadriviumTicketsClick to view The Quadrivium Project's rehearsal in 360°!

Posted by The Quadrivium Project on Tuesday, August 28, 2018

 

Tools you can use: None as of now, you’ll need to have a really good videographer on your team already or hire an agency specifically.

8. Recommenders and solution builders

Interactive recommenders help customers through their decision-making process. Like this one:

Interactive recommenders

 

Even something as dry as construction machinery becomes elegant through the simple recommender.

On the more consumer-facing side of things, here’s a recommender for scents!

Recommender of scents

Recommender of scents

 

Tools you can use: Dot.vu.

9. Calculators

Calculators take the algebra out of shopping for price-sensitive consumers who look for objective value in their decision-making process. The nice thing about them is they have long-term utility and can remain a fixture on your site long after your campaign stops running.

The Cost of Doing Business calculator below is a great example by the National Press Photographers Association that helps all kinds of small businesses and independent professionals price their services:

Cost of Doing Business calculator by the National Press Photographers Association

Cost of Doing Business calculator by the National Press Photographers Association

 

Most popular formats: ROI calculators, cost calculators, revenue generation calculators, and time-savings calculators.

Tools you can use: Outgrow, Calconic.

10. Games and gamification

Gamification isn’t just about “playing games.” Instead, it’s about introducing an element of play with a goal in mind. 

This can make your content much more effective and engaging, since gamification can lead to a 100–150% increase in engagement, and 60% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy from a brand if they enjoyed playing a game with it.

Here’s how a chocolate brand, Callebaut, is using gamification as part of its brand experience.

Callebaut using gamification as part of brand experience

Callebaut using gamification as part of brand experience

Callebaut using gamification as part of brand experience

 

If you’re creative, you can use it to supercharge other time-tested marketing techniques too, like getting referrals. Google’s GPay app did that in India with its scratch cards. Instead of being assured a fixed return every time, Gpay varied the results. 

It snagged over 100 million installs in two years, and it’s one of the most popular in its category:

Google gamified referrals for GPay

Google gamified referrals for GPay, leading to over 50 million installs in under two years. Source: Hackernoon

 

Tools you can use: Dot.vu.

11. Assessments and diagnostic tests

Assessments are by far the most popular type of interactive tools used, followed by interactive white papers (more on that next).

Online lingerie shop ThirdLove has a simple assessment to help its site visitors find the perfect fit. While customers are figuring out their right bra size, ThirdLove is gathering detailed information about them:

ThirdLove simple assessment

 

HubSpot, a developer and marketer of software products, has a website grader that helps its potential customers understand the improvements they need to make to their website (while communicating why they might need HubSpot’s services): 

Hubspot Website Grader

 

Tools you can use: Assessment Generator.

12. Interactive white papers and eBooks

Static white papers and eBooks are just downloadable walls of text, but interactive white papers and eBooks are so much more. Take for example this report on privacy:

BDO GDPR Experts Interactive Report

 

Or this eBook by a financial wellness publication, as part of a campaign that helps young people “reframe their mindset around money”:

MyWorthFinance Campaign Interactive Ebook

MyWorthFinance Campaign Interactive Ebook

 

Here are some of their results:

  • 100K landing page views
  • 5M+ impressions
  • 32% conversion rate
  • 115K+ “fearless community members challenging themselves, and each other, to grow”

Tools you can use: Foleon.

13. Live chats

Your customers don’t want to have to plow through dense jargon-ridden troubleshooting guides.

In a Facebook survey of 8,000 people, 69% of respondents said that directly messaging with a company helps them feel more confident about the brand.

Chatbots are great, but think beyond them too. Here’s an example of how a wellness website used chat to educate users on how to talk to vaccination skeptics:

Verywell conversations with people who are skeptical about vaccination

Verywell conversations with people who are skeptical about vaccination

 

Tools you can use: Olark, Drift.

How can small businesses start using interactive content?

If interactive content is starting to look very doable for you right now, great. But don’t forget, the rules of good content still apply here. 

Rules like “Know your audience,” “Know yourself,” “Don’t market ‘at’ people,” and “Be useful.” 

For instance, there’s no point in throwing money at an expensive AR/VR experience if your target audience is in a developing market without access to sophisticated smartphones, affordable mobile data plans, or Wi-Fi..

Best practices for interactive content

1. Ask these questions before you start, and allocate your resources accordingly:

  • Will my audience find this useful, entertaining, or educational?
  • Will my audience want to share this asset and tell their networks about it?
  • What do you hope to achieve with this asset?
  • Can it be applied across different types of campaigns, and is it versatile and appealing to more than one segment?
  • Is there a long-term value-add to this asset? Is it time-sensitive and seasonal or evergreen? 

2. Repurpose existing assets.

You don’t have to overhaul your entire website. Just reimagine your existing assets and think about how they can get your customers to lean forward. Do you have an up to date but lengthy eBook? How about turning it into an interactive microsite?

Do you have an ancient infographic somewhere in your archives? Why not turn it into a gifographic? A rate card could become a calculator, and a brochure could become an interactive recommender tool.

If you have a great looking video, why not turn it into an animated header, like Discover Puerto Rico did? It’s a clean, well-designed website with just one animated element: its header.

Discover Puerto Rico animated header

 

3. Make sure you have a clear and collaborative process.

If you’re managing a small business, chances are you will be outsourcing a lot of your creative talent. If you’re not outsourcing your talent, you’ll be managing a process with a lot of moving parts.

Often the difference between content that realizes your vision and content that doesn’t is poor coordination in your team. The best creatives come from fun and collaborative environments.

One way to do that is to use collaborative tools to make it easy for everyone to communicate with each other and share files. Glip® is a good example:

RingCentral messaging app

 

4. Make it shareable.

The biggest superpower of interactive content is its shareability. If you want your audience to share your interactive assets, you will need to optimize them for mobile devices. This means getting together with a UX or UI expert and making sure that your file sizes aren’t too big and that your interactive video doesn’t break your web page.

This is especially important as there’s a very high chance that your target customer is browsing your content—and also sharing it—on a mobile device:

Graph about the most popular social networking apps in the US, June 2019

 

Don’t forget to look at where your audience is consuming content to create assets that are the right size and format. For example, Facebook is still the most popular social networking site, though Instagram has the best treatment for visuals. 

What other ways can you think of to make your content available to more people? 

Start creating interactive content and set your business apart.

There’s a lot to love about interactive content.

But it’s often easier said than done.

To create good and useful interactive content, you’ll need resources and technical skills. Everyone needs to buy in and work as a team to come up with ideas, create drafts and concepts, and get it live on the web. But when it’s executed beautifully, it can work wonders. 

Which type of interactive content will you create?