According to a WP Curve (since purchased by GoDaddy) study, 89% of start-ups use content marketing as a strategic marketing approach. Now more than ever, the race is on to create content that helps your business stand out from the crowd.
We're all familiar with the standard forms of marketing content: blogs, white papers, videos and infographics, to name a few.
But aside from creating clever, high-visibility multi-media campaigns that generally only a few lucky brands can pull off successfully, how does the average business differentiate itself?
I believe there is an underutilized approach that most -- though perhaps not all -- organizations can leverage. I call it Interactive Marketing Content (IMC), and I have ascribed it a very specific definition.
The Traditional Interactive Approach
The concept of interactive marketing has been around a long time. Webinars, events, contests, downloading an e-book, even the popular BuzzFeed quizzes (i.e., Which Julie Roberts character are you most like?) fall into this category. There is an exchange of information and/or an "interaction" with the brand by the consumer.
There's no doubt that these strategies have the potential to deliver real value, for example, the information a prospect gleans from a webinar or white paper may very well nudge them along to the next step on the purchasing path.
I would contend, however, that these methods often lack one or more important elements:
They don't provide real value to the prospect (e.g., silly quizzes)
The information is only flowing one way, generally from the business to the prospect (e.g., webinars)
The prospect is a passive recipient of the information, meaning they didn't independently seek it out (e.g., walking by at a trade show)
They aren't relevant to the brand's product or services (e.g., iPad giveaway contests)
Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking any of these strategies; I continue to use many of them myself, and they are a critical part of the marketing mix. What I am suggesting is that they be augmented with an even more effective form of content: interactive marketing content.
Interactive Marketing Content: A Definition
As Demand Metric's 2018 Benchmark Study revealed, 96% of study participants believe that content interactivity impacts buyers’ decisions as they go through their journey.
So, if marketers are in agreement that "interactivity" is important, what makes IMC different than traditional interactive content? I have defined it as content that has all four of the following characteristics:
a) It benefits or provides actual value to the prospect
b) It's usually sought out by the prospect from the business, but not always
c) It's interactive, meaning there is some dynamic exchange of information from both parties
d) It exemplifies the company's brand, that is to say the content is directly relevant to the product or services the business provides
Before getting into the specific examples, it's worth noting that there are some gray areas within and between these definitions. The important take-away is to ask yourself what brand value proposition(s) does your business have that can be translated into interactive marketing content?
When I worked as the marketing director at MINDBODY, I mined our clients' aggregated business data to identifiy important trends, including year-over-year sales increases and the number of hours they saved in administrative time once they began using the software. For example, salon owners may have originally scheduled appointments manually over the phone, which ate up a certain amount of staff time each day, whereas once they started using the SaaS platform, those appointments could be made automatically through the website.
I used these two pieces of data and asked our developers to create a simple calculator that would help other salon owners determine what type of revenue growth and reduction in operational expenses they might expect if they transitioned to MINDBODY.
Since the data varied by industry, the calculations happening on the back-end would produce different results for each prospect. A big box gym would have different metrics than a yoga studio, for instance. The prospect also entered their specific wage information, creating another unique data point.
This somewhat rudimentary ROI calculator became one of our most successful interactive content marketing tools, playing a significant role in sales conversions. Though we did not require any contact information to use the calculator, you could easily turn this into a lead generator by requiring an email address to which the results could be sent.
Calculators are also being used effectively as IMCs in the banking and fitness industries to calculate things like mortgage payments and body mass index.
As VP of Marketing at Digital West, which is a data services and telecom provider, I wanted to create interactive tools that would both educate prospects and gently guide them to our services. Some of our services were very technical in nature, so I strove for messaging that was easy-to-understand.
The result was three 10-question assessment tools: one on Internet connectivity, one on IT infrastructure, and one about IT consulting. I didn't have the benefit of a developer to assist me with the project, so I used a simple Survey Monkey interface to craft eight content-related questions. The first question asked for an email address, and the last required the user to tally up their responses. It wasn't very elegant, but it worked.
I tied their numeric answer in the final question to one of three different automated email responses in HubSpot. Depending on the value of their answer, they received a personalized message that essentially said one of the following:
You're in good shape, but we're here for you.
Looks like you could use some fine-tuning, we can help.
You really need help. Call us today!
Not only did we help educate the prospect, they became a lead in our system and were automatically enrolled into a nurturing campaign associated with the topic of the assessment tool they used.
A word of caution. Tools like these can be helpful, but be sure to create them with integrity. Meaning, don't inflate numbers, don't have every response be "you need our help," and don't in any way trick the prospect into believing they need your product or service when they really don't.
Most apps are the ultimate in providing IMC, but developing them can be cost-prohibitive. I must admit that I learned about the Charmin Sit or Squat app while doing background research for this article, but I found it so fun, I'm including it. The app helps consumers find clean public restrooms nearby. "Clean" bathrooms mean it's safe to sit, whereas in dirty ones, you'd want to squat. As a woman and a parent, I found this delightfully relevant.
It checks off all four points of my definition: it's sought by the prospect, interactive, provides value and supports the brand!
Other IMC Tools
The examples above are just three that come to mind, but there are others. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that allowing limited access to a software tool is a form of IMC, as the first bullet below suggests.
Free tools or "light" versions. Canva is one of my all time favorite vendors for this purpose. You can create great graphics for free, but only by upgrading to their Canva for Work can you unlock additional features like resizing, brand kits and animation. Neil Patel's Ubersuggest is another fantastic one.
Surveys and Quizzes*
Maps, in some cases
*These tools make the cut provided they provide real value to the prospect and they underscore the brand proposition. A quiz that has nothing to do with your business -- even if it is super fun -- doesn't make the cut.
What Value Do You Deliver?
Think about your brand value proposition or the main benefits of your products or services. Do you save people time? Do you save them money? Do you improve their quality of life? Maybe you make them more efficient in their jobs, or help them feel better about themselves in some way.
Now ask what data you already have. Maybe it's something hiding in your sales CRM or in your CFO's financials. Perhaps your customer service reps have some jewels you know nothing about, like the 10 most frequently asked questions. Ask around or brainstorm with your team to identify data that you can translate into some form of interactive marketing content.
It may take some creativity, but I'm guessing you'll find something there. If you'd like to brainstorm ideas or get help in creating your own interactive marketing content, please reach out!