We’ll be sponsoring and attending Content Marketing Institute’s Intelligent Content Conference later this month in San Francisco. I’m sure we’ll see some of you there! In preparation for that, I want to frame the significant differences between producing and scaling passive and interactive content.
Intelligent content focuses on repurposing and scaling for context, segments, personas, etc. Scaling modular content works well in the passive world of blogs, white papers and website pages. But how do marketers address scaling content into engaging and measurable interactive formats like assessments, quizzes, interactive white papers, interactive infographics, calculators and so on? Once you move beyond ‘content’ being primarily text and images—adding functionality on top of it—scaling gets dicey.
All form, no function.
Modular content scales relatively easily because it does so independent of its function. Match modular text and images based on context, segment or persona, plug it in and you're good to go. Some content is wider in its appeal and some is more narrow, but in general, content is matched to people with no real dependency on how it will be consumed or what it will do. Text and images are portable because they don’t need to transform for varied contexts. Their function is consistent. They are to be read or viewed.
Function and form.
Interactive content varies by its function—a very different axis that is much more specific and much less portable than its passive counterparts. That specificity is what makes interactive content so engaging and effective. But that’s also what makes it more challenging to repurpose and scale. The use-case axis is actually an entirely new opportunity for scaling.
facts as the atomic units of content.
Let’s say our fact is: 10% of cars are red. That fact can become a question/answer pair for an interactive quiz: Is your car red? What color is your car? What percentage of cars do you think is red? Which color makes up 10% of the U.S. car market? etc.
A best-practice fact can become a result for an interactive assessment: Cars should be waxed every three months becomes How often do you wax your car? with results that include the visitor’s answer along with the best-practice recommendation (and potentially a score, index, etc.).
These are examples of content scaling to become entirely new things via transformation as opposed to simple repurposing or versioning. As the function of content changes, so must the content itself. But the facts—the really valuable atomic units in all of this—remain consistent. Marketers work hard for their facts, and reusing them in a variety of ways is getting a lot more engagement out of them. So in interactive content, we’re actually repurposing facts and ideas more than we are words and pictures.
So how do we scale use-case specific functional content? How do we set and maintain functional standards that include a useful data feedback loop? And how do we consistently measure performance?
Producing interactive content at scale
There’s no question that interactive content engages and performs better than static content. The questions are if it’s worth the effort (and expense), and how can we operationalize that effort. The answers are tied up in what time and resources are required to bring interactive content to market at scale.
In marketing, ‘development’ is a painful word. For good reason…
Manually produced interactive content is time and resource consuming. It’s essentially custom web development requiring right- and left-brain people—marketers, designers, developers, writers, BI folks—coordinated for a common goal. That’s hard. It consumes a lot of time, energy and money. And manually-produced experiences are usually even more challenging to maintain and evolve after they go live. In the end, the pain quotient is high and the agility quotient is low. In the age of agile markets, that’s a less than ideal combo.
In my prior life in the custom web development business we had an adage: with flexibility comes complexity. In the case of interactive content, flexibility generally comes with custom development at the expense of simplicity and agility. These are serious trade offs that undermine the core value proposition.
Lack of customization increases agility at the expense of differentiation.
The flip side of manual development is widgetized interactive content—plug-and-play elements that bring fixed functionality within a narrow set of parameters. The problem with that approach is that most modern marketers want and need much more differentiated experiences in order to be successful. And storytelling with specific facts is most effective when the story is told in a unique and memorable way. The absence of flexibility and customization weakens the business value resulting in party favors more than staples.
Standards and the four sides of interactive content
There are four sides to the interactive content challenge: the content itself, its presentation, its function and the flow of data from the functionality. In the best cases all four sides are conceived together, and in others the content comes first—with the presentation, experience and data flow layered on top of it after the fact. Streamlining—and the effectiveness of the finished interactive experience—depend on flattening the process and removing barriers—making production of interactive content agile and efficient.
Setting and maintaining passive content standards is hard. Many organizations continue to struggle with content marketing brand and message consistency. Standardizing an experiential layer on top of that is much more painful—especially in a world of manual development where resources are likely to be inconsistent. As a result, in many organizations, standards get relaxed or ignored in the name of speed-to-market. In an ideal world, interactive content standards would enable, rather than impede, agility.
Measurement of passive content is essentially a pass-fail proposition—did someone view or download the asset or not? Nothing about that really measures the engagement or consumption of content. Nothing really measures its value. Scaling interactive content should include putting a measurement program of actionable learning in place. This can’t be a haphazard effort as the real value in the learning comes from consistency and relative value metrics. Again, in an ideal world, consistent and predictable measurement would only improve overall agility.
Rapid Deployment of highly differentiated interactive content
It’s like the holy grail of digital marketing: being empowered to rapidly deploy scalable, highly differentiated, standards-based interactive content that works. If you can make that happen, you can increase engagement, accelerate sales velocity, improve customer satisfaction and distance yourself from competitors. With all that upside at stake, it’s worth the effort to make interactive content your top priority. The alternative puts your results at risk from diminishing returns.
ion’s own interactive content program is, as you can imagine, pretty significant. We’ve worked hard to put scalable processes in place that let us focus primarily on creatively scaling our facts. Because we have standards in place that govern our brand, user experience, messaging and measurement, our team creates and tests interactive content with unimpeded agility.