In 2013, the most popular pieces of content on both BuzzFeed and the New York Times had something in common.
Was it that they were well-research pieces by respected journalists? No. In fact, the NYT piece was created by an intern. Did they break news? Nope, no new news was made. Were they beautiful, Snowfall-like visual constructions? Nope. They were designed from templates.
They were quizzes. The writing is on the wall: interactive content is the future of content marketing.
But let’s back up a step:
We’re drowning in content. Absolutely drowning in it. 93% of businesses are doing content marketing, and 99% of software companies (and what seems like 150% of our own special little category of marketing software) are employing it today. And it is getting worse.
And while I normally write about how content promotion solves this problem, today I want to look at it from another lens: with today’s interactive content, what’s the best way to market it? (I’ll leave making it for another post.)
Interactive Content: What it Is
Broadly, interactive content is calculators, quizzes, free tools, and other things of that nature that users can interact with – instead of just read.
BuzzFeed & NYT Quizzes
In 2013, the most popular piece of content on both the New York Times and Buzzfeed was a quiz. On both the Grey Lady, inventor of journalistic objectivity, and the new publishing upstart best at pushing viral buttons with lists, an interactive quiz was the most popular piece of content.
Let’s unpack these a little more:
Because you are alive and have an internet connection, you have likely seen a BuzzFeed quiz.
BuzzFeed offered the quiz “Which Pink Lady Are You?”, helping users understand, well, which female character from the movie Grease they should be. It was one of the most shared pieces of content in 2013.
In 2014, they came aback at quizzes in a big way with a new graphic layout, leading to winners like “Which City Should You Actually Live In.”
These graphically oriented quizzes put up some great traffic numbers:
How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk
The New York Times created this amazing, incredibly popular quiz about language patterns in the United States:
This twenty-question quiz was shared millions of times, and was one of the most popular pieces of content on the New York Times website in 2013. It was created by graduate student intern Josh Katz, based on the 10-year old Harvard Dialect Survey.
In the nation’s most influential paper, which regularly breaks real news and hosts some of the best and most sough-after journalists alive today, the most popular piece of online content was a quiz, created by an intern from 10 year old public data.
How Americans Die
Bloomberg published a remarkable interactive data visualization on death in America:
While it didn’t put up the amazing numbers the previous two samples did, it definitely meaningfully outperformed other content on Bloomberg:
Why Interactive Content?
So we know that interactive content can be very successful – particularly if we include final states people can share that show their own identity to their peers on social networks. (In some ways, BuzzFeed can be thought of as a venture-backed experiment in social networks and identity behavior.)
This content has several key advantages:
It Sticks Out
Useful and fun tools have not been beaten to death yet by marketers, unlike, say, infographics, ebooks, white papers, and everything that came before them. When you see one, it is still novel, different, and potentially delightful.
It Can Be Evergreen
This is huge – these things can keep on giving MUCH longer than a traditional blog post. They’re new every time people visit. Effectively moving to interactive content can help publishers create pieces that last a long time, instead of hits driven pieces.
As Summer Anne Burton, managing editorial director of BuzzFeed, said:
“We had been making quizzes slowly, but nothing crazy. Then, around the end of last year, I was looking at some stats and what posts had done really well. Our most shared post was this quiz called “Which ‘Grease’ Pink Lady Are You?” that Louis Peitzman in L.A. did. It had not been a big hit when it was first published, but it had this super long tail.
I had noticed a couple other things like that — posts that were quiz-related or quizzes that had a second life. “
If you’re a working content marketer, you know that consistently coming up with new material and “feeding the beast” is a major challenge. Well-architected interactive tools gie you a chance to step off the treadmill and create a system.
They can be designed with a UX that drives conversion
Calculators like this one and other similar pieces can not only attract traffic and serve the top of the funnel, but can also show people relevant offers and drive visitors through the funnel. I would expect to see more interactive experiences that show off merchandise or offers in the next 12 months.
For example, Julep, the Seattle-based A16Z funded nail polish company uses a quiz to help new users discover their style profile, and sign up for an appropriate package:
Building a Data Asset for Future Work
When people fill out these quizzes and interact with these pieces, that data can go somewhere. The low-end version of this is taking email addresses and adding them to your list.
The more elaborate version of this is adding this quiz data to a cookie or persistent identifier associated with the user. This can be a game changer for lead scoring or personalization, and I expect this to be become a pretty typical marketing technique in 2-3 years.
Scott Brinker of the Marketing Technologist Blog has written extensively on this topic as well. He’s even betting his whole company on them:
Marketing Interactive Assets
While the creation of these interactive assets is dramatically beyond the scope of the article (and left to the reader), some of what I’ve observed in seeing people promote these universally applicable.
Think About How People Will Link To, Mention, or Feature Your Piece
Often I see marketers pitch interactives without thinking about how the linking/featuring site will post it. Most journalists and content creators know how to feature images and studies – but how do you feature a quiz, a calculator, or an interactive multi-part graphic?
Consider making versions that are easy to embed and look great – either a version of the interactive that can be embedded (which you may or may not want to do depending on your marketing objectives), or good images or animated gifs of the tool’s operation. Then you can make it as easy as possible for your outreach prospects to feature you.
Make Sure Your Device Support and Your Promotion Plan Are Aligned
The rise of the multi-device world has really caught a lot of marketers by surprise and can cause some interesting issues in content promotion.
For example, much of the inventory available on some ad units good for content promotion, like Twitter ads, is mobile. If your piece of interactive content isn’t mobile friendly, you might very well find yourself with an expensive fail if you use them without segmenting to desktop/tablet only. (I often play a game of clicking on promoted Tweets on my mobile phone and seeing if it leads to a responsive page or not.)
In a perfect world, marketers would have lots of technical resources and get everything working perfectly on every device. (If you’ve worked in more than one or two marketing organizations, you’re probably laughing quietly to yourself at this statement.) But we do not live in such a world – so if you don’t support mobile devices, make sure you don’t unintentionally end up pushing mobile traffic at the piece.
Pitch the Value, Not the Tool
When marketing technology products, marketers are classically told to focus on benefits and advantages instead of features. Marketers still focus on features, and people still say this, so this is something of an existential problem in marketing.
But whenever marketers get something new, they often get lost in the shinyness and forget about the customer value they’re communicating.
This cognitive bias has two factors:
- Often people are so excited to do a quiz or an interactive, they forget the editorial and results fall flat. These still need the same level of knowledge and editorial care and planning that would go into a whitepaper or an ebook.
- A quiz in and of itself isn’t that novel – pitch the value rather than the technology.
You Still Need a Campaign Launch Plan
While this will be a familiar concept to readers of BuzzStream material (we even created a guide about it), even the best pieces of interactive content need a promotion plan and alaunch plan, ideally across paid, owned, and earned media.
While the New York Times and BuzzFeed don’t have much in common, they’re both succeeding with interactive content. As interactive content trickles down to marketers,we’ll see this employed more and more, with varying degrees of success. While the challenge of interactive content is largely in its creation, marketing it effectively is still extremely important, and reducing friction and creating promotion plans are needed to achieve the full ROI of these strategies.