Marketing automation is a powerful technology. But to extract the most value out of it, you need two things: 1. content that magnetically attracts your audience -- both initially and throughout your nurturing program -- and 2. data that reveals the specific interests and characteristics of each prospect.
Without that, marketing automation is a blender with nothing to blend.
Attracting people with content is easier said than done. So many companies are producing content at such a prodigious rate, promoting it and repurposing it in every channel they can find, that many prospects feel assaulted by a cacophony of content. They're suffering from Content Fatigue Syndrome. It's become a chronic condition.
Breaking through that noise is challenging. There are only so many reports, white papers, e-books and buyer's guides that a prospect can read before their eyeballs start twitching. After all, it takes time and effort to read all these pages of prose, much less actually absorb them into one's mental model of a purchase.
In theory, we can use data to better personalize which content we offer prospects. But the theory relies on us learning useful data about them in the first place -- a chicken-and-egg dilemma at the top of the funnel. And, really, how much data can you learn about someone who downloads a buyer's guide? They're interested in your product, and they may be ready to buy soon. Helpful for your sales team to start robo-dialing them, yes, but not a particularly insightful view into their specific needs and circumstances.
From Passive Content to Interactive Content
One way to break through the monotonous content drone is to evolve from passive content to interactive content. Passive content is content that your audience just reads, watches or listens to -- they could consume it reclined on a couch. Interactive content, in contrast, engages your audience in an activity. It may be taking an educational quiz, playing a learning game, benchmarking themselves with an assessment tool or calculating a financial benefit.
Interactive content is becoming increasingly popular. BuzzFeed has had terrific success with quiz-style content -- in fact, all 10 of their top "stories" in January of this year were quizzes, such as "What State Do You Actually Belong In?" This tactic has been so effective for them that Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins singled them out in her latest Internet Trends report for "re-imagining content and content delivery."
It turns out that people love interactive content -- when it's done well.
Of course, this tactic can be used for subjects more meaningful than "If You Were a Milkshake, What Flavor Would You Be?" You can use these short, interactive dialogues to help educate prospects about new technologies and best practices in your industry, to help them diagnose challenges that they're facing in their work, and show them how they rank against their peers on adopting new innovations.
This approach is analogous to the way great teachers engage their students in a classroom -- rather than simply dropping a pile of books on their desk and sending them home, they incorporate experiential and constructivist learning techniques into their curriculum.
Pioneering marketers in both B2B and B2C have already started deploying interactive content to good effect. Recent research from the analyst firm Demand Metric found that 70 percent of marketers who used interactive content in their marketing reported that their content converts "moderately well" or "very well" -- in contrast with only 36 percent for marketers who relied primarily on passive content.
Freemium Content Marketing
In addition to breaking through the noise, there's another way that interactive content helps with marketing automation: it's a natural way to uncover insightful data about prospects that can be used to better tailor nurturing programs to their particular situation -- without succumbing to traditional lead generation forms.
Let's face it: nobody likes filling out forms, especially when they're blatantly a setup for a sales script that will be read by a lead qualifier to your voicemail every week for a month.
But if a prospect can engage in a quiz or an assessment tool that will enlighten them on a topic of interest, then they're usually more willing to share information through answering questions within that interactive content. You've heard of native advertising. Embedding questions and choices in these experiences can be thought of as "native forms." They seamlessly slide into the flow of an activity that a prospect is absorbed in for their own benefit. They don't trigger the I-hate-forms gag reflex.
Think about the power of the data you could collect in that context. For instance, if you're selling a social media marketing platform, imagine the insight you could learn about prospects when they complete an assessment of their company's social media practices. You can gain a deeper appreciation for their maturity in social media marketing -- and the self-identified challenges that they really need help with.
Another interesting property of such interactive content is that it doesn't have to be all free or all gated. For example, blog posts are free content that anyone can read without giving up any information about themselves. White papers are typically gated behind a lead generation form. You have to fill out the form before you learn if the white paper was any good or not. (Doubt of its quality is one of the reasons that conversion rates on such offers are usually low.)
But with interactive content, you can blend those into a "freemium conversion" offer. For example, you can let someone to start taking an assessment without providing any of their contact information. However, once they complete the assessment, you can offer them bonus material -- a set of recommendations tailored to their level -- in exchange for their name and email address. Since they've already seen a lot of value in the assessment, your conversion rate is likely to be quite high.
In many ways, interactive content behaves a bit like a good salesperson. It doesn't just talk at a prospect, one-way and make take-it-or-leave-it offers. Instead, it emulates more of a two-way dialogue, with multiple steps along the path to conversion. It doesn't demand. (After all, that's not what the "demand" in demand generation means.) Instead, it seduces -- by drawing them in and winning them over.
As prospects continue to shift more of their buyer's journey from live interactions with salespeople to self-service interactions with digital marketing touchpoints, it's important for marketing to think of content more in terms of "experiences" rather than mere "assets." Interactive content opens up a whole new set of possibilities to tempt prospects into the marketing automation machine.
Title image by raydignity (Shutterstock)