You’ve probably seen interactive content, maybe as a Buzzfeed quiz lurking in your newsfeed. Here’s how clever marketers use interactive content to achieve goals and ROI.

The cornerstone of content marketing is the kind of content that grabs attention and provides genuine value to your audiences while meeting your business’s goals.

Interactive content can help on that first point: it requires your audience’s direct, active involvement in exchange for personalised results, creating a more engaging experience overall. Research from the Content Marketing Institute found that 81% of professionals agree that interactive content grabs attention more effectively than static content.

I’m sure you know this intuitively. In fact, if you’ve ever spent some time browsing The Pudding’s interactive data visualisations you’ll know how well they can turn huge sets of information into something that keep you engaged for hours (and fall down a rabbit hole of unexpected and clever information).

From there, the content marketer’s job is making it useful to audience and business. Hello, data. Interactive content can sometimes generate valuable data on your audience’s challenges and goals – depending on what information you ask for. This data can be used to qualify prospects, create personas, score leads, and create and refine buyer journeys.

And we’d be remiss to ignore ROI – research from Demand Metric found that marketers rated interactive content as generating conversions moderately or very well 70% of the time, compared to 36% for non-interactive content.

But despite the advantages of interactive content there are downsides – that investment can be hefty. While third-party software can help, creating interactive content is often more expensive and time-consuming than creating a blog post, for example.

There has to be a compelling reason to use interactivity to create something of value. As much as it may be procrastination-worthy, a quiz that tells you your spirit animal won’t add much to someone’s life.

Here’s our pick of the top five pieces of interactive content – they all show the value of an audience-first perspective.

1. Google & UNHCR – Searching for Syria

Interactive content - searching for syria

To start, let’s go big. Because in many ways the Syrian conflict should be too big to ignore. The chaos and devastation of it have stretched over seven years and are still ongoing. It has caused nearly half of the country’s population to flee their homes. More than five million Syrians live as refugees, the largest refugee group in the world.

And it is exactly the scale of the the Syrian conflict that can make it so difficult to comprehend. The complexity, duration and sheer amount of information available means that many are tuning out and experiencing a sense of ‘compassion fatigue’.

In response, Google and the United Nations’ refugee agency teamed up to create an interactive site that it hoped would re-engage people. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Fillippo Grandi said that “Searching for Syria aims to dispel myths and misconceptions about Syria and refugees and provide an entirely fresh look at the biggest humanitarian tragedy of today”.

The site uses data from Google to answer the five most common questions asked about Syria and refugees. These include “what was Syria like before the war?”; “what is happening in Syria?”; “who is a refugee?”; “where are Syrian refugees going?” and “how can I help Syrian refugees?”.

Answering these questions alone would help meet the UNHCR’s educative aims, but the site goes further to exploit the advantages of interactivity. The answers are presented in narrative alongside smaller components like 360° photos, audio, images, film, interactive infographics, data visualisations, before-and-after image comparisons and personal stories.

These elements give the project power because they convey the absolute normalcy of life in Syria before the war; a visualisation shows that people were Googling for Arab Idol, bodybuilding, summer fashion and Miley Cyrus. It is much easier to understand the damage inflicted when you see interactive before and after satellite imagery that shows historical sites damaged and whole suburbs visibly flattened. And it is easier to connect to the human impact of the war when you hear the stories of refugees affected by conflict and watch videos of their current life in refugee camps.

Google Brand Studios reported that nearly 10% of the 2 million people who visited took action by either donating or sharing. The site generated 3200 donations, raising more than US$162,210. And it created the largest spike in new signatures to the #WithRefugees petition since it was launched a year prior.

2. Airbnb – Airbnb in Berlin

Interactive content - Airbnb in Berlin

Airbnb is pioneer of the ‘sharing economy’ and has caused a huge amount of disruption to related industries. It has also created its own community through content marketing. In a report on the next wave of social business, Corporate research firm Altimeter Group named a “desire for community” as one of the five driving forces behind the rise of the collaborative economy and Airbnb’s success.

Beyond creating that warm and fuzzy feeling, selling a community experience allows the company to control its own narrative even when its business model can cause a state of flux.

Berlin, in particular, has strict home-rental regulations. Until recently, if you used Airbnb in Berlin you had to rent a single room in a host’s home, rather than renting an entire house or unit. It should be a difficult market for Airbnb.

To convince of the advantages of staying with hosts, the company produced an interactive infographic focusing on Berlin as part of its Economic Impact Study series. It compiles host and guest surveys, booking data and assessments by local economists to show the economic impact the organisation has on the city.

With key statistics, bright graphics and animations, links to articles on Berlin’s culture, and an interactive map showing how much guests spend and hosts earn across the city, the infographic paints a picture of a platform used by creatives as an extra source of income, and a contributor to Berlin’s economy. Hosts and guests are adding to a community, it argues.

Using interactive content can turn numbers, data and statistics into an engaging story. After all, a story about a community (and the people that create it) is far more memorable and more likely to shift views than another sales pitch.

3. Paradigm – Financial Literacy Quiz

Interactive content - Paradigm financial literacy quiz

Even though financial literacy is important, it can be hard to engage and educate when there is so much dense, dry information out there.

American financial services company Paradigm Life took a different approach. The company created a quiz to educate its audiences on some basic aspects of finance. The quiz format is put to good use because it forces the user to confront what they do or don’t know. In other words, it provides education to an audience with useful information in a format that engages them personally.

Upon completing the quiz, audiences have options to fill out a form with details to be sent their results (hello lead generation), or educate themselves further by viewing a webinar, seeing the correct answers or even taking a harder quiz. It is an example of how the quiz format can be used to simultaneously bring engagement to a ‘serious’ industry, increase leads and go beyond procrastination to real value.

4. Salesforce – ROI Calculator

Interactive content - Dreamforce ROI calculator

While other examples on this list have supported a ‘top-of-the-funnel’ aim, interactive content can also be useful closer to conversion.

Salesforce decided to promote Dreamforce, its annual conference, with an interactive calculator. The calculator is a nifty bit of content to help users convince their bosses that attending Dreamforce would be worthwhile. It smooths those final steps of the path to conversion.

By plugging in position details, a bit of information about their organisation and areas they are hoping to improve, users end up with an expected ROI  to add serious weight to a business case. The calculator directly addresses an audience’s pain points by providing return on investment figures. It uses interactivity in a way that goes beyond novelty.

Beyond helping drive more people to attend the conference, the calculator also provides Salesforce with useful information that can shape future content. Since they now know what type of information users are interested in, they can personalise content to address these concerns.

Interactive content can do more than engage and create awareness. If it helps solve an audience’s challenges it can also help push prospects through the bottom-of-funnel.

5. Deloitte – Interactive video

Interactive content - Will you fit into deloitte

There has been a move for content marketers to produce more video. Video already draws a considerable amount of global internet traffic but that is only expected to grow. According to Cisco’s VNI Global Fixed and Mobile Internet Traffic Forecasts predicts that by 2021, 82% of global consumer internet traffic will be video traffic. This represents threefold growth from 2016 figures.

But video has its own challenges. Traditional video sees high-drop off rates. Enter interactive videos. For example, Deloitte New Zealand’s interactive recruitment video, which aims to educate graduates about its culture while keeping viewers engaged until the end of the video.

Instead of being taken on a linear journey, viewers are able to navigate different paths from the perspective of a new employee while interacting with real employees of the company. As you make choices like whether to tell a colleague that you spilt coffee on their jacket or what to do when you lose your notes for a client meeting you are also introduced to company values. If you make the wrong choice you are shown the negative results of your actions before returning to your original dilemma until you make the right choice. Taking this approach encourages progression – you can only move forward in the video if you take part and learn more. You are driven to rise to the challenge as a result of the design of the video. This is great for engagement.

Because of the videos obvious HR function, you might wonder how is this content marketing? But Deloitte’s brand message is woven into the film through the light-heated test of values. When recruitment videos can easily become either an dry, overly sanitised version of reality or an over-the-top appeal to seem fun the interactivity finds a nice way to infuse the video with fun without going off-message. It seemed to have worked for its desired graduate audience as well, outperforming a similar non interactive Youtube video and keeping viewers engaged on average for about four minutes.

Interactivity, in this case, was used to hold attention of a desired audience while also providing value.

Hannah Dixon contributed to the writing of this piece.

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