“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
– Ray Bradbury
Being a writer within a marketing organization can sometimes feel like jumping off a cliff without any wings. The projects you work on from day to day often change drastically, and if your experience has been anything like mine, your role probably changes from day to day as well.
Creating content for a brand or business is a thrilling, interesting, and occasionally maddening challenge. But once you’ve had a few weeks to dig into your product, positioning, and personas, creating content for your audience becomes pretty straightforward.
However, new types of content can pose challenges to even the most seasoned writers. Interactive content creation doesn’t adhere to the same set of rules as traditional static marketing content, and those rules are still in the process of being defined. It can be difficult to know where to start when you’ve been tasked with turning static assets into interactive ones or creating interactive content from scratch.
So if you’re a content marketer being thrown into the interactive deep end, how do you keep your head above water? Are there any best practices around interactive content writing you can rely on to help you get started?
Why yes, there are. Here are 7 tips I’d like to share from my experience creating interactive content here at Ceros and from my past-life experience as a media producer for educational content. I hope you find this helpful as you begin to reimagine your stories for a brave new interactive world.
1. Don’t write for print.
Source: EW / Film: Becoming Jane
Many content marketers, myself included, have backgrounds in print publishing or journalism. We’ve learned how to write content for print in our sleep. This involves crafting a narrative hook, a linear exploration of supporting information that unfolds in a logical fashion, and a conclusion that ties a pretty literary bow around the whole package and rounds out the story arc.
Interactive content does need a cohesive structure, but it isn’t necessarily linear. It’s certainly not expository. All this goes to say that the best practices you know and love from print don’t directly translate to interactive. This may seem like bad news at first, but trust me—as we’ll see from the next 6 points, this is actually glad tidings for content creators.
2. Tell your story with visuals and words.
Source: Comic Book Resources / Book: The Sandman Series
When you write a blog post like this one, or a traditional eBook or infographic, you usually start with the written story you want to tell and then find some supporting graphics to pair with it. If you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated designer, they may even find some graphics for you after you’re completely done writing.
With interactive content, this traditional process doesn’t really work. It’s much more effective to consider how you can communicate your story using all available media—text, photos, line drawings, videos, GIFs, art, music—together as a whole. In this way, writing content for interactive shares more in common with writing a video storyboard or a film script than writing a novel or article.
If you’ve never done scripting or storyboarding before, I’d highly recommend checking out any of Edward Tufte’s books on visual pedagogy. You may also want to look into some screenwriting or graphic novel/comic writing books as well—Alan Moore’s classic Writing for Comics is a top notch option.
3. Keep your text brief and bite-sized.
Source: Daily Mail / Movie: Tiny Hamster Birthday Party
We tend to equate “high-value” content pieces like eBooks and whitepapers with the number of words they contain. The thinking goes like this: If I only say a few hundred words on this topic, my readers won’t want to ante up their information to download it. This is flawed thinking for two reasons:
- If you gate a content piece up front, the reader has no idea how long it will be or what the quality will be like. They decide whether your piece is worth filling out a form for solely based on the topic and your landing page copy.
- You can’t measure whether longer PDF eBook or whitepapers are more valuable because you have no idea how people interact with them. For all you know, someone could open your 15-page document and delete it without reading a single word.
Rather than focusing on quantity, interactive content focuses on the quality of the content being provided. More words doesn’t necessarily mean a more valuable story. In fact, when you have videos, GIFs, rich imagery, and animations at your disposal, the narrative happens largely through non-written content. Your words should be to the point and action-packed to help move the story along.
4. Tailor the copy for your audience.
Source: Image Friend / Film: Cinderella (2015)
I don’t know about you, but in my day to day life, I don’t go around telling stories to random strangers, and I get freaked out by random people who try to do so to me. When I share stories, I tell them to people I know based on what I know about them.
The same principle applies for the copy you create for interactive experiences. Start with your audience—who they are, what they care about, what keeps them up at night, where they spend time, what they enjoy—and tailor your writing to them specifically. This will help you create content that resonates with your viewers and identify the stuff that matters and the stuff that’s superfluous.
5. Let your brand voice shine through.
Source: Persephone Magazine / Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Part of running a content marketing program is being keeper and executor of your brand’s voice. For newer companies, finding your voice is an ongoing process as you learn more about your business’s digital personality; for established companies, this voice may be clearly defined and even documented.
Whether you’re still experimenting with different voices or have one firmly established, interactive content can be a great medium to let your voice shine through. Your writing style should reflect your brand’s personality, and the design, visuals, and animations should reinforce this voice consistently.
For example, if you create marketing content for enterprise finance services, you probably wouldn’t want to use cutesy language, cartoons, or a lot of bouncy animations. However, if you’re marketing an iPad games for kids, all three of those things would be totally appropriate.
6. Use a theme to frame your content in a unique way.
Source: Architecture Behind Movies / Film: Marie Antoinette
You probably already use themes for some of your marketing content—eBooks and infographics in particular tend to lend themselves to literary and graphical metaphors. Interactive content is an even better medium for thematic content. It can give you a new way to frame content that everyone (including your competitors) is creating content around, and it provides more flexibility from a design perspective as well.
7. Leverage engaging examples to illustrate your points.
Source: Hitflix / Film: The Fall
Again, you’re probably already leveraging examples in your blog posts, whitepapers, and eBooks. But interactive content allows you to actually bring those examples to life. Instead of just talking about a client or company who’s killing it in a particular area, you can take the next step and illustrate their work using an animated GIF, a video, or an images with special effects to call attention to them.
The Bottom Line
Even if you have a ton of content writing experience, creating interactive content is a whole different beast. The best practices that apply to creating blogs, eBooks, whitepapers, and other static content don’t necessarily translate when you throw interactivity into the mix. These 7 tips will help you reframe your thinking when it comes to interactive content and enable you to tell really engaging, beautiful, and powerful stories.