Interactive Content 101

An Overview of the Interactive Content Spectrum

By Ashley Taylor Anderson April 6, 2016

I may be a bit biased because I work for an interactive design software company, but it seems like everyone in the marketing community is talking about interactive content these days. The trouble is, people use the term “interactive content” to encompass a vast array of different content types.

To avoid any Princess Bride situations (“that word… I do not think it means what you think it means”), let’s explore exactly what people mean when they mention interactive content and what the overall spectrum of interactive content types looks like.

Defining Interactive Content

Contextually, the term “interactive content” can mean a lot of different things to different people. But a broad definition that applies across the board is:

Any piece of content that requires active participation from the viewer.

Active participation can take many forms, depending on the content type and architecture.

The Interactive Content Spectrum

Here at Ceros, our mission is to empower marketers and designers to become interactive storytellers. So the way we think about the interactive content spectrum relates to narrative and visuals.

Mapping interactive content types against these two qualities, we get a chart that looks a bit like this:

Let’s take each of the three quadrants with content types in them and explore them one by one.

Least Narrative, Least Visual Interactive Content Types

Interactive Quiz Source: HPE Matters

Things like assessments, calculators, and quizzes all fall into this quadrant. These content types are highly compelling because they’re based on user inputs—each user will get a customized result based on how they answer questions or fill in information.

However, quizzes, calculators, and assessments are designed to be quick-hit. They’re not built around any kind of story—these formats don’t really accommodate it. The goal is to help users discover something new about themselves, their business, or their knowledge of a particular topic.

Additionally, while quizzes and assessments can include images, they’re not requisite in order to get the point across. They play a supporting role rather than being a vital part of the user’s content experience.

These pieces tend to be highly shareable because they’re quick to complete, applicable to a wide audience, and bite-sized.

Visual, Minimal-Narrative Interactive Content Types

Interactive Maps Source: The Guardian

Interactive maps, lookbooks, microcontent, and infographics are similar in that they’re primarily visual-driven. Of course, we’re talking about a spectrum here; infographics are more narrative than microcontent, which in turn is more interactive than the average lookbook or map. The bottom line is that most of the information (and value) provided to the end user by these types of assets use visual elements.

Often, these highly visual types of content are paired with traditional long-form copy in an article or microsite. They can also be used to promote more narrative pieces of content because they’re easy to digest.

The participation required for each of these content types is unique:

  • Maps give users control over which sets of data to look at and the pace they learn.
  • Lookbooks allow shoppers to explore items based on their preference, and often allow them to make purchases as they browse.
  • Microcontent requires users to click, scroll, or flip between pages to explore a topic.
  • Infographics allow users to drill into stats and supporting commentary based on their interest.

Highly Visual, Highly Narrative Interactive Content Types

Interactive eBooks Source: TapInfluence

Where interactivity really hits its sweet spot is bringing stories to life with words, visuals, animations, and interactions.

There are a variety of interactive content types that fit this bill, to varying degrees:

  • Microsites tend to be pretty narrative and pretty visual, but can vary drastically depending on the use case and audience.
  • Videos are highly visual, but can sometimes be more factual than narrative.
  • Magazines are generally highly narrative and highly visual.
  • eBooks are highly narrative and visual, using both words and visuals to inform or educate.
  • Games, particularly role-based games, are usually extremely narrative and extremely visual as well.

These meatier assets usually take longer to develop, are personalized to a greater extent, and serve a more foundational role in your content program. You’ll invest in driving traffic to these assets up and down your marketing funnel because they tell key stories your business wants to share with prospects. You may also develop highly visual, narrative assets to educate your customers.

In all of these content types, the user is really the driver of the experience. They chose what to consume and when. Additionally, eBooks and games are often designed in a dynamic fashion that serves different content based on a user’s choice at key points in the narrative.

The Bottom Line

There are lots of different types of interactive content out there on the web, but they all share one thing in common: they invite users to participate. The degree to which different interactive content types utilize narrative and visuals to connect with users can vary, but there’s a solid use case for using all of these different formats within modern content marketing programs.

As with any new marketing venture, it’s a great idea to start off slow, testing one or two formats and seeing what your results are before scaling up your interactive content creation process. Narrow in on your goals, pick a content type that aligns with those goals, and get creative!

Brand Storytelling eBook

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