Chief MarTec on Interactive Content Marketing

Anna Talerico chats with ion co-founder and Chief MarTec Scott Brinker about the state of content marketing today. Check out the video or read the transcript below and get an insight into interactive content marketing straight from Chief MarTec himself.

Anna Talerico: All right, take five. I am Anna Talerico with ion interactive. I am joined here today by my good friend, my co-founder and partner here at ion interactive, and the Editor of the blog as well as the Programming Chair of the MarTec Conference. Welcome, Scott.

Scott Brinker: Thank you, Anna. Great to be here with you.

Anna Talerico: I'm very excited to be recording one of our conversations. I should say more like Q&A because I've got five burning questions to ask you today.

Scott Brinker:Okay. Fire away.

Anna Talerico: Okay. I want to start with the fourth wave of content marketing, which you've blogged and written about, but I'm curious as to how you talk through what the fourth wave of content is and how we, as digital marketers, arrived there.

Scott Brinker: Sure. I think if we look at the history of content marketing on the web, it seems like there's four stages that we have passed through or we're now in the fourth one. The first was just the web itself, being able to publish content, mostly text content, to our websites was a huge breakthrough, right? First time in the history of marketing, you could publish things at essentially zero cost and have it accessible to the entire world. That was also that first wave of content marketing is very focused on search engine optimization, that by publishing really authoritative content on a particular subject, you can get one of those coveted spots on page one of Google search results.

                     While that worked really well for the first set of people who went and did that, eventually everyone was like, "I'd like to be on the first page of the Google search results, too." And so we saw this flood of content that eventually made it harder and harder to break through. That was the first wave. The second wave was really with the rise of social media. We started to see the benefits of producing content that wasn't so much geared to be consumed by a search engine. It wasn't so much just about the text, but it was about richer content designed to be consumed and loved by humans. Things like infographics and videos and just this richer visualization of our content. Which again, the first people who were doing that, designing beautiful eBooks and getting them out on the web. It was wonderful and it got a lot of attention and a lot of social traction, but once, again, given time, everyone says, "I'd like to get some of that social traffic myself."

                     Now we're at a point where, there are literally millions of infographics and eBooks and white papers and all of this stuff out there. The third wave of content marketing, we started to see over these past few years was saying, "Okay, given all this content out there, it's really hard for people to find what's best suited for them. Could we leverage personalization technology to help match the right content for the right audience?" This is actually a very effective set of technology that's being developed and deployed. The thing is it's usually most effective further down in the funnel because you do actually have to learn a little bit about someone before you're really able to algorithmically target them to really understand what their needs and their profile is.

                     I think we still have this challenge at the top of the funnel of okay, how do we create content that breaks through that noise? What we at ion have been very excited to see here just really, look at these past couple of years, this explosion of the fourth wave of content marketing, which is about interactive content. All of this other content we were talking about was all passive content. People would read or they would watch, but they'd be sitting there and just consuming it passively, whereas interactive content, which is things from quizzes and games and assessment tools and configurators, calculators, solution builders, all this sort of stuff, it actively engages people, and this has really opened up a whole new set of possibilities for content marketing.

Anna Talerico: I love this way of thinking about it, and I would say people can Google fourth wave of content marketing to read a couple of things you've written about it, which are great, if they want to dig in more there, for sure. I guess that all said, what do you think are some over the biggest challenges that content marketers face right now? Especially, I think, anywhere along that continuum, but certainly those who are finding themselves right in that fourth wave of interactive content.

Scott Brinker: Yeah. No. It's a great question. First of all, we've got the challenge of just getting people's attention. I think this is one of the things that's very exciting about interactive content is it's given us a whole new set of tools in our toolbox. Even things as silly as that Buzzfeed quiz for which state you really belong in. That thing, it's silly and whatnot, but it got 41 million views. People get intrigued by this. While that's a silly example, it was actually a whole bunch of examples where B2B or more serious context, we were trying to educate people that interactive content provides a way to engage them.

                     I think that's the two steps of it. One is we just got to grab their attention, we've got to get them something that intrigues them and they're like, "I would like to see what that's about," and then the ones we've actually got their attention, using interactive mechanisms to help educate them, help teach them something useful. That's an incredible opportunity.

Anna Talerico: I think you've talked a bit about the techniques of how do you educate them once you've got their attention, how to keep them engaged and what tactics do you use to meet that education criteria, if you will.

Scott Brinker: Yeah. I've got a little bit of an inside track on this because my wife is in education and has multiple graduate degrees on it at this point. It's funny. We started working on this interactive content. I finally connected the dots and realized if content marketing, if one of its key objectives is to educate your audience. If we look at educational research from the past several decades, we know the best way to educate people is not just to assault them with you know, sit in this lecture hall and just listen to someone drone on or here's a big stack of books, go off and read this. There's a place in the world for part of that but much more effective in education are finding ways to get students and teachers to engage with each other, to get the students to feel that they're participants in that learning process, to get them the opportunity to have what they call constructivist learning techniques.

                     Okay, I'm working with a calculator, a solution builder, to try and figure out what configuration might be best for my business by playing with these different options and scenarios, it's a really great way for me to learn, not just about your solution, but also about how I think of my business and the different parameters of my business.

Anna Talerico: Love it, for sure. How did we, ion, end up smack dab in the middle of this? I think some people still know us from the days when we began in providing a landing page solution, really for managing complex or sophisticated landing pages and landing experiences at scale. How would you characterize that evolution that we found ourselves right in the middle of the interactive content marketing storm?

Scott Brinker: Yeah. No. It's a fascinating journey we've been on here. I think when we first started with our idea of a product for marketers seven years ago, the vision was that there's a place in the world for the standard website, but increasingly, there are all these other touch points that marketers have with their audience that don't fit that profile. It's like we want to do something other than just give them a bunch of pages that are organized and on particular navigation. We want to have more of a dialogue. When we first got into this, we didn't quite know what to call these things, and at the time, people referred to okay, if you're going to create a specific web experience for someone who lands from a campaign or an e-mail or ad or whatnot, we would call that a landing page.

                     For many years, our product was positioned as a very high-end landing page solution. What made it high-end was really even back then, we weren't trying to think of oh, well, you just have a page, and there's the headline and there's some text and an image, and a form, and a call to action button. That's it, that's the end of the page. I think from the very beginning, we were excited about the possibility of saying, "Okay, when someone lands on that page, you don't have to squeeze it all into just one standalone page. This might be a multi-step experience. There might be interactive components to this that you can gauge people in something more than just reading text and filling out a form."

                     I think it took us a while before we even really knew what to call that, and then over this past year, really, the content marketing industry as a whole has, I think, started to converge around this idea that there's a new category for interactive content, these participatory lightweight web experiences.

Anna Talerico: Yeah. I think it's so much more than content, it's really the content experience, whatever that may be. Definitely. As you look ahead, I think this is our fifth question, on the horizon of content marketing, what are you most excited about? What do you see as the big opportunity to seize?

Scott Brinker: Wow. There's a lot of runway here, right? We're just beginning to scratch the surface of what's possible with these interactive marketing mechanisms. This is a whole new creative canvas for marketers. We haven't had anything quite like this before. That's very exciting. One of the things that I'm actually particularly excited about is this interactive content. Not only is it more engaging and more educational, but all of a sudden, you start to think about the data that marketers are able to collect. If someone goes through an assessment tool to describe the maturity of their company and its readiness on different dimensions for particular solutions, this is golden information, and to be able to have that information, then inform and influence subsequent marketing campaigns and nurturing campaigns is very exciting.

                     Even beyond that, I think the ability to take this incredibly rich, what our co-founder Justin calls digital dialogue that marketing is having and be able to package up that dialogue and pass it down the line to the sales team, who when they're having to do those first reach-outs and these early conversations of building trust and really connecting the relevance of what they have to offer with the prospect, and to be able to leverage that digital dialogue at that stage, we're doing some very exciting work around that at this point. I think there's a lot of opportunity there, too.

Anna Talerico: Yeah. I know our sales team would agree having given them exposure to some of the pieces of digital dialogue here over the last few months. I don't think they could live without it at this point. Well, I thank you for coming together with me to share some thoughts for our audience. I said I had five questions but I have six, and six is how many times did it take us to get this video recorded correct?

Scott Brinker: Yeah. People say interactive content takes a lot of work to put together, which right, any piece of content takes a lot of work to put together and get right, and so yeah. We're good. We're going to do more of these chats. We've cracked the code.

Anna Talerico: Exactly. All right. Thanks, Scott. I'll talk to you later.

Scott Brinker: Thank you.