How to navigate content marketing's control issues

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It's important to understand not what's newest and hottest in the market, but how the level of interaction impacts the consumer, writes the managing partner of Imprint.

Marketers are famous for clamoring over new technologies. For content marketers, this has meant being able to showcase infographics, social media, videos, podcasts, virtual reality, chatbots and everything in between. While measurement is still a challenge, the ability to quickly adopt trends is not. But, in the race to innovate, where do tried-and-true techniques fit? 

It's important to understand not what's newest and hottest in the market, but how the level of control impacts the consumer. By looking at the role control plays, it's possible to invest wisely in the right mediums to influence audiences with stories.

Readers have control
In many ways, static content is what we see most often. Articles, magazines, newsletters and email copy may be thoughtfully constructed to carry a reader through from one point to the next and end in action, but, in reality, the entirety of the message is available to the reader at any time. While these pieces are created with strategy in mind, ultimately the reader is in control. Whether they begin at the start, jump to the end, hop back and forth or look at only the images.

It's less enticing—and less glamorous—to develop content that can be consumed at one's own pace, but as most content marketers know, budgets and resources often constrain the formats we can explore. Videos and interactive graphics are simply expensive. Instead of thinking about where to cut corners on the budget, think about which narratives can be self-taught. If the message is simple, focus on tactics like pull-quotes and images to offer multiple points of entry (or re-entry) to a piece. And, if all else fails, find comfort in the fact that research that shows that 59 percent of readers will share an article without even reading it. 

Marketers share the reins
On the far opposite end of the spectrum lies the world of animation. Videos, scroll-based charts, and more unfold in front of a reader in a specific order. This content is in the marketer's control. The way the audience receives the information and the pace of storytelling is pre-set; the audience doesn't see more until they have seen the prior messages.

With animated content, the message sequence is so tightly controlled that it works well for complex content, stories with multiple parts or that need to immerse an audience in the succession of message in order to really succeed. The New York Times' 9 percent infographic is a perfect example. By scrolling down the page, the narrative unfolds, underscoring how small 9 percent of the US population truly is in a far more dramatic way than a static graph could.

Customers own it
Thanks to technologies like chatbots, virtual reality, and even video games, interactive content has proliferated across the board (and is actually becoming less of an investment thanks to new platforms and technology). Not only is it more complex technically (and budgetarily), but it creates a constant transfer of control between the marketer and the audience.

Giving the reader the opportunity to choose which path to take at any given time, such as in Uberflip's interactive infographic or Patron's Virtual Hacienda Tour, the brand and its audience alternate control. The reader chooses a direction, the brand serves content, the user responds, and the brand does, too. The key to this choose-your-own-adventure content strategy is ensuring that no matter how a user arrives at the end point, they're pushed to take an action.

Too often, marketers make decisions on the type of content to create based on available resources and whether an audience is amenable to that format. But it's more than what channel is right for your reader. It's what channel will deliver the story the best way. 

—Andy Seibert is managing partner of content marketing firm Imprint.