Spotlight on interactive content marketing technology, part two - ion interactive

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher October 9, 2016
Creating interactive marketing content can seem dauntingly complex, even to an experienced marketer. But with the right tools, and a shift in mindset from static assets to interactive experiences, audiences can be engaged. In part two of her series on interactive content marketing technology, Barb Mosher Zinck turns the spotlight to ion interactive.

Whether you are a new content marketer just getting into interactive content or a seasoned pro, there is an interactive content marketing tool that will work for you (probably three or four). Ceros is one of these solutions, but today we’re going to look at ion Interactive, and examine the market from a slightly different angle.

First off, let me be very clear - I am not doing an apples to apples comparison of ion Interactive against Ceros. Yes, they both provide interactive content marketing in a SaaS environment, and yes, you can create pretty much all of the same content with both of them. When you decide you need an interactive marketing tool, a lot of requirements are going to come into play. You’ll need to look at few different solutions to decide what will work best for you. You can do the comparing then.

The origins of an interactive content marketing tool

I had a great conversation with Anna Talerico, ion’s EVP and co-founder, about ion’s history. The company was founded eighteen years ago as a web development shop working with their custom CMS solution. It was a boutique firm that worked with a number of large organizations. Ten years ago they were hired to build a field marketing platform that providing landing pages, microsites, and other standalone things. More customers started asking for the same functionality so they decided that instead of rebuilding the same thing over and over, they would build a solution that everyone could use, leveraging SaaS and cloud technology that was just becoming popular.

Talerico referred to the ion platform as “a CMS for everything your CMS can’t do”; customized campaign experiences that don’t fit into the structure of a typical website and CMS platform. Initially, the ion platform created landing pages, microsites and what Talerico called “conversion paths,” but it has grown greatly since then.

What they found about four years ago is that their most successful customers were using ion for more than landing pages and microsites. They were doing “interactive content” such as calculators and quizzes, creating app like experiences using custom scripts and other things in the platform. Ion’s founders decided they should build features to support this type of content out of the box.

Today ion interactive still provides the basics such as landing pages and microsites, but also a range of interactive content, some highly complex, from ebooks, lookbooks, interactive infographics to calculators, assessments and more. It is a solution that gives marketers the tools they need to create logic driven experiences without the need to engage development resources.

Content creation and template options

There are two ways you can use the ion platform: work with pre-built templates or start from a blank slate. Talerico said there are over 110 quick start templates you can use to get going very quickly and they add a new one every week. These templates are completely brandable and range from simple interactive assets to more complex ones. Templates are broken down into categories such as email, content marketing, user-driven results (quizzes, calculators) and others. And note, ion uses the bootstrap responsive framework, so your content will look good on all devices.

Once you’ve selected a template, it’s opened in the ion Creative Studio, and you get to work adding your brand and entering your images, text, and other assets. There’s an image library, and you can edit an image for a particular content asset you are working on. Talerico said you can have a quick start content asset live in under an hour (not including all the work you need to do beforehand to develop the content). Often brands will find a quick start template provides 60-70% of what they need, but then they need to tweak the template to work the way they want.

For those who want to create something unique, you can start from scratch leveraging a wide range of tools in the Creative Studio. Some of the capabilities include animations, app-like transitions, triggers from scrolling or clicking, and more. Out the box, ion provides templates for quizzes, configurators, and calculators and as you know, the logic behind these content types is specific to the customer, so the functionality is built in to define the necessary logic for both quick starts and custom built content.

If you want to personalize the experience, ion integrates with pretty much all email, CRM and marketing automation providers. You can use this information to alter the experience for returning visitors, including using progressive profiling for lead gen forms. In addition, you can create targeted experiences for unknown visitors based on a range of data such as demographics, clickstream patterns, previous interactions and more.

Ion also provides built in analytics for different levels: portfolio, campaign, program, asset or even a page within an asset. Track traffic, conversions, bounce rates and more. You can also compare the performance of one campaign or asset against another.

Finally, ion provides AB testing. Maybe you aren’t sure what type of asset will perform better, so you create a couple. AB testing let’s you test one type against the other and can automatically optimize the experience by routing more traffic to the higher performing asset. You don’t have to go the automatic route, though, instead manually allocating traffic based on your view of the results. Talerico provided the example of testing where your gate is located in an asset, or testing an assessment against an interactive white paper. Again, as with Ceros, I’m just scratching the surface of what you can do with the ion Interactive platform.

Is interactive marketing for everyone?

Is there a right time to get into interactive content? Does it work better for some markets than others? Why do marketers want to do interactive content?

Talerico suggested that a content marketer who has grown from a beginner into a seasoned marketer has the best understanding of what’s working and has developed a content marketing machine with a clear plan. Sophisticated marketers are looking for more engagement, more measurability and - obviously - more leads. Interactive marketing, however, can work for everyone and every market.

I was curious about interactive white papers and ebooks. It’s clear to me the value of quizzes, assessments, calculators, even interactive infographics. But what does interactivity bring to a white paper? Talerico’s answer was clear. It helps surface content instead of hiding it away in a PDF. She said part of it is about transparency. It allows a brand to show its customers that it believes in its content and making sure you see the parts that are most interesting to them.

She also suggested adding interactivity to these types of assets by adding in quizzes to test your knowledge or making the interactive version a shorter, concise version with key highlights and then enabling the customer to download the full, extended PDF after completing a lead gen form.

Need more examples?

Final thoughts - the road to interactive content development

We talked about the process of creating interactive content. I wondered if there is a different thought process that a marketer needs to go through before they decide to build interactive content? Talerico said that too often, marketers think it’s a complex process when it really isn’t.

You don’t have to think differently, she said. You still need to think about your audience and your objectives. The difference is thinking about what will make for a great digital experience and how to take educational content, like a white paper and put it into a useful format. The key is to shift your lens to thinking about utility and what makes a great experience.

Ion interactive doesn’t make you think differently (well, it does in a way), but it does provide you with the tools to take your ideas to interactive levels that would take significantly longer if you did them manually. It’s certainly worth a live demo.

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