The ROI of Interactive Content: A conversation with Ion co-founder Anna Talerico

I had a reunion of sorts a couple weeks ago with some old friends. And while we were all asking one another how we’d been for the last 10 years and what we did for a living, I started to notice a trending follow-up question.

It went like this: “What do I do? Well, I’m the creative director of a demand generation agency.” They’d all stare at the bridge of my nose, nod their heads, smile. A minute would pass, and then like clockwork they’d say, “And what does that mean?”

There are many answers to that fairly open-ended question. But, overall, I get to work alongside really smart people, in an industry jam-packed with other really smart people.

And I was thinking about that last week when I started a conversation with Anna Talerico, Co-founder and Executive Vice President of Ion Interactive. For the last year or so, ID has been all-in when it comes to interactive content. Talerico has been all-in for over a decade. So it’s no surprise that when I went to write a post about calculating the ROI of interactive content, I called Talerico.

One thing is clear, interactive content forces us to rethink a few things. I’ll let Talerico weigh in.

“Demand generation has been rooted in ROI; content marketing hasn’t been,” said Talerico. “People really don’t know the soft cost of a whitepaper or a lead. The content marketing side of that is not black and white. I think that’s really a part of the problem.”

Essentially, we can identify our ideal customer; we can score leads to match the profile of our ideal-customer definition, and we can measure the revenue we get from a lifetime customer once closed. But what’s the quantitative value of the piece of content a lead downloaded on her journey from anonymous to closed-won?

And here’s the rub: The above question is important, but as your company embraces interactive content more and more, it becomes a barrier to calculating the ROI of your content efforts.

I imagine some of you savvy marketers are getting impatient with the “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” direction I’m taking. I can almost hear you shouting at your screen, “What’s the ROI of interactive content already?” Patience you must have, my young padawan. 

Before we activate the hyperdrive, let’s get back to Talerico, a true leader in the world of interactive content.

“I came from enterprise web development,” she said. “That evolved into campaign-specific work, measurable experiences, landing pages, microsites and conversion paths. If I went back to the first thing I made that you can consider ‘interactive content,’ that was 1998.”

As you’ll note from our previous post about interactive content (which you can read here), defining interactive content the same way you define a static whitepaper is the wrong approach. Interactive content is really more of an experience than an outbound asset you release into the marketing wild.

Co-founded by Talerico, Ion Interactive has been at this for a while—even before they had a way to accurately describe what this is.

“We called it ‘post-click’ marketing,” she said. “But it wasn’t the perfect phrase. We were trying to find the perfect phrasing. Then, one day, we were finally like, ‘interactive content,’ that’s what this is!”

Sound familiar? I think the above situation is pretty close to what many marketers are feeling these days. For some, interactive content is the new frontier. But, in the end, it’s a collection of old things (microsites, landing pages, quizzes, assessments) thought of in a new way (interactive content!).

OK, we’re ready. Let’s go ahead and engage the hyperdrive. How do we calculate the ROI of using interactive content vs. static content?

According to Anna Talerico, this takes one step backward in order to take two forward.

“I think interactive content requires a different mindset, focusing on the qualitative aspect of the traffic and the audience you’re reaching,” she said.

We tend to think of ROI as a fairly “downstream” metric. When the reports are delivered, we work backward, calculate the program’s cost, look at our closed-won deal sizes, and assign a value to our program. Interactive content forces us to rethink this and change our behavior in two important ways:

1. Define qualitative metrics for your campaigns in addition to your quantitative ones.
2. Calculate those qualitative metrics upstream in the process (well before you hand off to Sales).

“Let’s say I publish content and get 1,000 leads,” she said. “They’re looking good; they have the right titles. but for whatever reason, Sales learns these leads are not the right fit, and not one closes.”

There goes our ROI. And, unfortunately, we only learn this at the bottom of the funnel.

“Now let’s say we use an assessment, and we get only 700 people,” she said. “Of those 700, I know their pains and challenges. I, as a marketing or sales person, get all that data collected. The user received valuable info from the assessment. And when Sales calls, they have a much more relevant conversation.”

In a sense, interactive content is now becoming the convergence point of learning about and educating/nurturing our audiences—at the same time, without sacrificing the user experience. Interactive content can not only engage your prospects/customers, but it can also be used to feed a more relevant, robust data model and support some game-changing sales enablement capabilities.

Imagine a campaign where you calculated ROI based on both outputs (revenue) and inputs (actionable information about your audience).

This isn’t the future; it’s the present. We can do this today, and we needn’t abandon our current methods for calculating ROI based on downstream metrics.

“If you think about a traditional demand generation program, whatever model you use to look at that ROI is the same you would use to calculate ROI for interactive content,” said Talerico. “If you have a measurement framework for content, whether it’s interactive or not shouldn’t disrupt that.”

Interactive content gives us a much better way to calculate ROI, which is a great thing for marketers who make content and probably a pain for the folks whose necks get wrung when the program fails to deliver (we call them “interns” at ID—kidding).

And when you begin to embrace the idea of qualitative metrics, when you reframe the concept of ROI to fit your new interactive content use case, you have a better answer when peers start asking, “Why are we spending money embedding surveys and adding animation to our PDFs?”

I suppose you could stare at the bridges of their nose, smile, and nod for a minute or so. Or you could sit them down, and in a measured voice say, “You must unlearn some of what you have learned.”

If you want to talk more about interactive content, undertake an ID unlearning process, or apply to be an intern at ID (still kidding), please contact us by clicking here.

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