September 20, 2023

Using Interactive Content Experiences to Grow Your 1st-Party Data

This is a special edition of A Media Operator, sponsored by CredSpark. In these sponsored deep dives, we dig into a specific topic and go into much more detail. I hope you enjoy it!

Forward-thinking media organizations are using interactive content experiences in unique, innovative ways to engage audiences, gather zero-party data, drive transactions, grow ad revenue, improve events, and much more. Are you missing out on a big opportunity?

Explore CredSpark’s client examples to spark new ideas and opportunities for your media business. And learn how this one B2B media company created an innovative, interactive ad program that generated nearly 10,000 highly qualified leads for their sponsors.

Interested in how your media business can leverage interactive content experiences? Let’s talk.

The future of media requires 1st-party data. There is no way around it. The publications that understand who their audience is including their interests and intentions are the ones that are going to succeed. And for good reason… if you know your audience deeply, you’re going to make sure you’re serving them.

Within that 1st-party data, we identify three things that matter: The content a person consumes, answers to your questions, such as with a tool like CredSpark, and information they give you about themselves. 

When it comes to what they consume, you need to be able to track what they’re doing. In essence, you want to know the types of content they are consuming on your site, what assets they’ve downloaded, which events they’ve attended, and whatever other data you might be able to glean about them.

When it comes who the person is, you have to get them to tell you. This is data that I refer to as declarative. You gather this by the user telling you about themselves. They signed up for a newsletter and gave their email address. They filled out a reader poll or took a quiz about a topic. Anything that requires them to tell you a little about themselves is declarative data and each of these data points forms that critical, identifiable information you need. 

And this is data that both consumer and b2b media companies should be caring about. If you’re going to really serve your audience and give them what they want or need, you have to first understand who they are. Different strategies will work with different types of publications, but we’ll come back to that.

You then take those declarative data points and merge them with the behavioral data. And that’s the real magic behind 1st-party data. You not only know who someone is, but what content they care about. This is unbelievably powerful for a number of reasons, including the ability to target the right content to the right people to grow subscriptions, allowing advertisers to promote their message to targeted segments, and so much more. Knowing who your readers are and what they care about will separate fine media companies from great ones.

Longitudinal time frame of media

One thing that will change considerably in the future of media is the relationship with the audience and, more specifically, how we can extend it. With traffic, all we cared about was an anonymous number. How many pageviews? How many unique visitors? It was all very sterile and as long as these anonymous numbers continued to go up, we felt pretty good about ourselves.

But is it any wonder that the media companies with the most successful subscriptions businesses are those that have done a great job deepening their relationship with their audience vis-à-vis understanding who they are?

When I was talking with CredSpark about this sponsored deep dive, one of the concepts they explained to me was this notion of the longitudinal time frame of media. It’s no longer just about getting someone to your site. Instead, you need to figure out how you can get them to your site, keep them on your site, and then encourage them to come back. We need to lengthen the time in which we engage our audience so that we can monetize over the long-term.

The obvious answer to this is that you need to create unbelievable content. And with the above 1st-party data, you’ll be able to track who is engaging with that content. But do you know that the content is resonating with that audience? Most of the analytics that we use are unhelpful. We look at things like time on page, scroll depth, or pageviews per session and assume if someone’s been on the site a long time, they must be engaged.

But what if there was another way?

What CredSpark proposes—and I very much agree with—is that you should not simply rely on passive data capture. Even if you are doing an unbelievable job with behavioral data tracking, how do you know that the audience benefited from what they consumed? Yes, you may know that a Director of Logistics at Kellogg’s read an article about logistics. That’s more than most media companies know, but it’s not enough.

Instead, we should be trying to ascertain whether that Director of Logistics actually benefited from the piece of content. Did they learn anything? Is it actionable for them? Can they make a better decision because of it? And the only way to do that is to ask them. And this is what CredSpark allows for.

If we take it a step further, though, asking questions can contribute to the growth of audience knowledge data. You can begin learning what the audience knows, cares about, understands, and where they are spending their time thinking. 

For example, let’s say our audience are marketers. At the end of an article, we could ask a question that posits: “Is 3rd party cookie depreciation important to you?” That’s unbelievably valuable in helping us understand where our audience needs are. If everyone answering that says no, that can help inform editorial coverage.

What’s more likely, however, is that some percentage will say yes and others will say no. You can now take this data and personalize the content you promote to these respective cohorts. For those that said yes, promote content that would help them make the transition. 

I’ll dig into monetization in more detail below, but just as a hint, imagine how powerful that single question about cookies could be for advertisers. Everyone who said yes that 3rd-party cookie deprecation is important to them would shoot to the top of the sales list for any customer data platform company.

Your audience can become a driver of actionable and deep data that helps you, the publisher, learn and appreciate what your audience understands and where their expertise lies. That’s unbelievably powerful. 

Engagement breeds loyalty

It used to be that at the end of articles, we would have comment sections. People could tell you front and center what they thought about the content you had created. As time went on, moderation of these comment sections became untenable. And so, media companies increasingly opted to shut them down. The rationale was, “the conversation is happening on social media anyway, so why not focus our energies there?”

But I think this missed the broader point. A reader who was willing to consume an article from start to finish and then leave a comment was a loyal reader. There are exceptions for trolls, but by and large, if someone stops to write a retort, there’s loyalty.

Unfortunately, writing a comment still takes a lot of effort. And it only considers the people who feel a need to respond—typically in some sort of extreme agreement or disagreement.

What if you could just ask the reader if they thought the article was helpful? As the reader gets to the end, there’s a little box that appears that says, “Hey, what did you think of this? Was it helpful?” And with a click of a button, they can tell you. Now you have a better idea if you are actually giving the user what they need.

There are a multitude of questions that you can ask that qualify the behavioral data of them consuming the content:

  • Did they like it?
  • Did it find it helpful?
  • Was it what they were looking for?

And then questions which probe a bit deeper and yield even better data, such as:

  • If not helpful, what were they looking for?
  • Did they correctly answer questions related to the content (which shows they understood?)
  • How did they answer opinion questions (poll, survey, etc.) sitting alongside the content?

By stopping and asking these questions, you can unlock additional context behind their consumption. Now it’s not just who the reader is and what they consumed, but also, specific data points about them vis-à-vis the content.

This creates a feedback loop that might not have existed before. Instead of you just pushing content to them, you are now reacting to whether or not they find that content enjoyable, helpful, understandable and valuable. That’s a very different relationship than just a passive content distribution engine. It means you have to actually care about what the user wants and needs.

This interactive engagement can also build trust with the user. Everyone and their mother is trying to get data about us. And many organizations are sloppy with it and sell it to whoever they can. If we can prove some sort of a value exchange for that data, the user is more likely to trust us and give us the information we want. 

For example, CredSpark powers Omeda’s Email Benchmark Calculator. With this calculator, any publisher is able to compare their own email engagement data with Omeda’s historical data. You tell it how many emails you send, your open rates, and your unique clickthrough rates. At the end of the questionnaire, your numbers are compared against other publishers anonymously. 

Two things happen here. First, as a user, we get a lot of value. And we tend to trust things that give us value. Second, Omeda gets a lead. But instead of just blindly asking for leads, Omeda is using interactivity to make the user feel as if they are getting something valuable in exchange for giving them that information. 

What’s so great about this is that the tool becomes evergreen. You make it once and you consistently capture new data. A user might come back every three months to see if improvements they’ve made have helped them improve against the benchmarks. This actually brings us to the next point about progressive data capture. 

Using engagement to progressively grow declarative data

Let’s say we ask the reader, “did you find it helpful?” Irrespective of what they answered, you might follow up with a question about who they are. Now, if you already had that information, what other declarative could you capture about them? For example, you might know their company name from a previous call to action, but do you know their job level and function?

But before we dig into progressive data capture, let’s take a step back and talk about forms. It is common knowledge that the longer a form is, the lower the conversion rate will be. And this is technically true, but there is an incredible amount of nuance.

HubSpot published the results of an in-depth test to understand the impact of form fields on a landing page. And the results are interesting. The team found that forms with only one or two fields actually had a lower conversion rate than forms with anywhere from three to five fields. However, when looking at three to four fields, there was a steep drop off in conversion rate between the two.

If three form fields gave the best results, how can we get data beyond those initial three? That’s where progressive data capture comes into play. In essence, you’re going back to that longitudinal timeframe we discussed above. If you assume that a reader is going to come back to your site multiple times, you won’t feel the need to get all the data up front. You’ll have more chances.

So, what does that look like? Maybe the first time a reader fills out a form, they give you their first name, email address, and company name. Or if it’s a local publication, you ask for first name, email address, and zip code. You’ll decide the three most important data points that you need to start the relationship.

A day later, that person reads an article and at the end, sees a CredSpark question asking their opinion on the trend covered in the article. The user answers, and now you ask, “What’s your job function?” With each incremental question, you build a deeper understanding of who they are. And that’s powerful over the long-term of your relationship with that reader.

Layering in monetization

But what if you could monetize this too?

If you can ask your audience questions, why not introduce questions that might demonstrate buying intent? Let’s go back to the above example of the Director of Logistics at Kellogg’s. We know who they are; we know what they have consumed; we know what they think about what they have consumed. That’s a lot of data.

Let’s introduce a hypothetical advertiser, like Oracle, which owns Fusion Cloud Logistics. They obviously care a lot about getting in front of decision makers for their software. But not every buyer is ready to make a decision. Software purchasing takes time and it could be years before they’re ready.

And so, what if you could qualify the leads for your partners? Instead of driving all leads to Oracle, you prompt the reader to answer one simple question: “Are you shopping for new logistics software in the next 6-12 months?” People will be honest with you because they need that software to do their jobs. Anytime someone says yes to that question, you should be promoting Oracle’s lead generation campaigns to them.

Now you can go back to Oracle and tell them, “I know this group of people that are interested in making a software purchase over the next year.” Every person who says yes to that question becomes a much hotter lead for Oracle than a random person who fills out that form. Lead qualification is unbelievably powerful and asking the audience is the best way to do it.

What makes this particularly exciting is you are using advertisers to underwrite your data capture. You want to qualify the lead for your partner, but why not also get some piece of data that can help your business overall? This is why selling lead gen campaigns can be so powerful; the data is monetized far beyond just the immediate form.

There is real money to be had if you can qualify leads. And using this sort of engagement to do that can give you a leg up on other competitors that are just driving a quantity of leads. At the end of the day, software companies only have so many sales people. And if you can help them prioritize the leads they should be talking to, they’ll renew with you.

Lead qualification is only one of many ways to monetize this sort of engagement. For example, by creating more immersive experiences, you can run interactive surveys to generate strong data for sponsors to inform business decisions, marketing spend, and product development. Or you can turn these experiences into games to help sponsors see increased engagement with their brands. At the end of the day, you’re trying to prove value to your sponsors and an engaged viewer is one key way to do that. 

Wrapping up…

The media companies that succeed in the future are going to both know who is reading their content at the individual level and what those readers know and care about. This is the declarative and behavioral data that I reference often. But there is a way to take it one step farther and that’s through qualifying engagement. If you can qualify the behavioral data and truly know that you are serving your audience, you’re going to have a much stronger relationship with the readers compared to those that don’t qualify.

But this requires a mindset shift. You’re not just pushing content for the sake of pushing that content. Instead, you’re asking questions where you are learning from your audience, providing value, and deepening that relationship. At the end of the day, you want a long-term relationship with these readers. If you can drive the right content to them, you will accomplish that goal.

And this is where CredSpark can help.

Forward-thinking media organizations are using interactive content experiences in unique, innovative ways to engage audiences, gather zero-party data, drive transactions, grow ad revenue, improve events, and much more. Are you missing out on a big opportunity?

Explore CredSpark’s client examples to spark new ideas and opportunities for your media business. And learn how this one B2B media company created an innovative, interactive ad program that generated nearly 10,000 highly qualified leads for their sponsors.

Interested in how your media business can leverage interactive content experiences? Let’s talk.