interactive content: interview with Justin Talerico, ion interactive

It’s 2017. Are you following the same content marketing best practices you rolled out in 2013?

I’d be willing to guess you aren’t. I know I’m not. As content marketing has grown up, marketing tech has improved and customers expect better, more personalized content. As a result, marketing best practices (and the prevailing wisdom about which content strategies really work) have zoomed forward.

Justin Talerico is leading the way. He has been pushing the boundaries of traditional marketing best practices for 25 years. These days his company, ion interactive, is forging a new path for interactive content, with a push away from one-off PDF projects and toward more customer-focused, agile, trackable content.

Earlier this year Justin told me about the shift he has seen toward more user-friendly ungated content. In the interview below, I asked him to share his perspective on how marketing has evolved over the past two decades, and his predictions on the future of content marketing.

Tell me how ion started. How has the company evolved over the past 20 years?

I started an all-digital marketing communications firm a couple of years out of college, in 1992. At that time, “digital business cards” and interactive CD-ROMs were the delivery methods. We built our first enterprise website for Samsung in 1994, and by 1996 we were 100 percent web. I branded the company as ion — positively charged, fast-moving particle — in 1996, which is also when my now-wife, Anna, came onboard. Ion became ion interactive in 1998 when we merged with a back-end CMS software company — Scott Brinker’s CyberOps. We were tech-enabled services developing and managing very-large-scale websites from 1998 to 2007. In 2007 we launched a new SaaS platform that improved post-click conversion performance in paid campaigns by enabling deployment of richer, more personal landing experiences. In 2015 we relaunched a highly amplified version of that platform to create and test data-driven interactive content without code or development resources.

How has your business strategy, and your day-to-day work, moved along with the industry?

Regardless of delivery method — website, conversion path, interactive assessment — we believe that quality, creative content wins the day. Each platform we’ve deployed and marketed has been based on that single-minded premise. In the bespoke website world of tech-enabled services of the early 2000s, that meant providing the strategy and technology to enable marketers to have more direct input into their content and user experience. In the conversion optimization world, that meant using conditional paths to get more specific with visitors to determine who was and wasn’t a good fit. And in the interactive content world, that means enabling a content-driven dialogue across the journey that enables both the brand and the prospect to get to know each other.

“Regardless of delivery method, creative content wins the day.” Click To Tweet

The overarching vision is that every click should lead to a great experience. The top-line strategy is to create usable technology that makes that vision plausible at scale. And what’s changed over the past 20 years is the data and technical firepower at our disposal to make journeys smarter, more specific and more relevant.

“Every click should lead to a great experience.” Click To Tweet

What do you think you’ll be doing differently in 5 years?

For many marketers today, myself included, quality data-point mining is too laborious. As technologies evolve to help us make that piece more accessible and agile, a higher percentage of resources can be allocated to creativity — ultimately providing higher-quality, more differentiated content. Because explicit data tells us more, we won’t have to rely on shotgun-style quantity over quality. We’ll be guided to more deeply invest in fewer, higher-quality pieces informed by a more meaningful and reliable data layer. We’ll be able to confidently target that high-quality content to our best-fit prospects, identified by their responses across the digital dialogue. I can see the horizon of that vision today and it’s incredibly exciting.

Prediction: Content marketers will focus on fewer, higher-quality pieces. Click To Tweet

What are the current challenges and frustrations you’re hearing from clients? What are your clients’ big opportunities?

It’s hard for any marketer or designer today to keep up with the pace and proliferation of marketing technologies. They need solutions that they can confidently invest in and know that both the short- and long-term upsides are there. When they do commit to their martech stack, they can get frustrated with the integration, cooperation and maintenance of the puzzle pieces. Once they get past implementation and integration, their opportunity is to create a real dialogue with customers and prospects. It’s truly amazing to see how a brand that is useful — producing functional content — can be valued and loved for its marketing, of all things. Marketing transforms into an authentic, transparent relationship builder — in stark contrast to its history.

It’s amazing how a brand that is useful can be valued and loved for its marketing. Click To Tweet

Whose work do you admire right now? What marketers are doing innovative work you’re watching?

I love what brands like Netflix are doing to raise awareness and the bar on interactivity. Interactive content is ultimately about users controlling outcomes and journeys, and Netflix is enabling a level of engagement far deeper than anything previously possible. Once people get a taste of this whole new kind of engagement, the new generation of consumers will come to expect it. And, when that happens, old-school, one-way content will find itself in an even more precarious place than it is today. Personalization has been around a long time, but it’s been a very surface idea. Now that brands are embracing ceding control, real personalization finally has a path forward.

Prediction: Old-school, one-way content is on its way out. Click To Tweet

Read more interviews about the future of marketing in our interview series, Meet the Marketing Masters.

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