You have a message. A fantastic one. But as global business gets more and more competitive, if you don't approach your content the right way, you'll be about as effective in getting that message out as a butter knife sawing through a centuries-old sequoia. And according to neuroscience, interactive content should be your content default.

Why your brain responds so well to what's interactive

Dr. Dino Levy of Tel Aviv University's Coller School of Management and Sagol School of Neuroscience says that interactive content differs from more traditional media in two big ways:

  • It involves making motor movements, such as responding to information and cues, in a sequential way for several seconds. Motor movements strengthen connections between the neurons in your brain.
  • It requires people to make choices along the way. Making a choice activates a bigger range of brain areas--for example, the areas related to emotional processing, motor planning, high cognitive forward thinking, and sensory processing--than just thinking about something or taking in content passively.

With these two elements working, your memory of the information, the behavior, and what led you to that behavior is much stronger, and you're more motivated through the brain's reward systems to repeat what you did. Levy adds that the positive feedback you get from making choices and interacting with the environment can provide an empowering sense of control and confidence. That, in turn, helps you develop a preference for the options you picked that made you feel good. From the connection and business perspective, that means you're more willing to keep engaging with the content to the end and not forget it, and that you have a high likelihood of good brand loyalty.

3 rules to make your interactive content reach massive audiences

Levy says the main goal of any content producer should be to generate heightened attention, motivation, and engagement. To do this:

1. Offer both sequential steps and feedback after each step. Examples include enabling readers to flip to reveal something, or to see how many votes a poll question received after they vote. This setup gives the reader choice and control, with the feedback providing the positive reward and motivation their brain is looking for.

2. Personalize it. "Our brain has an easier time visualizing a situation we could be in, as opposed to imagining a scenario or context that we are not a part of. In the context of storytelling, the most successful stories are ones readers can relate to, or picture themselves in. [...] Because technology enables more and more personalization, newer generations demand it more, as they have grown accustomed to it," Levy says.

3. Lean on the unexpected and novel. An example here is clicking to unblur an image. "One of the main features of how the brain operates is by constantly building expectations of what is going to happen next. [...] If we make a small, unexpected, positive twist that will call for will result in greater brain activations, memory, and engagement," according to Levy.

Shachar Orren, chief storytelling officer at Disney-backed platform Playbuzz, has used this neuroscientific understanding of interactive content and the brain with enormous success. The company's suite of storytelling tools allow publishers to craft engagement-based editorial, whereas brands tap the company for interactive branded content campaigns based on the cost-per-engagement (CPE) model. In fact, a recent study from Nielsen on behalf of Playbuzz found that Playbuzz's branded content solutions perform in the top 10 percent of all Nielsen global Digital Brand Effect campaigns (the highest categorization level possible), garnering an average brand lift of 91 percent.

Orren stresses that content producers should be open to third-party tools that enable them to package content in an engaging manner, and that the producers should realize that those tools aren't going to take away from the integrity of a company's message. Many businesses simply aren't aware of what's available or that they can go well beyond the stereotypical quiz. They tend to be resistant to change and fail to experiment with new options.

"Conduct research on such tools to ensure you are not simply pushing out content that is comprised of text and images, but instead ones that encompass videos, polls, flip cards, ranked lists, and more," Orren says. "Make sure the platform you're considering provides you with real-time metrics to track performance and optimize."

Then, train your team. Your content producers should be educated on how interactivity boosts their storytelling, get tutorials, and commit to publishing a certain percentage of content with interactivity tools. Account managers can ask more questions about the CPE campaign model to present it to clients, too.

Thinking beyond the money

Interactive content has the potential to bring you big bucks, but Orren and Levy both assert that it can have a powerful influence for the good of society, too. Better use of interactive content could ensure that people are armed with the crucial facts they need to make important decisions. And according to Orren, it could change the way businesses measure success. Including engagement-based KPIs like dwell time, scroll depth, and comments could become the new norm, all while helping with internal communications like company announcements and HR updates.

But don't forget this last benefit of applying a little neuroscience and using interactive content well: It checks your ego. It forces you to acknowledge that what your audience has to say back to you matters and has value. And when you focus on that, you keep your real sense of purpose--the real reason you're working at all--at the fore. And that's right where it should be.