Building Interest Paths that Create Flow

As the intelligent and real-time web dynamically distribute content everywhere, understanding and creating interest paths will move to the forefront of marketing strategies. Pushed aside will be ideas of siloed marketing strategies to stages in the funnel.


Right now we concentrate our online marketing strategy in two places for search, contextual & display. One day we’ll look back on these nascent strategies and laugh.

Pre-click – as a user searches or consumes content

A LOT of money is spent trying to get people to click. If we’re lucky 3% of people will click in Search and .05% will click in display.

Post-click – a landing or site page

From paid ads 97% of people will not be interested enough in the page they landed on to transact with it. In most cases they will click the back button. In natural search people land on more reference pages and the chances improve that they will fulfill at least part of their interest/intention and take another step forward.

What happens after the post click (or post-post click)?

Based on two years of qualitative research I conducted as a consultant with Creative Good and from mountains of analytic data I’ve seen the past decade, people’s interest paths do not end after pre-click>post click. Yet, we continue to market like they have.

We continue to market as if there is a real funnel and people progress down it like the march of ants to a crumb. If we think about that in terms of experiential marketing we are left holding the bag. We market to steps 1 and 2 at each stage but what about steps 3 through 8 of each stage? Why even think in terms of stages? What are we doing with all the valuable data being created besides giving it all to Google to use for their benefit with all those back clicks?

There has to be a better way.

We all follow interest paths. They can lead us all over the web, content providing our breadcrumbs and relevance the thread that we weave as we go from page to page and experience to experience.
An early and simple experiment I did with creating interest paths by using contextual relevance (in this case content) was at Offermatica. We created a widget that would pull in relevant blog content from other domains into this and two other blogs. We realized that someone coming from, say a Google search for Landing Page Optimization, might want to continue down the interest path to other like-minded content. The results were startling.

Understanding how people go about their online experience is of paramount importance. People get into a flow. Google is really good at creating flow. They hit the nail on the head by matching an insane focus on presentation of content with technology to deliver it in the most relevant way. Most people don’t understand — that’s all optimization is about — the presentation and delivery of content!

According to seminal research (Novak, Hoffman and Yung, 1999) online user flow has causes, characteristics and consequences.

1. Causes of Flow
• A clear goal
• Immediate feedback on the success of attempts to reach that goal
• A challenge you’re confident you have the skills to handle

2. Characteristics of Flow
• Total concentration and focused attention
• A sense of control over interactions
• Openness to new things
• Increased exploratory behavior
• Increased learning
• Positive feelings

3. Consequences of Flow
• Loss of consciousness of self
• Distortions in the perception of time
• Activity is perceived as intrinsically rewarding

As digital marketers if we follow these ideas and build applications that leverage the causes, characteristics and consequences of flow we can marry the best elements of brand and direct marketing. We can optimize the presentation and delivery of content in a way that creates interest and intent, leads people to where they want to go, and allows them to re-engage on their terms — without losing the traction we facilitated in the earlier experiences.

In many regards the marketing funnel as we’ve seen it on every marketing presentation for years is dead. Technology killed it. In the immediate, real-time, intelligent, media intense times that we live in today it’s the funnel is now too antiquated a way to look at how we behave, and what we create. No more dead ends. No more silos. Create interest paths and get your audience into the flow!


One response to “Building Interest Paths that Create Flow”

  1. Greg Hills Avatar

    Seems like the idea is to create a post-display click experience where the transition from browsing content to browsing banner to browsing landing page is seamless? Makes sense. Here are some enabling tools that come to mind:
    -Contextual/semantic targeting
    -Dynamic creative based on page detail
    -Dynamic landing pages
    -Low latency retargeting
    What do you think is important? Do you know of any display targeting company that can detect a users “flow” based on multiple sequential page views and action it in realtime?


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