Content Marketing Interview: Annie Granatstein on Creating Emotionally Engaging Content Experiences #CMWorld

Interview with Annie Granasteing of The Washington Post

Interview with Annie Granasteing of The Washington Post

We are all products of our environments, and the experiences we carry are invariably influential to the way we approach and think about our jobs. 

Recently we shared an interview with Margaret Magnarelli, who spent nearly a decade as a magazine editor before moving into a content marketing leadership role. With her background in journalism, she offers important perspective for marketers everywhere.

The same is true for Annie Granatstein, who lives at the center of the convergence between investigative journalism and brand marketing. Annie runs The Washington Post’s BrandStudio unit, which takes The Post’s award-winning proclivity for immersive digital storytelling and leverages it on behalf of brands and advertisers.

Peruse BrandStudio’s archive and you’ll find a wide range of multimedia techniques applied to bring stories to life. These include 360-degree environments, photo tours, augmented reality applications, choose-your-own-adventure journeys, and more. With the theme of this year’s Content Marketing World being show-stopping experiences that delight our audiences, the work being done by Annie’s team deserves our full attention.

She was one of the CMWorld speakers who contributed to our interactive conference preview experience, where she proclaims that engaging our audiences emotionally should be an utmost priority. 

The Greatest Content Marketing Show on Earth

In her extended interview with TopRank Marketing, Annie elaborates on how BrandStudio is pursuing this objective, with plenty of examples and insights to illustrate.

Annie Granatstein on Immersive, Emotional Content Experiences

1. What do your day-to-day duties as Head of WP BrandStudio entail? 

I oversee a multi-disciplinary team of content strategists, writers, editors, interactive designers, developers, program managers, producers, and social media and onsite performance strategists. We work together to conceive, create, and promote branded content programs for Washington Post advertisers that are story-first, data-driven, technology-forward. On any given day I move between pre- and post-sale, and also between high-level management and hands-on creative oversight. So I might spend some time developing business strategy or strategizing team structure and then move to editing an article, giving notes on a video cut, or providing creative direction on proposals.

2. Compelling stories are table stakes for content marketers these days. To stand out, we need to elevate these narratives through more immersive and engaging experiences. How can we all better embrace this central philosophy of BrandStudio?

The key to creating more immersive experiences is collaboration between different types of talent. As a content leader you must find ways to continuously encourage and improve that collaboration. One way we’ve done this is by creating multi-disciplinary initiatives such as our Emerging Media Taskforce. 

This group of about eight creatives from across the Studio’s disciplines gets together once a month to discuss which innovations in storytelling are most promising, plan for researching and prototyping them, and report back to each other. Innovations such as in-browser AR and development of proprietary emotion recognition technology arose out of this Taskforce. We then can use these innovations to create out-of-the-box content for advertisers. One example is we used the emotion recognition technology in a 360 campaign for Mike’s Hard Lemonade where our audience was able to see how good news affects their emotions in digital content (see The Good News Effect) and at an exciting experiential event.

In addition, it’s essential to use data to show advertisers the ROI of immersive experiences. For example, we have found that immersive experiences tend to drive higher time spent, and we’ll show this data to advertisers to encourage them to invest in this type of content. 

[bctt tweet=”The key to creating more immersive experiences is collaboration between different types of talent. @anniegranat” username=”toprank”]

3. Your team uses a variety of multimedia techniques to bring content to life, including 360-degree experiences, photo tours, motion graphics, illustrated articles, and more. Which formats and features do you see as most promising and versatile in the marketing world?

It’s all about what works best on mobile since the majority are engaging with content on the small screen. Certain interactive experiences are truly mobile-friendly or even mobile-first such as 360 experiences which can be navigated with your finger or by moving your phone. 

Augmented reality is still fledgling but exciting as it’s truly mobile-first, and recent technological developments have allowed for the experiences to be available in-browser (versus in-app), reaching a larger audience. For MGM National Harbor, for example, we enhanced an article about cherry blossom season with an AR experience of cherry trees blossoming through your phone (open Hanami at Home on your mobile device). As we made this experience available in browser we saw 4x the scale of AR experiences only available on the Washington Post app. 

Custom podcasts are also a great way to reach people on mobile—deeply. We’ve had a lot of success engaging audiences for long periods of time with a variety of podcasts, including multiple seasons of a personal finance podcast for T. Rowe Price, The Confident Wallet, which garnered six-figure downloads and 4.5/5-star average ratings on Apple Podcasts.

[bctt tweet=”Custom podcasts are a great way to reach people on mobile—deeply. We’ve had a lot of success engaging audiences for long periods of time with a variety of podcasts. @anniegranat” username=”toprank”]

4. Given the diversity of topics you cover, what are some steps BrandStudio takes to better understand specific audiences, and what might resonate most with them?

So many! Understanding The Post’s different audiences is a number one priority for the team. The better we know our audience, the better we can create content that resonates with them, providing more value to our advertisers.

We tap into many data sources, like content performance and audience interest surveys. We test experiences in our UX Lab. We derive insights from this data to understand what will resonate with different audiences. We also think of our audience in three categories — consumer, business, and thought leader — and use these insights to dive deep into the characteristics, interests, and content habits of each. We then use these insights to inform the story, content type, and distribution tactics.

5. Can you cite one or two of BrandStudio’s most successful and well-received programs, adding your perspective on what made them pop with audiences?

For Optum, a health services innovation company, we created a multimedia investigative feature on the opioid crisis, Working to End the Epidemic, that blended educational elements such as infographics and interactive maps to inform our audience of the scope of the epidemic with emotional, human elements such as video interviews with recovering addicts and treatment providers. 

The program was incredibly successful, garnering high time spent, a flurry of social media activity (including organic tweets from important influencers such as Katie Couric), earned media (named to the top of Ad Age best branded content partnerships list), and awards. This blend of educational and emotional elements on a pressing topic resonates deeply with our intellectually curious and highly intelligent audience.

6. Which speakers and/or sessions are you most looking forward to seeing at this year’s Content Marketing World?

I’m always interested to hear the perspectives of folks leading content inside brands since it’s the flipside of my perspective running a publisher-based content studio. So, really looking forward to talks from execs, such as:

  • Maliha Aqeel, Assistant Director of Brand, Marketing & Communication, Ernst & Young
  • Carlos Abler, Leader of Content Marketing Strategy, 3M
  • Ann Bakuniene-Milanowski, Director of Editorial, Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic is also a valued, long-term partner of WP BrandStudio and The Washington Post overall. We have created truly innovative and important content together such as this multimedia feature on treating brain disorders as we age, Keeping Your Mind.

More Memorable Stories Await

You’ll be able to witness plenty of of immersive storytelling on-stage at Content Marketing World 2019, and you’ll definitely want to check out Annie’s session on Sept. 4 at 11:20 a.m.: Speaking Their Language: How to Engage Different Types of Audiences with Content that is Uniquely Meaningful.

Until then, you’ll find plenty of uniquely meaningful content (plus a couple of fun games to play) in our interactive experience, The Greatest Content Marketing Show on Earth!

The post Content Marketing Interview: Annie Granatstein on Creating Emotionally Engaging Content Experiences #CMWorld appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.


Source: SEO blog

Content Marketing Interview: Annie Granatstein on Creating Emotionally Engaging Content Experiences #CMWorld

Interview with Annie Granasteing of The Washington Post

We are all products of our environments, and the experiences we carry are invariably influential to the way we approach and think about our jobs. 

Recently we shared an interview with Margaret Magnarelli, who spent nearly a decade as a magazine editor before moving into a content marketing leadership role. With her background in journalism, she offers important perspective for marketers everywhere.

The same is true for Annie Granatstein, who lives at the center of the convergence between investigative journalism and brand marketing. Annie runs The Washington Post’s BrandStudio unit, which takes The Post’s award-winning proclivity for immersive digital storytelling and leverages it on behalf of brands and advertisers.

Peruse BrandStudio’s archive and you’ll find a wide range of multimedia techniques applied to bring stories to life. These include 360-degree environments, photo tours, augmented reality applications, choose-your-own-adventure journeys, and more. With the theme of this year’s Content Marketing World being show-stopping experiences that delight our audiences, the work being done by Annie’s team deserves our full attention.

She was one of the CMWorld speakers who contributed to our interactive conference preview experience, where she proclaims that engaging our audiences emotionally should be an utmost priority. 

The Greatest Content Marketing Show on Earth

In her extended interview with TopRank Marketing, Annie elaborates on how BrandStudio is pursuing this objective, with plenty of examples and insights to illustrate.

Annie Granatstein on Immersive, Emotional Content Experiences

1. What do your day-to-day duties as Head of WP BrandStudio entail? 

I oversee a multi-disciplinary team of content strategists, writers, editors, interactive designers, developers, program managers, producers, and social media and onsite performance strategists. We work together to conceive, create, and promote branded content programs for Washington Post advertisers that are story-first, data-driven, technology-forward. On any given day I move between pre- and post-sale, and also between high-level management and hands-on creative oversight. So I might spend some time developing business strategy or strategizing team structure and then move to editing an article, giving notes on a video cut, or providing creative direction on proposals.

2. Compelling stories are table stakes for content marketers these days. To stand out, we need to elevate these narratives through more immersive and engaging experiences. How can we all better embrace this central philosophy of BrandStudio?

The key to creating more immersive experiences is collaboration between different types of talent. As a content leader you must find ways to continuously encourage and improve that collaboration. One way we’ve done this is by creating multi-disciplinary initiatives such as our Emerging Media Taskforce. 

This group of about eight creatives from across the Studio’s disciplines gets together once a month to discuss which innovations in storytelling are most promising, plan for researching and prototyping them, and report back to each other. Innovations such as in-browser AR and development of proprietary emotion recognition technology arose out of this Taskforce. We then can use these innovations to create out-of-the-box content for advertisers. One example is we used the emotion recognition technology in a 360 campaign for Mike’s Hard Lemonade where our audience was able to see how good news affects their emotions in digital content (see The Good News Effect) and at an exciting experiential event.

In addition, it’s essential to use data to show advertisers the ROI of immersive experiences. For example, we have found that immersive experiences tend to drive higher time spent, and we’ll show this data to advertisers to encourage them to invest in this type of content. 

The key to creating more immersive experiences is collaboration between different types of talent. @anniegranat Click To Tweet

3. Your team uses a variety of multimedia techniques to bring content to life, including 360-degree experiences, photo tours, motion graphics, illustrated articles, and more. Which formats and features do you see as most promising and versatile in the marketing world?

It’s all about what works best on mobile since the majority are engaging with content on the small screen. Certain interactive experiences are truly mobile-friendly or even mobile-first such as 360 experiences which can be navigated with your finger or by moving your phone. 

Augmented reality is still fledgling but exciting as it’s truly mobile-first, and recent technological developments have allowed for the experiences to be available in-browser (versus in-app), reaching a larger audience. For MGM National Harbor, for example, we enhanced an article about cherry blossom season with an AR experience of cherry trees blossoming through your phone (open Hanami at Home on your mobile device). As we made this experience available in browser we saw 4x the scale of AR experiences only available on the Washington Post app. 

Custom podcasts are also a great way to reach people on mobile—deeply. We’ve had a lot of success engaging audiences for long periods of time with a variety of podcasts, including multiple seasons of a personal finance podcast for T. Rowe Price, The Confident Wallet, which garnered six-figure downloads and 4.5/5-star average ratings on Apple Podcasts.

Custom podcasts are a great way to reach people on mobile—deeply. We’ve had a lot of success engaging audiences for long periods of time with a variety of podcasts. @anniegranat Click To Tweet

4. Given the diversity of topics you cover, what are some steps BrandStudio takes to better understand specific audiences, and what might resonate most with them?

So many! Understanding The Post’s different audiences is a number one priority for the team. The better we know our audience, the better we can create content that resonates with them, providing more value to our advertisers.

We tap into many data sources, like content performance and audience interest surveys. We test experiences in our UX Lab. We derive insights from this data to understand what will resonate with different audiences. We also think of our audience in three categories — consumer, business, and thought leader — and use these insights to dive deep into the characteristics, interests, and content habits of each. We then use these insights to inform the story, content type, and distribution tactics.

5. Can you cite one or two of BrandStudio’s most successful and well-received programs, adding your perspective on what made them pop with audiences?

For Optum insurance, we created a multimedia investigative feature on the opioid crisis, Working to End the Epidemic, that blended educational elements such as infographics and interactive maps to inform our audience of the scope of the epidemic with emotional, human elements such as video interviews with recovering addicts and treatment providers. 

The program was incredibly successful, garnering high time spent, a flurry of social media activity (including organic tweets from important influencers such as Katie Couric), earned media (named to the top of Ad Age best branded content partnerships list), and awards. This blend of educational and emotional elements on a pressing topic resonates deeply with our intellectually curious and highly intelligent audience.

6. Which speakers and/or sessions are you most looking forward to seeing at this year’s Content Marketing World?

I’m always interested to hear the perspectives of folks leading content inside brands since it’s the flipside of my perspective running a publisher-based content studio. So, really looking forward to talks from execs, such as:

  • Maliha Aqeel, Assistant Director of Brand, Marketing & Communication, Ernst & Young
  • Carlos Abler, Leader of Content Marketing Strategy, 3M
  • Ann Bakuniene-Milanowski, Director of Editorial, Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic is also a valued, long-term partner of WP BrandStudio and The Washington Post overall. We have created truly innovative and important content together such as this multimedia feature on treating brain disorders as we age, Keeping Your Mind.

More Memorable Stories Await

You’ll be able to witness plenty of of immersive storytelling on-stage at Content Marketing World 2019, and you’ll definitely want to check out Annie’s session on Sept. 4 at 11:20 a.m.: Speaking Their Language: How to Engage Different Types of Audiences with Content that is Uniquely Meaningful.

Until then, you’ll find plenty of uniquely meaningful content (plus a couple of fun games to play) in our interactive experience, The Greatest Content Marketing Show on Earth!

Lead Volume vs. Lead Quality By RuthBurrReedy

Ruth Burr Reedy is an SEO and online marketing consultant and speaker and the Vice President of Strategy at UpBuild, a technical marketing agency specializing in SEO, web analytics, and conversion rate optimization. This is the first post in a recurring monthly series and we’re excited! 


When you’re onboarding a new SEO client who works with a lead generation model, what do you do?

Among the many discovery questions you ask as you try to better understand your client’s business, you probably ask them, “What makes a lead a good lead?” That is, what are the qualities that make a potential customer more likely to convert to sale?

A business that’s given some thought to their ideal customer might send over some audience personas; they might talk about their target audience in more general terms. A product or service offering might be a better fit for companies of a certain size or budget, or be at a price point that requires someone at a senior level (such as a Director, VP, or C-level employee) to sign off, and your client will likely pass that information on to you if they know it. However, it’s not uncommon for these sorts of onboarding conversations to end with the client assuring you: “Just get us the leads. We’ll make the sales.”

Since SEO agencies often don’t have access to our clients’ CRM systems, we’re often using conversion to lead as a core KPI when measuring the success of our campaigns. We know enough to know that it’s not enough to drive traffic to a site; that traffic has to convert to become valuable. Armed with our clients’ assurances that what they really need is more leads, we dive into understanding the types of problems that our client’s product is designed to solve, the types of people who might have those problems, and the types of resources they might search for as they tend to solve those problems. Pretty soon, we’ve fixed the technical problems on our client’s site, helped them create and promote robust resources around their customers’ problems, and are watching the traffic and conversions pour in. Feels pretty good, right?

Unfortunately, this is often the point in a B2B engagement where the wheels start to come off the bus. Looking at the client’s analytics, everything seems great — traffic is up, conversions are also up, the site is rocking and rolling. Talk to the client, though, and you’ll often find that they’re not happy.

“Leads are up, but sales aren’t,” they might say, or “yes, we’re getting more leads, but they’re the wrong leads.” You might even hear that the sales team hates getting leads from SEO, because they don’t convert to sale, or if they do, only for small-dollar deals.

What happened?

At this point, nobody could blame you for becoming frustrated with your client. After all, they specifically said that all they cared about was getting more leads — so why aren’t they happy? Especially when you’re making the phone ring off the hook?

A key to client retention at this stage is to understand things from your client’s perspective — and particularly, from their sales team’s perspective. The important thing to remember is that when your client told you they wanted to focus on lead volume, they weren’t lying to you; it’s just that their needs have changed since having that conversation.

Chances are, your new B2B client didn’t seek out your services because everything was going great for them. When a lead gen company seeks out a new marketing partner, it’s typically because they don’t have enough leads in their pipeline. “Hungry for leads” isn’t a situation any sales team wants to be in: every minute they spend sitting around, waiting for leads to come in is a minute they’re not spending meeting their sales and revenue targets. It’s really stressful, and could even mean their jobs are at stake. So, when they brought you on, is it any wonder their first order of business was “just get us the leads?” Any lead is better than no lead at all.

Now, however, you’ve got a nice little flywheel running, bringing new leads to the sales team’s inbox all the livelong day, and the team has a whole new problem: talking to leads that they perceive as a waste of their time. 

A different kind of lead

Lead-gen SEO is often a top-of-funnel play. Up to the point when the client brought you on, the leads coming in were likely mostly from branded and direct traffic — they’re people who already know something about the business, and are closer to being ready to buy. They’re already toward the middle of the sales funnel before they even talk to a salesperson.

SEO, especially for a business with any kind of established brand, is often about driving awareness and discovery. The people who already know about the business know how to get in touch when they’re ready to buy; SEO is designed to get the business in front of people who may not already know that this solution to their problems exists, and hopefully sell it to them.

A fledgling SEO campaign should generate more leads, but it also often means a lower percentage of good leads. It’s common to see conversion rates, both from session to lead and from lead to sale, go down during awareness-building marketing. The bet you’re making here is that you’re driving enough qualified traffic that even as conversion rates go down, your total number of conversions (again, both to lead and to sale) is still going up, as is your total revenue.

So, now you’ve brought in the lead volume that was your initial mandate, but the leads are at a different point in their customer journey, and some of them may not be in a position to buy at all. This can lead to the perception that the sales team is wasting all of their time talking to people who will never buy. Since it takes longer to close a sale than it does to disqualify a lead, the increase in less-qualified leads will become apparent long before a corresponding uptick in sales — and since these leads are earlier in their customer journey, they may take longer to convert to sale than the sales team is used to.

At this stage, you might ask for reports from the client’s CRM, or direct access, so you can better understand what their sales team is seeing. To complicate matters further, though, attribution in most CRMs is kind of terrible. It’s often very rigid; the CRM’s definitions of channels may not match those of Google Analytics, leading to discrepancies in channel numbers; it may not have been set up correctly in the first place; it’s opaque, often relying on “secret sauce” to attribute sales per channel; and it still tends to encourage salespeople to focus on the first or last touch. So, if SEO is driving a lot of traffic that later converts to lead as Direct, the client may not even be aware that SEO is driving those leads.

None of this matters, of course, if the client fires you before you have a chance to show the revenue that SEO is really driving. You need to show that you can drive lead quality from the get-go, so that by the time the client realizes that lead volume alone isn’t what they want, you’re prepared to have that conversation.

Resist the temptation to qualify at the keyword level

When a client is first distressed about lead quality, It’s tempting to do a second round of keyword research and targeting to try to dial in their ideal decision-maker; in fact, they may specifically ask you to do so. Unfortunately, there’s not a great way to do that at the query level. Sure, enterprise-level leads might be searching “enterprise blue widget software,” but it’s difficult to target that term without also targeting “blue widget software,” and there’s no guarantee that your target customers are going to add the “enterprise” qualifier. Instead, use your ideal users’ behaviors on the site to determine which topics, messages, and calls to action resonate with them best — then update site content to better appeal to that target user

Change the onboarding conversation

We’ve already talked about asking clients, “what makes a lead a good lead?” I would argue, though, that a better question is “how do you qualify leads?” 

Sit down with as many members of the sales team as you can (since you’re doing this at the beginning of the engagement — before you’re crushing it driving leads, they should have a bit more time to talk to you) and ask how they decide which leads to focus on. If you can, ask to listen in on a sales call or watch over their shoulder as they go through their new leads. 

At first, they may talk about how lead qualification depends on a complicated combination of factors. Often, though, the sales team is really making decisions about who’s worth their time based on just one or two factors (usually budget or title, although it might also be something like company size). Try to nail them down on their most important one.

Implement a lead scoring model

There are a bunch of different ways to do this in Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager (Alex from UpBuild has a writeup of our method, here). Essentially, when a prospect submits a lead conversion form, you’ll want to:

  • Look for the value of your “most important” lead qualification factor in the form,
  • And then fire an Event “scoring” the conversion in Google Analytics as e.g. Hot, Warm, or Cold.

This might look like detecting the value put into an “Annual Revenue” field or drop-down and assigning a score accordingly; or using RegEx to detect when the “Title” field contains Director, Vice President, or CMO and scoring higher. I like to use the same Event Category for all conversions from the same form, so they can all roll up into one Goal in Google Analytics, then using the Action or Label field to track the scoring data. For example, I might have an Event Category of “Lead Form Submit” for all lead form submission Events, then break out the Actions into “Hot Lead — $5000+,” “Warm Lead — $1000–$5000,” etc.

Note: Don’t use this methodology to pass individual lead information back into Google Analytics. Even something like Job Title could be construed as Personally Identifiable Information, a big no-no where Google Analytics is concerned. We’re not trying to track individual leads’ behaviors, here; we’re trying to group conversions into ranges.

How to use scored leads

Drive the conversation around sales lifecycle. The bigger the company and the higher the budget, the more time and touches it will take before they’re ready to even talk to you. This means that with a new campaign, you’ll typically see Cold leads coming in first, then Hot and Warm trickling in overtime. Capturing this data allows you to set an agreed-upon time in the future when you and the client can discuss whether this is working, instead of cutting off campaigns/strategies before they have a chance to perform (it will also allow you to correctly set Campaign time-out in GA to reflect the full customer journey).

Allocate spend. How do your sales team’s favorite leads tend to get to the site? Does a well-timed PPC or display ad after their initial visit drive them back to make a purchase? Understanding the channels your best leads use to find and return to the site will help your client spend smarter.

Create better-targeted content. Many businesses with successful blogs will have a post or two that drives a great deal of traffic, but almost no qualified leads. Understanding where your traffic goals don’t align with your conversion goals will keep you from wasting time creating content that ranks, but won’t make money.

Build better links. The best links don’t just drive “link equity,” whatever that even means anymore — they drive referral traffic. What kinds of websites drive lots of high-scoring leads, and where else can you get those high-quality referrals?

Optimize for on-page conversion. How do your best-scoring leads use the site? Where are the points in the customer journey where they drop off, and how can you best remove friction and add nurturing? Looking at how your Cold leads use the site will also be valuable — where are the points on-site where you can give them information to let them know they’re not a fit before they convert?

The earlier in the engagement you start collecting this information, the better equipped you’ll be to have the conversation about lead quality when it rears its ugly head.