01/07/2014 12:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Digital Innovators: Editorial Is Where Influence Is Earned Said McMurry/TMG CEO

Brands have traversed storytelling for decades now through various mediums, but never before has it been so important for connecting businesses with their audience amongst all the chatter of emails, tweets, Snapchats, articles, videos, GIFs and more. McMurry/TMG has been leading the way in content marketing for the last 25 years, working with clients like WebMD, the Ritz-Carlton, HP and others.

As part of the series on digital innovators, I spoke with McMurry/TMG CEO, Matthew Petersen, on what's happening with content marketing today and how businesses can expect to take part in this era of being human with content.


(Credit: McMurry/TMG)

As an agency focused solely on content marketing, McMurry/TMG has the opportunity to identify trends in content and its distribution across various industries. Their perspective helps better inform their existing client work, but also where content is heading for the future.

Brian: Everyone always asks when it comes to content, what's better quality or quantity? I'd argue both is the answer. What's your take and how can brands achieve this synergy?

Matt: Quantity without quality is essentially just noise. And there's no value to the brand or to the audience you're trying to reach if you're just pumping up the volume.

You've got to imagine that any individual piece of content your brand creates could be a first impression you're making with a potential customer. So, each individual piece needs to stand on its own and pass the litmus test of value. We say: Be useful, be interesting, or be ignored.

But while quality comes first, frequency -- or what we like to call velocity -- is important, too. Once you've got a quality formula figured out -- your voice, your tone, your perspective and the intended takeaway -- then you need to determine how much content you should create.

If a brand wants to stay relevant in fast-moving social streams, velocity is essential. We've created a discipline around this and we call it "Content Velocity." It's a media-style approach where a team of social journalists work to create incredibly relevant, high-quality content at the breakneck pace our culture demands.

It's successful because it's quality content at a high velocity.

Brian: Coca-Cola is often regarded as a leader in marketing across industries, especially content. As the CEO of a content marketing agency, would you agree with Coca-Cola's assessment that the corporate website is dead and the press release is on its way out?

Matt: The corporate website and press release aren't dead, but communicating to people in "corporate speak" is not a hallmark of successful brands.

Whether you're B2B or B2C, your audience is made up of humans. So it's only logical that brands communicate to humans as humans.

There have been some fundamental shifts in the attention economy: consumers are in control, interruption is not effective, and brands have to earn their way into consumers lives by providing value. Traditional corporate websites don't tend to do this.

Brian: What are your thoughts on the rise of "Native Advertising?" What brands are executing this strategy successfully? What denotes success with a sponsored content campaign?

Matt: Native advertising is on the rise because brands are realizing that the editorial well is where influence is earned. The brands that are doing it right tend to be the brands that get out of their own way. In other words, they put the reader first by providing insight, value and takeaway and put their brand second by not interrupting the value with a marketing message. This is a fundamental principle of successful content marketing.

A word of warning though: Native advertising is simply a tactic if not woven in to a larger content strategy. Your native advertising should be a sample of the content people can find at your brand's media hub. You need a home base to convert people to readers, subscribers, leads and customers.

Think of native advertising as a satellite (just like social and search and the email inbox are all satellites) that orbits around your brand's home planet (a media hub). Having an owned content platform is essential to success.

Brian: Which technologies players do you think will have the most impact on storytelling for business in the coming year? I'm talking any type of tech from WeChat to Kapost.

Matt: We're constantly monitoring the horizon for tools that allow storytellers to, well, tell their stories more effectively. But we happen to believe that the players with the biggest impact will be the humans using those tools.

We focus less on how individual technologies will impact storytelling and more on getting the right people behind those tools creating quality social journalism.

Brian: Where do you go for news about content marketing and why?

Matt: One of the best things about being CEO of a content marketing agency is the abundance of good ideas flowing through our meetings, our emails, our IMs and our hallways.

Having several hundred content professionals plugged in to the pulse of the internet and the industry allows us to discover new ideas and new sources of ideas on a daily basis.

Whether it's from Reddit, an industry voice, or an experimental side project run by one of our staff, the best ideas get shared both internally and on Contentology, our blog, and so we get smarter collectively.

At an agency where innovation is celebrated, ideas are currency, and we're certainly rich in that sense.

Brian: When it comes to being fun, light hearted and human with content, what suggestions do you have for brands?

Matt: First, have a deep understanding of who you are as a brand. What are your values? What is your voice and unique point of view? What do you stand for? Why do your customers choose you versus your competition? To be yourself, as a brand, you truly have to know yourself first.

Build your culture around those values and build a team that personifies those values. Be honest with yourself and be honest with your audience. Then, the personality part of it becomes easier.

Use the kind of humor your audience might expect from you if you met them at an industry event. Use the kind of tone you use when explaining your brand in an elevator to a stranger. Be yourself, but only after you understand who you truly are.

Stay tuned for more interviews with distinguished thought leaders paving the way for innovation. Follow my column on Digital Innovators or with the #digitalinnovators hashtag on Twitter.