Content Marketing

Why Meredith Xcelerated Marketing Says Content Is Always First

Dan DavenportDan Davenport is the Content Director at Meredith Xcelerated Marketing, a leading content-powered, customer engagement agency that provides fully integrated marketing solutions for some of the world’s top brands. For the past dozen years, Dan has managed the creative component of numerous custom-publishing projects for Meredith Xcelerated Marketing. He has led customer-communications programs for clients from virtually every category, including food, garden, finance, shelter, communications, automobile, family and pets. The Makegood recently spoke with Dan about Meredith Xcelerated Marketing’s recent recognition at the 2014 Content Marketing Awards.

The Makegood: MXM has held a dominant presence at the Content Marketing Awards over the past two years, and continued to take home top honors this year, including the Content Marketing Agency of the Year Award. How does MXM use content in a way that other agencies are not, how does MXM best differentiate itself in the content marketing space?

Two DNA strands wind through MXM: Absolutely the best creative work—words, sounds, imagery that come together to produce compelling storytelling—and a pathological devotion to content as a strategic asset. Content is always first—not channel, not device. Know what information your audience most desires, then strategically plan how to best create it and put it in their hands. I promise you finding a gifted writer who thoroughly understands an industry—financial, auto, health, you name it—and is steeped in and intrigued by strategy is no easy task. But doing so is a key way we differentiate ourselves. We find and nurture the best talent on both sides of that content/strategy line, and then throw them together and direct them to blur it to within an inch of its life. For example: Obviously we know SEO is critically important for discoverability—but we are never entirely ruled by key words. Our editors and writers are amply studied and nuanced to both maximize SEO and craft the stories brands need to tell and consumers need to hear. That’s just one example of how we mash up these disciplines to plan and deliver content that engages consumers and elicits actions our clients desire. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include MXM’s roots in Meredith Corporation: This is a company with a remarkably rich, 112-year tradition of doing only one thing: providing content—telling stories—that inspire its audiences to make their lives better. It’s a powerful arsenal of skills and perspectives.

The Makegood: Of all the MXM work that won awards at this year’s CMAs, which piece of work do you think has helped to move the industry forward?

If I may I’ll tweak your question slightly, I’ll reply that it’s the sum rather than any one part that is most helping advance this industry. MXM is seen as a leader in content in the digital realm, the social arena, throughout mobile—anywhere our clients’ customers are spending time, energy and money. Layer in the exciting awards we won for launching a new print magazine for the American Civil Liberties Union, and you begin to see that it’s this content diversity—our content agility, if you will—that most profoundly contributes to our success..

The Makegood: Which piece (s) of work allowed your team to do something they had never done before? What was innovative about it?

We were thrilled with the honors given our new ACLU program. It’s ironic that an agency so focused on digital expertise finds itself entrusted by such an established, highly regarded organization to create and launch a new print communication piece that’s as beautiful and compelling as it is strategic and brand-centric. This was a true test of our ability to bring subject matter expertise to an entirely different vertical. We coalesced some of the country’s best writers and thinkers on such topics as immigration, reproductive rights and race relations, and built a magazine that we’re honored to say is worthy of its deeply passionate audience. That was an exhilarating opportunity. I remember the days when it sufficed to create a magazine with gorgeous photography and evocative editorial—a piece that made you feel good just by seeing it on your coffee table. Those days are far gone, of course. Now, regardless of medium, nothing succeeds or survives without establishing strategic goals and then delivering on them. So Stand must not only entertain and inform and engender community, it must help generate dollars.

The Makegood: What does MXM have in the works for the upcoming year that will continue to propel them forward in the content marketing industry?

It can’t go without saying that we’ll continue to deliver for our clients work that connects with its audiences and produces results. That’s what’s going on when our Kraft Foods client reports that she gets four times better ROI from our content than from advertising. So that’s foremost how all of us in this industry propel our discipline forward—one innovative project at a time. But of course we are thinking beyond that. We’ve put monumental energy into native advertising this year—with those of us at MXM working closely with our siblings across Meredith to craft strategies that will best serve our clients. More broadly, of late we’ve been working hard to hone and codify our bespoke content strategy process. And I’m excited to report we’re not going to keep it to ourselves: This fall MXM will publish “The Content Marketing Playbook.” This is a definitive report, and we’re confident it’ll benefit not just our current and future clients and our own employees, but the industry as a whole.

The Makegood: How has content marketing evolved in the past year and how do you see it continuing to evolve in the future?

A number of things come to mind. Certainly amplification of content is charging to the fore. Without it, it’s like the Whos down in Whoville screaming to be heard—and only Horton has a clue. Planning and creating compelling stories is not enough—they must be read, watched and heard wherever their audiences are. I would say the customer journey has also taken on greater and greater resonance in our work. Our strategy partners keep my writers and editors amazingly well informed vis a vis consumers’ wants and needs on practically a minute-by-minute basis, across a dizzying number of demographic segments and industries. Beyond that we’re spending lots of time thinking about wearables and essentially any way our clients’ customers are making connections. I walk out our office in New York every day and am engulfed by throngs of pedestrians who can barely look up from their phones to check the traffic light. The internet of things has become like a respiratory system for the collective us. And content is the oxygen it delivers to keep us informed, moving forward and hopeful. This evolution will only continue to pick up speed.

The Makegood: Thank you, Dan.