In conversation with

Ray Murphy

Head Of Content at MADE.com

Introduction

Introduction

Over the past three months, you’ve likely spent more time in your home than ever before. Now you’re noticing the frayed edges of your sofa or the empty space where a bookshelf should be.

Cue scrolling through The Modern House and MADE.com, the online interiors brand that champions quality, accessible design for your home.

Heading up content for MADE is Ray Murphy – a former magazine editor and copywriter – whose role involves creating campaigns, guarding the brand’s tone of voice, overseeing editorial copy and leading teams across London, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin.

We spoke to Ray about making space for words in a visual brand, and his white paper Braving The Backlash, which examines how brands can take a stand for racial diversity and better handle hate on their social channels.

Question and Answer

As MADE.COM’s head of content, you’re the custodian of the brand’s tone of voice – how would MADE welcome us into their home?

With an invitation to sit anywhere you like and make yourself comfortable. As it’s summer, we’d probably offer you an iced coffee too.

Well designed furniture should be used and enjoyed, not stared at from a distance, so we won’t be the kind of host to make you feel like you’re in an art gallery. After all, it’s no good having a beautifully designed house if your guests can’t feel at home in it.

Oh, and dogs are definitely encouraged.

How do you approach your content strategy at MADE?

The aim is to publish content that provides real value for our audience. I know that term is thrown around a lot, but by ‘value’ I mean useful info or inspiration for anyone who’s looking to create a better home. We do this through our social channels and our blog.

I once heard Pinterest’s Chief Marketing Officer, Andréa Mallard, tell a room full of brands that the “age of interruption is over” and that stuck with me. Instead of forcing endless commercial messages on audiences and interrupting their day, I believe brands have a responsibility to use our channels for more than that.

As marketers, it’s important to ask ourselves why our audience would care about the story we’re about to tell. If we can’t answer that question honestly, then that piece of content doesn’t deserve to be in someone’s inbox or social feed.

Ray Murphy MADE
Credit: Robert Rieger

Over the last five years brands have woken up to the importance of editorial content on their platforms. When a brand is so steeped in the visual (like many interiors/homeware brands are), how do you make space for words?

While working as a magazine editor, I learned a lot about the importance of considering the narrative before the format. Sometimes, a great story was better realised as a 20-page photo essay, and other times it was best told via a 3000-word commentary piece. Both have their place and I’ve tried to apply a bit of this approach to the way we run the MADE blog.

If we’re publishing a blog post about a new interior trend we’ve spotted, we might let photography do most of the leg work. But if we’re showcasing an amazing home with a compelling story behind it, then the copy could run to 750–1000 words.

Unsurprisingly, our social posts are generally led by imagery, but we’ve found that some formats with longer copy on them receive higher engagement than we first expected.

What questions are you trying to answer with MADE’s content? What problems are you solving for your customers?

We use insights from our social channels and SEO data to find out what interior design questions people need answers to. But I won’t pretend that everything we publish is data driven, because it isn’t. Sometimes a teammate will mention something they’ve been struggling with while redecorating part of their house, or a topic discussed on Slack might end up finding its way into the content calendar.

I suppose the key problem we’re trying to solve with content is that most of our customers want to design an envy inducing home, but lots of them might not have the interior design expertise or inspiration to do so. Hopefully our work can help fix that.

“The aim is to publish content that provides real value for our audience. I know that term is thrown around a lot, but by ‘value’ I mean useful info or inspiration for anyone who’s looking to create a better home.”

How do you balance commissioning and producing creative content while also hitting business/marketing objectives?

Before putting together a creative brief for my team, I talk to colleagues across the company to understand our commercial goals for the upcoming 6 months or so. As well as covering key business objectives, that brief also needs to leave enough room for the writers and editors to dream up creative ideas that will genuinely interest our audience (and won’t feel like ‘advertainment’). My job is to ensure that our output strikes the balance between the two, which can be challenging – especially when you’re selling products to nine different countries and publishing in five languages – but that’s also what makes it interesting.

Because our team is spread across London, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin, I often receive story pitches about brilliant people on the Continent I wouldn’t have found in a million years, and I love that. It’s one of my favourite parts of the job. You can never really know a market or creative community like a local does, so I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who have an ‘ear to the ground’ in that respect.

Do you have a favourite campaign, story or project that you’ve led for MADE?

Last year we ran an editorial series called ‘Owning It’, which featured our favourite rented homes around the UK and the creative tenants behind them. A lot of advice in the interiors space is geared towards homeowners and seems to ignore the fact that home ownership isn’t a reality for many people. We wanted to create an empowering narrative around renting and prove that you can still create a place worth showing off (without infuriating your landlord too).

The series resulted in some of our top-performing articles and social posts in 2019. We also received a lot of DMs from renters saying that it was nice to be ‘seen’ in that way. So that’s a moment I look back on proudly.

While you were at We Are Social, you led on a white paper called Braving The Backlash, which questioned how brands could take a stand for racial diversity and social justice through their social channels. Which brands do you think are doing this successfully?

During the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I saw a lot of brands nervously scramble to post black squares. But many of them were quickly called out for their less than inclusive leadership teams or for their treatment of black employees.

The key argument of that white paper was this: if brands are going to take a stand for diversity and inclusion in their communications, then they need to make sure that their internal policies and actions reflect the message they’re presenting to consumers. Anything less than that is performative activism.

Racism and inequality are not trends for brands to jump on. They’re deeply entrenched issues that need to be faced and overcome through hard work and a lasting commitment to change.

One example of a brand that’s doing this well is Ben & Jerry’s. Their “We must dismantle white supremacy” statement really stood out, but their track record of campaigning against injustice gave them the credibility to back that up. Most brands won’t go that far, but I personally believe that all brands should do the following two things as an absolute minimum.

First, commit to goals and deadlines for tackling the effects of structural racism within your business. Second, publicly communicate your progress on a regular basis.

Ray Murphy
"Racism and inequality are not trends for brands to jump on. They’re deeply entrenched issues that need to be faced and overcome through hard work and a lasting commitment to change."

Which other brands do you look to for content inspiration?

We have a reference channel on Slack and the brands that often come up most often are Ganni, Arket, Patagonia, Aesop, Glossier and WeTransfer. I also look at publishers like The New York Times, It’s Nice That and Apartamento.

Ray's Storylist

Books

  1. Citizen by Claudia Rankine
  2. Small Is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher
  3. A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson
  4. The Offing by Benjamin Myers

Magazines

  1. Granta
  2. The Victory Journal
  3. Private Eye
  4. Delayed Gratification

Newsletters

  1. Courier Weekly
  2. Digiday
  3. Longreads
  4. It's Nice That

Podcasts

  1. The Blindboy Podcast
  2. The Guardian's Audio Long Reads
  3. The Sun King by David Dimbleby

Websites

  1. The Modern House
  2. NTS Radio
  3. The Spaces
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