Marketing Foundations: Power engagement with a content marketing strategy

The Marketing Foundations blog series aims to equip partners with marketing best practices and introduce some of the Go-To-Market with Microsoft resources available through your Microsoft Partner Network membership.

Earlier in this series, we discussed the importance of knowing your customer and creating dynamic customer personas. At the end of that post, we pointed you to a related post on how to craft your to-customer value proposition, where you refined your solution or service value proposition to speak to the needs, wants, and pain points of your customer and set you apart from the competition.

Your buyer personas and value proposition inform our next step: defining your content marketing strategy. You will see how your buyer persona’s customer journey helps shape your optimal content mix, and how your value proposition should show up in the content you produce.

Power engagement with content marketing

Content marketing is a marketing technique that involves creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent online content designed to attract and stimulate brand interest among a clearly defined audience.

The purpose of content marketing is to engage and delight (not sell). Creating high-quality content that hits these marks is one way Microsoft and our partners exercise our shared value of ‘customer obsession.’

There are many types of content you can create. What you decide to create will depend on the outcomes of your content audit (later in this post) and the preferences of the customers you want to influence. Here’s a short list of some common content types you can create:

  • Articles – Longer-form content centered on sharing facts, news, and information. These range from 600-1200 words depending on subject matter.
  • Blogs – Similar to articles, blogs are typically more conversational in tone. Blogs tend to be centered on building relationships and establishing thought leadership. These range from 300-600 words, depending on subject matter.
  • Infographics – Graphic visual representations of information or data presented in a way that gives quick and clear understanding of a topic.
  • eBooks – eBooks contain longer content, typically several articles on different aspects of a subject, combined with powerful infographics. eBooks make good, gated content as customers are willing to offer contact information in exchange for your in-depth knowledge.
  • Videos – Videos have become a top medium for sharing information. Branded videos range in length depending on subject matter and channel. Videos of 1-2 minutes or less perform best for social media.
  • Podcasts – On-demand audio content like podcasts balance information and entertainment. Podcasts are convenient and accessible for a range of audiences, low-cost to produce, and are a powerful tool for establishing thought leadership.

Build content around the customer journey

The customer journey is an important framework for creating an effective content strategy. You’ve already carefully identified your buyer personas including their needs, wants, and different types of information they seek at each step toward purchase. Refer to this guide as you perform your content audit and refine your strategy.

Use value proposition for consistent brand messaging

Similarly, you will draw on your value proposition to guide your marketing content. A strong value proposition combines your points of differentiation (what sets you apart from the competition) with information about your buyer personas and product benefits – view it as a tool to help keep your team focused on what you sell and how you sell it.

Here’s an example of a value proposition that captures this:

Contoso helps clients reach a standard and then surpass it. We want them to wonder how they’ve lived without us. Anyone can get you to the cloud, but once you’re there, what will you do with it? Contoso is here to make your team more secure, more productive, and help you leverage your investment.

Use your value proposition to brand marketing copy so that you have a consistent message across your campaigns, website, and social. It should not necessarily be reflected word-for-word in your messaging.

3 steps to define your content strategy

Your content marketing strategy is simply a plan for when and how you connect with your customers. Content marketing encompasses your website, social media, organic and paid search efforts, blog posts, marketing automation, and display ads.

You can begin to define your content strategy with these three steps:

1. Perform a content audit

A content audit maps what content you are already producing and its overall performance.

This can be as simple as preparing a spreadsheet that lists: all content (refer to the list above) with URLs, performance metrics, channels, target customer, and the buying stage it’s intended to inform. Add any other data points that will help you evaluate your strategy.

Your content audit will give you a good view into what you’re doing well, what is missing the mark, and where you have gaps. Some questions to ask as you strategize:

  • Is our content current and well-written?
  • What content performs well? Poorly?
  • What content types are missing?
  • Does our content mix cover all stages in the buying journey?
  • Would some content do well as an infographic or short post?
  • Do we have content that could be gated, to score prospects?

Need more help? Learn how to perform a 15-minute content audit.

2. Create a content list

Your content audit revealed what your audience likes as well as possible gaps in your content mix. Use these insights to draft a list of content to create better customer engagement.

One of the best places to start is to create a Bill of Materials (BoM), a collection of content that covers each key decision-maker (persona) and step of the customer buying journey. With your personas and customer journey framework as a reference, prepare a master list of content that may apply to each audience at each stage of their involvement in the buying journey. Use the content identified in your BoM alongside your centralized Messaging and Positioning Framework as a starting point as you begin to build a more strategic content portfolio.

Other best practices for content ideation:

  • Replicate best-performing content – For example, if short, how-to videos and 25-minute podcasts far outperformed your blog posts or whitepapers, invest in more videos and podcasts.
    Caveat: make sure new content says something new and brings fresh value to your customers.
  • Experiment with new content – If there are types of content you haven’t tried before, weave different styles and topics into your mix. Measure regularly!
  • Prioritize high-performing channels – Focus resources on optimizing content for the channels and media your audience prefers, based on the insights of your content audit.

Remember, the most effective content is that which satisfies your target audience. Create every piece of content with the goal of bringing valuable insight and delight to your (prospective) customer.

3. Organize ideas into an actionable plan

Time to create an actionable plan to turn your ideas into engaging content.

An editorial calendar is a tool to keep track of the content you’re creating, who is involved, and channels of distribution. There are many tools you can use to manage your editorial calendar, from Monday to Trello, however an Excel spreadsheet or Outlook calendar can work just as well.

Best practices for organizing content:

  • Choose a timeline – Whether you will plan three months or 12 months out, pull out calendars for those months.
  • Identify core themes – What topics or niches are important to your audience? Schedule content to create a steady flow of these core themes.
  • Consider the seasonal calendar – For example, January is usually about setting goals, summer is about exploration and adventure, August is about back-to-school and routines. How can your content piggyback broader themes on the minds of your audience to increase relevance and resonance?
  • Consider company or industry events – Where do key company or industry events fall on the calendar? How can you align your content with these events to boost visibility and engagement?
  • Evergreen content – Include evergreen content as a stable of your content mix. Evergreen content is relevant and sharable long-term.

Takeaway

We covered a lot about content marketing in this post. The most important takeaway is to know how to connect the right content to the right audience. Spend time learning about how each element in your content strategy connects and you will be well on your way.

Next steps

Wherever you are on your go-to-market journey with Microsoft, there are steps you can take to dial in your content marketing.

More from the Marketing Foundations series

See all Marketing Foundations posts here.