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Report: Be Consistent, Blog Long and Other Marketing Insights for Microsoft Partners

When it comes to digital marketing for Microsoft partners, few organizations are watching the trends, the space and the success metrics as closely as Fifty Five and Five. Founded five years ago, the firm each year releases a lengthy report recognizing the best in Microsoft partner digital marketing.

As the London-based organization gets ready to release its annual report at the Microsoft Inspire show next month, we caught up with founder Chris Wright for an e-mail Q&A. (The company is taking advance registrations for the free report here.)

RCP: What was the market issue that inspired you to start this series of reports five years ago?
Wright: Fundamentally, we wanted to change the way Microsoft partners thought about marketing. We spent a lot of the time, back then as a young agency, educating clients on "inbound marketing." We'd talk to prospects about the potential of this new way of thinking, of the power of becoming a thought leader, of giving great content away and focusing on inbound leads. We told a great story, but partners sometimes found it difficult to understand. Back then it was too new.

So, we created what was then called "The Microsoft Partner Inbound Marketing Top 50 Report." We devised a means to assess "good inbound marketing" and started ranking partners. It was a way to say, "Look, look over here and see what great inbound marketing looks like right now." Suffice to say it proved very effective, and the report has continued to grow since then.

As you look at the results this year, what are the things that have stayed consistent?
It's actually consistency itself. This year we've seen once again that consistency wins the day. Quality is key, but those partners who remain consistent in their output and their execution rank highly. Put simply, a big part of great content marketing is keeping your message consistently in the places where customers might find it. It is a clear trend in every report we've published.

What were the most surprising results from the survey this time?
We've actually renamed the report this year. We dropped the "Inbound Marketing" wording and called it the "Top 50 Digital Marketing Excellence 2019-2020 Report." This might seem a small thing, but it's actually very significant. The partner community has really matured in recent years, and as the levels of marketing competency have risen, many partners have come to see inbound marketing tactics as the only way to look at digital marketing. Inbound = digital. And the market is very tuned to that now. It's surprised me a little how quickly the market has matured in this way, but it is fantastic to see.

What do the most successful marketing campaigns include?
We are seeing a much greater focus on different content types this year. As partners have started to understand the power of inbound (or content) marketing, they are quite rightly realizing that there's more substance to a well-balanced strategy. Posting a 750-word blog once a week doesn't cover it.

We've seen far more longer-form content this year. Here at Fifty Five and Five we've preached the power of 1,600-word in-depth blogs for a long time, as well as much more visual content. Video and animation are, of course, popular, but even the odd interactive touch to an otherwise static post can make a huge impact.

"A generic blog titled '10 Tips for SharePoint Online' won't cut it anymore. However well-written and engaging your content is, blogs like this will simply get lost in the crowd."

Chris Wright, Founder, Fifty Five and Five

How have marketing strategies developed and improved in the last year?
As well as embracing different content types, we've seen partners apply a lot more creativity. We've seen clear trends appear such as highly specific messaging using clear language, and the adoption of a more "B2C" [business-to-consumer] tone.

A generic blog titled "10 Tips for SharePoint Online" won't cut it anymore. However well-written and engaging your content is, blogs like this will simply get lost in the crowd. The best partners know their customers inside out and can tailor content to meet their target audience's needs. This might mean creating content that focuses on a vertical, a job role or a highly specific problem a customer faces.

When you look at different approaches, what is the comparative success of Web site, blog and social media marketing?
Without giving away exactly how we score partners, blogs have always played a big role in the overall ranking. Good content marketing relies on regular fresh content, and blogs remain the perfect outlet for that. But some very advanced partners have started to look beyond the blog and embrace this sort of content across their site. Quite rightly they think, "Why should that content be siloed in a blog area?"

How would you rate the overall state of Microsoft partner marketing?
Fifty Five and Five have created this report for five years now. Our analysis shows that partner marketing is better than ever. We rank over 39,000 partners every year. Not only have the scores, overall, steadily risen, but the gap between places continues to narrow.

We work closely with Microsoft (in the U.S. from our Seattle office) and in the U.K. and Europe from our London HQ. The focus and sheer effort they put into Go-To-Market activity have really paid off.

If you were to recommend one thing for Microsoft partners to really focus on in their marketing in the coming year, what would it be?
Touching back on an earlier comment, I would say consistency. As an agency, the team here at Fifty Five and Five see it all the time, and it's borne out by the report. Consistency in execution is what earns the best results. Lack of consistency kills marketing efforts.

Partners need to think about their USP (unique selling point), what differentiates them and what their customers already like about them. Then they need to turn that into a marketing message. But the most important thing is maintaining consistency with this message. One blog every few months does not build an audience. The odd tweet or LinkedIn status update does not count as social selling.

Consistency is different to volume, that's also important to remember. There's an optimum level of output, of course, but cranking up the volume doesn't always yield better results.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 25, 2019