How to write a winning Microsoft Partner of the Year award entry

Do you want your company to be awarded Microsoft Partner of the Year? Of course you do, what Microsoft Partner wouldn't? But how do you write an award winning entry for that sort of coveted prize? I'll keep this post short and to the point. You don't. Don't even try.

But of course you do want to win a Microsoft Partner of the Year award. You might not get to walk about Microsoft Inspire with a sash and maybe a flag, the pandemic has again seen to that for another year, but winning is an incredible achievement recognising amazing work on behalf of your clients. So what should you do to succeed? That bit is easy, pay an expert. At this point I could wax lyrical about the benefits of getting an expert in, about the craft of writing, the insight to know what to include and what not to include. But I won't.

Instead let me outline what we offer in our 'Award writing package':

  • Step 1 - We'll help you select the right awards to enter
    We've been writing Microsoft Partner of the Year awards for a long time now. So we'll work with you to select your best work for the most appropriate award categories. There is an art to this, and as we live and breathe Microsoft, we know what to look for.
  • Step 2 - Next we will interview you and your clients
    We've been interviewing clients and writing case study style material for years. So asking the right questions and seeking out the right answers is what we do. It is harder than it looks.
  • Step 3 - We craft the award entry
    This is when our writers craft the actual entry. It's part case study, part adhering to a wide set of rules, and part crafting a story people can buy into. It takes a bit of experience to get right.
  • Step 4 - We take care of all the back and forth
    Edits, client approval, tweaks. Whatever it takes, we take the pain out of the admin for you.
  • Step 5 - We'll advise on what else you need
    Microsoft will encourage you to upload supporting material. What should you provide? What do you have? What should you create? We can advise.

If you have the time to execute something like the above (and have the people to do it) then good luck to you. But if like most companies you are better at doing the award winning work, then writing award winning copy - why not get in touch? We have a history of writing awesome Microsoft Partner of the Year award entries, and for a very reasonable cost. Follow the call to action below or email me direct.


Podcast image - Is this the end of the world...run on spreadsheets?

Our latest podcast - The future of work with Gavriella Schuster

In episode #6 of our podcast we are embracing video! And we have a special guest, none other than Gavriella Schuster, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner.

The current landscape has provided a massive opportunity for B2B technology companies to help their customers negotiate a world of remote and hybrid working, and at the same time take advantage of the need that organisations of all sizes have for technology. We’re moving into a world where hybrid working is the norm, the modern workplace is digital, and the strength of your business may come down to the power of your solutions.

Who better to help us discuss this subject matter than Gavriella?

In this episode, we’ll discuss:  

  • The changing face of work in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • The role technology has to play in bringing remote employees and hybrid workplaces together
  • The opportunity for Microsoft partners to help shape the future of how we work
  • The role marketing can play to help partners take advantage of this opportunity

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMdHLU-R3uY

 


Illustration woman planning content strategy

Content planning: the 3 crucial steps to keeping your audience coming back for more

When it comes to content planning, developing a strategy is easy…in theory. In practice, it can be tricky to create a successful plan that not only reaches the right people but keeps your readers coming back for more. That’s why we’re revealing the three crucial steps to attracting an audience and keeping them primed and interested in what you have to say.

 

Step 1: Know your audience

The first step to great content is understanding who you’re creating it for. It’s been said a million times before, but it’s worth saying it again:

  • Research who your ideal customer is
  • What is stopping them from doing a better job?
  • What do you think they would change about the way they work if they could?

Asking these questions – every time you think about your audience – is absolutely crucial. Never lose sight of who they are, what they need and how you can help them.

icon lightbulb

Quick tip: combine tech and human insights

Get in touch with the person in charge of your sales strategy. Ask them to help you with their insights into who your business is talking to. You likely have an idea who your ideal audience is. Your sales team are the people on the ground talking to them day after day. Mine them for all the insights they can muster.

In combination with speaking to the humans who sell your products and services, don’t forget to lean on technology to give you a hand. Conduct keyword research to understand what your audience is searching for online. The phrases and keywords they use should help you understand exactly what they’re looking for.

Try to adopt the mindset that your audience doesn’t know who you are yet and then think of your content as the answer to their questions. You are the solution to their needs. They may just not know it yet.

 

Step 2: Connect with your audience

At first, your audience may be looking for the answer to a question, as mentioned above. But what keeps them coming back to you for more? It’s all down to the way you tell a story. We all love stories and are hardwired to respond to them. The key to growing a readership is to create engaging content that tells a compelling story.

What is engaging content?

Really great content goes beyond answering a question or ‘providing value’. The engaging stuff connects with the people consuming it. The dynamic is similar to a joke or a piece of art. It’s surprising, it rises above the humdrum of everything else you may have read or watched on a subject, and above all it contains your unique voice. But how do you do that?

Well, first, forget the idea of ‘converting’ a reader into a lead and a lead into a customer. These things get in the way. Instead focus on connecting with what motivates your audience. This is where the art of rhetoric comes in.

When creating your content, think about the rhetorical devices that will connect with your audience:

Logos

Use facts and figures that will resonate with a certain type of audience who need to know what you’re selling will get them results.

Ethos

Develop content that shows that you are credible in your field. Awards, length of service and experience in a sector, and partnerships with other brands or vendors are all good ways of highlighting your credibility.

Pathos

Pathos is about emotional appeal. To connect with your audience on an emotional level, appeal to their beliefs. Using anecdotes, a specific tone (e.g., 'straight to the point' or 'irreverent'), along with figurative language are all good ways of doing this.

 

Step 3: Grow your audience

Getting your content in front of people is the task at hand. But to get them coming back for the next piece is the goal. And it’s the key to growing your audience and developing your authority in a space.

So, to recap: you need to put together your knowledge and connection with an audience into great content. That will ensure that they remember you and come back for more. By knowing what your audience wants and what it needs you can create content that is relevant to them.

Produce on a consistent basis

Looking forward to a piece of content requires knowledge and expectation of when it is going to appear. If your content is sporadic, even the most ardent members of your audience are likely to forget you. You need to schedule your work and stick to it. Creating a content calendar is a good step. Putting in place time and resources to develop ideas and create the content is crucial. And following that with a peer review will help make sure what you produce is fit for purpose.

Put your content where people will see it

There are several places your content can be seen by your audience. Your website and social media platforms like LinkedIn are the obvious two. But also creating a newsletter each week or month to send to your email marketing list is another good way of getting your work out there. Along with these, you can also publish your content on third-party sites as a guest blog or a syndication article.

Capture contact details and convert readers into subscribers

Not all your content should be kept behind gates. But long form pieces like eBooks, whitepapers or webinars can be great for capturing email addresses from interested readers. Giving people a way to put their hand up and acknowledge their interest in your content is a great step to establishing an audience base.

 

Amplify your brand

Once you've established a loyal following, then you can expand your content, developing longer/deeper/more niche stories. Your audience will follow you into new formats (such as podcasts). And a loyal audience will share, tell their friends, and help amplify your brand.


Coloured bars with text accessibility in design

300 million will see this sentence differently: accessibility in design

In many ways, the web is becoming increasingly accessibleAt last count, it was estimated that almost 60 percent of the global population were active internet usersMuch of that’s been driven by the smartphone, social media and other advances in technology that have opened up a world of digital content, communication and experiences to people everywhere. Today, the way we view and absorb content are continuously evolving and diversifying, faster than ever before. That brings new and exciting possibilities but also fresh challengesHow can we ensure everyone, including people with disabilities, can access, enjoy and benefit from all the content we create?  

Accessibility in design is a topic that’s never been more important to marketers and businesses. Let’s look at exactly why that is.

 

More colours, more challenges

For many peopledigital experiences are now more vivid than ever. With new screen technologieswider colour gamut and the introduction of web styling upgradesthe creative options available to designers and developers is as great as it has ever been. 

This means we can push the boundaries of what we thought was possible even further. As exciting as this can be  especially for brands who are looking to gain an edge in the digital space  it can come at a price for customers with a disability. For example, colour blindness affects an estimated 300 million people worldwide – almost as many people as there are in the USAOur design choices don’t just impact on aesthetics and the average user experience – they can be the difference between some users being able to read and interact with our content at all.

 

Standard accessibility guidelines  

In design, executions rest on visual strategies and rules to help guide people through content. So, if we're looking to encourage inclusive design, these executions should comply to certain standards to help people with colour blindness to navigate content. 

The best source for these standards is the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3). They produce a comprehensive overview of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which cover a whole range of standards for people with different disabilities. They include guidelines to ensure that content covers their 4 areas of accessibility; perceivable, operableunderstandable and robust.  

 

Understanding the guidelines 

The WCAG is always being updated as accessibility regulations are redefined over time. In a digital world, there are three levels of compliance to be met: 

Level A (minimum compliance)  Necessary for all websites that require accessibility. The criteria are:

  • Navigable with a keyboard 
  • No keyboard traps
  • Non-text content alternatives
  • Video captions
  • Meaning is not conveyed through shape, size, colour etc. alone

 

Level AA (acceptable compliance)  The aim for most websitesStandards include: 

  • Colour contrast is at least 4.5:1
  • Alt text or a similar solution used for images that convey meaning
  • Navigation elements are consistent throughout the site
  • Form fields have accurate labels
  • Status updates can be conveyed through a screen reader
  • Headings are used in logical order

 

Level AAA (optimal compliance)  Ensures that websites are accessible to everyone. Some of the guidelines: 

  • Sign language interpretation for audio or video content is available
  • Colour contrast is at least 7:1 in most instances
  • Timing is not an essential part of any activity
  • Context-sensitive help is available

 

Accessibility in action 

Achieving Level AAA compliance can be tricky and is often a requirement for sites that have commitments for everyday services and important engagements, such as banking or government areas which provide essential access for everyone. A good example of a site that's been designed with accessibility in mind is the UK government’s GOV.UKIn their own words: 

The GOV.UK Design System team wants as many people as possible to be able to use this website. For example, that means you should be able to: 

  • Change colours, contrast levels and fonts
  • Zoom in up to 300% without the text spilling off the screen
  • Navigate most of the website using just a keyboard
  • Navigate most of the website using speech recognition software
  • Listen to most of the website using a screen reader (including the most recent versions of JAWS, NVDA and VoiceOver)’

Furthermore, they state that ‘the team has also made the website text as simple as possible to understand. As any copywriter will tell you, that’s not only important for accessibility but a general principle for any content you create.  

 

Our own experiences

At Fifty Five and Five, we've encountered the challenges of accessibility first-handFor instance, during work on a recent project, we discovered that client suffers from a type of colour blindness. This made the accessibility of our designs a significant talking point While exploring initial concepts, some key discussions revolved around colour and contrast of the content, and these were crucial in making sure our solution was accessible. When we discuss colour in particular, we have to accept that colour will appear different from person to person, and the thing that helps people distinguish content is the contrast between the colours chosen.  

What do I mean by that? Let’s look at some examples of how colour can be used in different ways.

 

The difference colour choices can make 

We’ll look at some calls-to-action (CTAs) – which manifest in web pages as ‘buttons’ to be clicked by the user, taking them into different areas of the site, launching contact forms, and so on.  

Accessibility CTA colours

Although this CTA example may look fine if you aren’t affected by colour blindness, the colours here do not meet accessibility guidelines. That’s because the blue used within the button does not pass AA-level compliance for graphical objects against white backgrounds. Th same also applies for the white text on the blue button.

Accessibility CTA colours

This example is an improvement on the first, as the dark blue text now has enough contrast to meet readability guidelines. But, as a whole, the CTA is still not visible on white, so would still be hard to distinguish as a CTA and would still fail AA and AAA compliance for graphical objects

Accessibility CTA colours

This execution is a good example of accessibility compliance. Each colour now has enough contrast against the background it sits on and passes AA and AAA compliance. Although there are other rules around CTAs such as hover stateswe must make sure that our static version is visually available as these are the primary drivers for navigation. This is a great example of perceivability versus readability. The first CTA option would be perceived as easier to read and packs more of a punch using a brighter colour. Whereas the last CTA option is a good example of great readability as it passes accessibility compliance fully.  

 

Always striving for accessibility in design

As our professional and personal lives become increasingly reliant on a digital worldaccessibility will only become more important to people and businesses all over the world. That’s why agencies like Fifty Five and Five – and designers like me  are evermore focused on creating holistic solutions by achieving the kinds of standards I’ve detailed here. Not every business should tune everything to AAA compliance overnight, but even small steps like colour contrast changes are a way of showing we’re starting to bring a focus to an often forgotten part of design.  Keeping all this in mindupholding accessibility standards and best practice can help guide us to a more inclusive digital world.


Illustration man on sofa listening to a B2B podcast with headphones

Now is the winter of our audio content: the B2B podcast boom

The popularity of podcasts is a strange phenomenon. A long-form, linear, audio-only format in an age of two-minute YouTube videos and 30-second attention spans. Whether you reckon they’re an evolutionary throwback, a welcome return to chunky pieces of ‘real content’, or somewhere in between, people love them. And they certainly have their place – after all, you can’t watch a video or read a blog during your morning run. Or at least I wouldn’t recommend it.  

The format has blown up to such an extent that even the B2B world has cottoned on to the power of the podcast. In fact, in November 2020, Fifty Five and Five launched our own, available now on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. But enough shameless self-promotion – what does the B2B podcast boom mean for you? 

 

Summary 

  • Bringing out your business’s story 
  • Inviting customers to participate 
  • Why the office is the new recording studio 
  • The importance of planning and strategy 
  • Ensuring success with the right help 

 

Telling your story in your own words  

Podcasts are a way to tell your organisation’s (and your employees) stories in a way that feels honest and authentic. After all, these are your own words, spoken by you, directly to your audience’s ears. That can be extremely powerful. 

Podcasts are great if you want to:  

  • Show your expertise, thought leadership, and passion for your field 
  • Humanise your brand and create better connections with your audience 
  • Build a loyal following who’ll be receptive to other communications 

The sky’s the limit with this relatively new form of audio content marketing. Our Head of Content Stephen Reilly agrees:  

I think what fuels the popularity of any podcast is the intimacy it conjuresIt lets us as a business speak to our audience. We’re no longer just a brand slogan on our website, we’re people speaking to guests about the topics we’re all passionate about. And we get to share that. Which sort of helps bring everything else we do alive. 

 

Introducing some happy customers 

Bringing in past or current clients as guests is one way to display that you’re good at what you doIt could have the flavour of an audio-testimonial or case study, or a discussion around industry talking-points – the latter, in particular, may be compelling to your audience.  

I asked our Head of Creative Barnaby Ellis for his thoughts, as he’s hosted many a podcast featuring our special guestsHe didn’t mince his words: Getting your clients involved is a bit of a no-brainer. Your audience want variety in topic and tone, and you benefit from the association with genuine experts. Plus, engaging clients in conversation outside of a commercial context (and showing genuine interest in their point of view!) will only strengthen your relationship with them. Well said, B.E.!  

If you give your audience the opportunity to learn new things or explore new developments in their worldthat’s certain to impress them and build some brand love. On that note, it’s important to always keep the audience’s interest in mind. You have to give people a reason to listen – remember the ‘content’ part of the phrase content marketing. Something valuable, something interesting... your podcast has got to have something – not just an undisguised and unadulterated sell.  

 

Mic? Check. Voice? Check.  

One of the big benefits of the B2B podcast is that it’s relatively simple format that will give you great output without draining your resources. In its plainest form, all you need is a microphone and a way to record and polish up the audio. This may account for the format’s newfound popularity among businesses everywhere who are trying to ‘do more with less’ in a challenging economic climate.  

And fortunately, we’re living in the age of the citizen content creator. Everyone and their aunt’s got a YouTube channel these days, and we’re now very used to watching and listening to content that’s homemade and a little rough around the edges. It can even add a bit more of a sense of authenticity.  

Nobody’s expecting a big-budget production. As long as your content is interesting, valuable, and not recorded on a Dictaphone from 1985 you found in the back of the storage cupboard, people will listen.  

I asked our account manager, agency podcast producer and frequent host Roxy Ghirbomean for her thoughts: ‘Podcasts aren't meant to be difficult. From a production standpoint, all you need is a good microphone, a guest and a topic. I'd recommend starting with a structure, an outcome and to let the conversation flow.’ So, there you have it: no need to book that studio time after all.  

 

Don’t neglect the planning and strategy 

However, just because you don’t need a full-blown recording studio doesn’t mean you can just wing it all the wayYou may already be raring to go, but let’s get back down to Earth for a moment first.    

You do want to apply some degree of production values, and you may not have the requisite skillsets in-house to achieve the level of professionalism you want. Bringing across your branding, hitting the right notes in terms of tone and style – that needs some thought and work.  

And then there’s the all-important strategic part:  

  • What’s the purpose of this podcast?  
  • How does it fit into your content strategy 
  • Do you even have a content strategy yet?  
  • How will you generate and select ideas for each episode?  
  • What will your criteria and overall editorial policy be?  

 

Those are all things to be considered before you hit the record button. If not, you won’t be sure your podcast will represent your business in the way you want and help you to achieve your goals. Don’t create a podcast just for the sake of having a podcast – make it count.  

Our founder and CEO Chris Wright has long been a devotee of the podcast-as-B2B-marketing-tooldriving Fifty Five and Five’s adoption of the format and developing our in-house capabilities for creating audio content.  

Here’s Chris’ take: A podcast can make a real difference as part of a joined-up marketing strategy. The rewards your business receives all depend on the thinking behind the content, however. You get out what you put in  and that should be solid planning and a focus on your USP, customers, and goals. That’s how you make sure your podcast provides value for both your audience and your business.’  

Ensuring your B2B podcast is a hit with a little help 

If you need some assistance with your B2B podcastFifty Five and Five can guide you through this weird and wonderful new territoryWe’re here to help with every aspect of your audio content marketing, whether that’s:  

  • Nailing down the strategy 
  • Devising and creating content together 
  • Being available on an ongoing advisory basis  

We want your podcast to keep your audience coming back – and engaging with your business and brand more positively than ever. If you do too, let’s start turning listeners into leads.  

Want to find out more about launching and maintaining a successful B2B podcast to drive marketing success? Get in touch with the team at Fifty Five and Five today.