Content marketing advice from the best – an interview with Qorus

This year, Qorus ranked 18th in our 2016 Inbound Marketing Excellence Report. We interview them for their top content tips and advice.

Stephen Reilly
7 MIN|November 30, 2016

Qorus ranked 10th in our Top 50 report, and a substantial factor in their high ranking was their blog and content strategy. We spoke to Heather Thompson– Senior VP of Marketing –  and Taryn Netterville to get an insight into how Qorus brainstorm, create and share engaging and inspiring content with the Microsoft Partner Network.

When we carried out our Top 50 Inbound Marketing Excellence Report we were looking for examples of Microsoft Partners who could provide awesome examples of digital and content marketing. Coming in at number 10 was Qorus, the Seattle-based software company that helps organizations be more productive when creating, managing and collaborating on business-critical documents. We were highly impressed by Qorus’ in-depth content strategy; they provide their readers with informative posts filled with character and a wide variety of content and sources.

We sat down with Taryn Netterville, and Heather Thompson, VP of Marketing to find out more. Located in Qorus’ Cape Town office—where most of their marketing, development and support teams reside—we picked their brains and to find out what’s at the heart of their marketing success.

The quality of your content speaks for itself and you were a Microsoft Partner of the Year finalist for Modern Marketing. With a pretty big office in Cape Town, do you use an internal team specifically assigned to content creation and ideas?

Taryn: “In terms of looking after the blog, that’s myself [content manager] and our digital specialist, Odette. Working together, we start from an SEO perspective. [Odette] will advise me on keywords for the month and we’ll brainstorm ideas.”

“We try to encourage employees to write as well, but it’s not always easy as most are not confident writers! Sometimes I’ll interview them to get their insights and make it easier for them to contribute. These posts are different to what we usually produce, with less of an SEO focus. I try to also include a few ‘culture’ posts that highlight our ‘personality’ and our company values. We also find that fun, topical posts – posts centered around Halloween, Christmas etc., – are popular, so we include them.”

Heather: “We work with a diverse mix of contributors. We don’t have a big team of in-house writers, so our “content team” is made up of both internal and external writers, as well as industry experts when we want to write something specific. This helps to keep it fresh and interesting. In fact, we’re currently working with our contacts at Microsoft to create a couple of posts!”

Obviously, Qorus have a wide variety of content and resources, from traditional blogs to infographics. How do you weight these different styles of content? Do you consider any of them to be more valuable?

Taryn: “We try to produce a mix of different styles. Often the style will depend on the situation. For example, we’ll come across statistics that would be a great fit for an infographic, or we have the opportunity to create a video or an eBook.”

“We also look at our key personas and try to work out what style of content would appeal to them, for example we found that webinars work well for Sales and Marketing professionals. Sometimes we’re guided by our partners or clients, like this month we’re working with several partners to create insightful opinion and thought leadership posts.”

Heather: “It depends on relevancy. If we’re trying to promote a certain industry and we have a relevant eBook, for example, we’ll amplify that copy more so than other content.”

“In terms of content priority, I think it’s difficult to single one medium out. Video is obviously very powerful, along with anything visual. Interviews can resonate very well with particular audiences. People are always looking for referenceable materials and how-to guides too. In terms of priority it’s whatever we believe will appeal the most to that particular audience. We try and get a holistic view before deciding which approach to take.”

You mentioned using an external agency; how useful do you find being able to outsource some content?

Taryn: “We work with external agencies in a couple of ways, sometimes for content creation, other times for SEO and digital work. It has its pros and cons, but if you’re looking for experts who are tapped into trends, then the right agency can be a huge help. I do find that clear briefing and building good relationships with external writers is vital though, and those take time to establish.”

Has your content strategy evolved over time or has it been more concrete?

Taryn: “At least since I’ve been here, we’ve always had a strong digital presence. Our inbound marketing strategy was already in place, which naturally requires a fair amount of content. At the time, this content was created by an agency that had little input from the marketing team (there just wasn’t time). Thus, I think there was a lack of audience knowledge which meant quality wasn’t as closely guarded and content wasn’t as ‘deep’ as it could have been.”

“Now our strategy has become quite fluid. The strategy is (and has always been) consistent blogging that speaks to our personas, is SEO optimized, and drives them to download an eBook or a similar content asset so that we can engage with and nurture them via email marketing. We’ll either try and target a specific persona for one month, then move onto another or we’ll spread it evenly throughout the month.”

Most companies know that a blog is core to gaining a strong relationship with customers, so for a lot of them this is their starting point. Creating such a variety of content, is a consistent blog still your main focus before ‘experimenting’ with mediums such as videos, infographics etc?

Taryn: “That’s a good question. Our downloadable content is core to what we do because it’s how we gather information about our potential customers. And our blog is designed to encourage people to download that content by completing a form.”

“Blogs form part of our ‘top of funnel’ content: they’re not always selling what we do, but are more about getting people interested in Qorus and the topic we care about. Videos are then further down the funnel; case studies or company showcases allow people to learn more about us. We very much work all our content through a sales funnel.”

We spoke to Michelle at our stand at WPC and she made similar remarks on the importance of planning your strategy. From publishing our Top 50 report, we found many Microsoft Partners struggle to get a streamlined and integrated strategy in place. What advice do you have for them?

Taryn: “I believe that it must start with personas – understanding your audience is arguably the most important aspect of content marketing. Once you know your audience, you can work out the search terms they use and build your content around the challenges they face.”

“The other side of the coin is distribution. Once you have created your content, you need to get it out there.”

Heather: “And that’s actually been one of our challenges – having all this great content and deciding on how to distribute it effectively. We’ve spent so much time, effort and money developing content, but if it simply sits on our blog and no one sees it, it’s all for nothing. Planning, and actually measuring, is very important.”

“Reviewing the success of content tells me whether we’re reaching the right people with the right content. But it can be tricky to measure content effectiveness. For example, one piece of content might perform better than another simply because we shared it more widely through our social and email marketing channels, or because we put money behind it and advertised it. You have to take a holistic view.”

“The notion of measurement is definitely an interesting one. Since you’ve been in charge of the content strategy, have you seen a consistent improvement in engagement or has it been more peaks and troughs?”

Heather: “I’d say we see clear peaks and troughs, not only in reach and engagement but also in sentiment and the comments we generate. Sometimes people won’t agree with your opinion – that’s bound to happen, and it can still be a good platform for conversation.”

Taryn: “We have also found that the way we phrase our tweets and posts when sharing our content is quite important in driving engagement. We try to ensure we encourage comments and conversation, so we avoid generic tweets like ‘read our latest blog post’… Lazy social posting defeats all the other hard work – something our digital manager taught me early on!”

Heather: “We’ve also gotten better at working out what content gets the best engagement – so we aim to produce conversation-starting pieces.”

“And engagement is something that can take time. We have found companies getting started with their marketing often consider a blog to be a ‘quick fix’; that they will immediately achieve 100 views but in reality it’s a gradual process.”

Heather: “Exactly! It takes time to build credibility. People will only share things that resonate with them or they find relevant. As huge a platform as social media is, people don’t just share stuff without thought. It’s got to be worth sharing. You need to see it as an investment in building credibility and developing your brand.”