Finding Clarity in Content Marketing: Skype & Microsoft Office's Adventures in Publishing

 Suddenly it seems like every brand is a digital content publisher or, at least, believes it should become one. “Brand as publisher” is a mantra of the social media age and the once obscure term of “content marketing” now rings through the halls of companies and the agencies that support them.

But not every brand is the next Red Bull and viral hits like Oreo’s 2013 Super Bowl “Lights Out” tweet are few and far between. Publishing is not just hard work; it requires consistently solid content, distribution and the ability to land timely stories. To achieve and maintain these essential ingredients, successful publishers must establish a well-honed process.

Even brands with huge existing audiences, like Skype and Microsoft Office, have had to evolve their processes to properly manage growth and distribution as content publishers. Both found success by centralizing their content on the Azure cloud platform. This not only allows them to create a better process to streamline their messaging but it will grow with them as they advance their online presence.

Brands want to become publishers for some very good reasons. Technology has upended traditional marketing as audiences now have nearly unlimited choices and can avoid obvious ads and other “interruption marketing.” Content marketing, on the other hand, is about engaging people with informative and entertaining content that they want to consume for its own sake.

Moreover, the cost of distribution has cratered. It is common knowledge that putting up a blog, online magazine or building out a social network is way more affordable than risking capital on a print run – and it has the potential to find a much larger audience.

That said, not everyone accounts for the inherent challenges that come with these changes. Creating distribution paths is almost too easy and brands have to wrestle with corralling various publishing presences across blogs, social media and other sites. And they must also streamline the messaging within this content to tell a consistent story.

Both Skype and Office were natural fits to move into the world of content marketing. Skype is a beloved Freemium service that connects people with those who are important to them, no matter where they are. These days, it has nearly 30 million likes on Facebook and 4 million followers on Twitter. And Microsoft Office is one of the most popular and storied products in not only Microsoft but in the whole tech industry. Almost anyone who has ever used a computer is familiar with some elements of Microsoft Office.

With the global brand love of Skype and the omnipresence and trust of Office, both brands were well positioned for publishing success. But as their process developed organically in their early stages of content publishing, both brands – like many other companies – found their storytelling presence fragmented across many sites, blogs and social media all with different owners, platforms and agencies that managed them.

Brian Costea, Content Publishing Manager on the Office Web Team, focuses on domain strategy and platform. “In our earlier years, we had 15 blogs on a bunch of third-party hosts in order to tell all of the different stories coming out of the various Office teams,” says Costea, “It was costly and we had to wait on different agencies to make any changes or updates.”

Costea explains that when he joined the team, he recognized the need to centralize hosting so that Office could have “the agility to make changes on the fly… and to cross-post between multiple blogs, so when we launched a major announcement, it could hit all 15 blogs, or it could hit five or be focused on just one.”

They moved all of the hosting to Azure. Even now, with some 65 authors writing about Office, they have found a streamlined process by maintaining everything on a single platform. And this reorganization actually allows for authors to have more creative freedom to publish quality content.

“Authors create their content and go in and select where they want it to post on the blog. Instead of boxing our authors into ‘Here’s where you have to publish,’ we’re leaving it up to the marketing professionals who are creating the content to decide where it’s best served to the customer,” says Costea.

Office can now focus on the goals of content marketing, rather than just keeping up with publishing needs. Costea notes, “Our goals for the blog are to convert people and drive wider media pickup as well. One of the things we like about moving to Azure is we have the flexibility to do whatever we want or need to do – all in one place.”

Tamas Henning is the Technical Campaign Manager at Skype and has been at the brand for many years. Shortly after joining the Skype Marketing Infrastructure team, he was asked to look into ways to consolidate all of Skype’s micro-sites into a single platform to further drive consistency.

“We wanted our sites and micro-sites to be consistent across branding, creative, look and feel and user experience,” Henning says. “So, we needed to unify the marketing feel, but we also needed to understand what the exact requirements are for each individual campaign, and how can we cater to that particular need in a more controlled fashion.”

He explains, “We converted to Azure to consolidate all micro-sites into a single platform but still be nimble.”

Now Skype’s robust blog presence and numerous campaign micro-sites all sit atop the same platform. “We have a team that builds everything and we know how we want the look and feel to be,” Henning states. “We have a solid process in place across all of the marketing that spans Skype.com, whether you just want to do a simple piece of content, a single page or you say, ‘Hey, I want a full-blown campaign that has numerous elements and requires its own website.’”

“We provide a surface for marketing people or content editors to be able to easily and flexibly create any content. Not only content, but layout and design, and test multiple iterations of it without necessarily needing an intervention from engineering,” says Henning. “The whole idea behind what my team has done is to offer an easy way for a marketing person to spin up a micro-site and handle the traffic, no matter what’s thrown at it.”

“This also allows us to track users from Microsoft.com to Office.com to Skype.com and to any of our other resources. We can actually know the full user experience across all Microsoft properties,” he says.

And now the sky’s the limit for both Office and Skype as publishers. Looking forward, Costea says, “In addition to taking the blog more global and localizing in more markets, we plan to add a sense of personalization so that you can select the content that you’re most interested in and always see that first.”

Henning says, “We’re also looking to embrace more video and will be enabling campaign managers to easily deliver vouchers to user through their micro-sites.”

Publishing is not easy, but brands like Skype and Office are making strides to optimize their process. And no matter where the world of online publishing goes from here, they have the foundation to scale and adapt.