The pivot for event marketers has not only involved shifting from physical to digital where possible, it has required a shifting of messaging and goals to account for lives being changed and economic factors changing how brands conduct business. Over the years, storytelling has become a key component of marketing strategies to help humanize brands and help the savvy millennial and Gen Z generations understand and respect a brand’s position. But storytelling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has never been more important.
Microsoft storyteller and author Miri Rodriguez is responsible for “finding, crafting, and leveraging stories that motivate and connect” with modern consumers at the company. In a twist of fate, the release of her new book, “Brand Storytelling: Put Customers at the Heart of Your Brand Story,” was pushed from last summer to this past March. Its message couldn’t have come at a better time for brands struggling with how to move their businesses and relationships with customers forward.
We pinged Rodriguez to talk about the book and what her take on this “new reality” means for brands and their messaging. Here is an excerpt of that chat.
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Event Marketer: First, tell us about the book. What inspired you to write it?
Miri Rodriguez: What I love about this book is the message that it carries, and it comes so deeply from my heart: Let’s change the way we connect with each other. We are entering what I call the robot-apocalypse. We’re digital, we’re being automated. There’s so much happening and we’re losing ourselves and this process of human connection. It really for me is an incredible thing that this opportunity, given this terrible, tragic, global pandemic, is forcing people to be introspective and think about empathy and vulnerability.
EM: What’s the role of storyteller at Microsoft all about?
MR: Microsoft began to think about storytelling as a communication tool a few years ago. When Satya [Nadella] came on board as ceo, he was thinking about how to best connect with our customers, internal and external. So it was bringing in journalists, communications professionals and marketing professionals into these spaces that were highly technical to take that information and transfer it emotionally in stories. We actually have around 4,000 storytellers worldwide at Microsoft today spread out over the different functions.
You can fit this model anywhere, and you can really disseminate information through all of the functions through different levels of the organizations, through the different cultural boundaries that exist across the silos of each organization. We have so many organizations at Microsoft and they each have their ecosystem, if you will, so it really can connect that nicely because it tunes in to the human connectedness, the thread of our humanity and our feeling of “universal truth” that I talk about in the book.
EM: Many marketers are not only having to postpone, cancel or pivot events, they’re having to rethink their messaging to reflect the current climate. Where should they begin?
MR: I would say start with revisiting your brand mission. Why do you exist and for what, and what is the legacy? One thing that is coming up is the nuance around not only immersive tech but companies that weren’t thinking about digital transformation. They have had to think about that right now to keep their businesses going. So everyone is pivoting for the same reason. We’ve been forced to think differently, and with that comes the need to understand the nuances of new generations who think of brands as an entity that should have a voice and a stance.
This is I think the best time to do that, because people are more receptive to that pivoting, so they won’t be dissonant if the brand is saying, ‘COVID-19 forced us into really reflecting on why we stand here and what we do.’
EM: What brands do you think are getting the messaging right?
MR: One that I keep mentioning is Corona. They have said nothing. That’s a message in itself. They’re being empathetic, and it’s curious to me that I go to the supermarket and they’re running out. They’re top of mind and they’re not even marketing themselves.
We’re looking at insurance companies that are actually giving people back money on their premiums. They’re thinking about the financial implications to everyone. We’re looking at hotel chains that are offering extra services like temporary space for healthcare workers for free. Brands that are extending themselves and their services beyond what they
typically offer will be remembered
The message brands should be thinking about is what do I have today as a legacy that people will remember in a time of crisis. How do I position myself in the customer’s space that they said, “Wow, they did care.” That’s what’s most important today. It isn’t the bottom line, because these actions will affect the bottom line in the future.
EM: Turning back to your book. What most surprised you about the results of your research?
MR: That the customers are expecting brands to speak up and have a voice, almost as a friend. And if they speak the wrong way, then they become a foe. It’s a really ambiguous terrain that brands are having to navigate at this time and really I think that goes back to the mission of what are the core values of the institution.
Microsoft is a progressive brand, so it talks about its values a whole lot more. If the company talks about diversity and inclusion—how are they doing this and does it reflect the design process of the product. So for brands, if they say we care, how do you care? What does caring even mean? It’s not just big words anymore that sound nice, it’s an active word that needs to resonate at the consumer level.
Featured photo courtesy: iStock/erhui1979