Why ‘Microsoft Stories’ is one of the best brand storytelling sites

Personal stories, magazine-quality imagery, and a laser focus on content make Microsoft’s storytelling site a standout.

After just a quick peek at the “Microsoft Stories” website, you can’t help but be impressed. It’s clean, easy to scan, and has big, popping visuals.

What’s more, dig in a bit, and the content is every bit as good as the wrapper it comes in.

For example, take the post about Microsoft’s “Garage” concept. The writing is fantastic. It’s well researched. And it’s clear that the author (Jennifer Warnick, who writes many of the posts) has spent a great deal of time in the Garage.

For those of you who write content for your company, when was the last time you actually spent time with the products or services you were writing about?

Then notice how the posts are produced. They’re not slapped together like on some makeshift blog. Every post seems to be almost individually designed. I don’t see a lot of templates here.

What I do see is great images. I see large close-ups of employees and leaders. I see pull quotes. I see unique artwork. I see illustrations.

This is high-quality brand storytelling folks. And yeah, it’s Microsoft that’s creating it. This just in: They have a bit of money lying around, but then again, so does Apple. And a number of other companies.

My point? Microsoft may have figured out a few keys to fantastic brand storytelling:

Your employees equal personal stories.

Right on the front page is the story of Kevin White, a program manager.

What do we see in the photo promoting the story? Kevin working with Bing, the platform he’s responsible for? Kevin collaborating with his team at Microsoft HQ? Nope. We see Kevin sipping wine.

The story begins by talking about Kevin and his winery, with few mentions of Microsoft or his work. That’s the rub. The writer could have told the story of a smart program manager working on the latest updates on Bing, but he chose to tell the story of a part-time winemaker who happens to work at Microsoft. Sure, they worked in the professional angle later in the story, but what makes the story is the combination of his interest in wine-making and his chemist/data-mindset.

Many brands write these kinds of executive and employee stories, but they frequently fail to let that human side of the story come through because they’re so worried about promoting the brand. Forget about the brand for a moment. Your employees are your brand. Promote them.

Produce posts like magazine stories.

As a teenager and college kid, ESPN the Magazine was one of my favorite magazines. Sure, I loved sports, but it was the layout and format of the magazine I loved. It was easy to read and had well-designed graphics that helped tell the story–or pique my interest.

Take a run through a few of the Microsoft Stories, and you see the same thing. Take the story titled “Digital Detectives,” for example. The first thing you notice is the black background. Then you notice is the embedded graphics, just like a magazine story.

Focus 100 percent on quality content.

Look closely at the Microsoft Stories site. What’s don’t you see? There are no social media sharing buttons or comments, which seems strange for a corporate storytelling site.

It seems to indicate a complete focus on content. For example, this post that launched Microsoft Stories is really 8 different posts in one, and it’s all about the story. Now, the drawback to this intense focus on story is the Microsoft folks lack a couple of key potential measurement signals. Even so, if they really are focused more on corporate reputation and sentiment, then social signals and comments really may not matter as much as they would for other blogs that look more closely at shares and impressions.

Now, not everything Microsoft does on the site is perfect. For one, there are too many employee profiles on that front page (14 of 21 articles, to be exact). I’m on board with showcasing employees, but I’d like to see a bit more balance.

I also don’t like the 3,000-plus executive message from CEO Satya Nadella. Long-form content is fine, as long as it’s an interesting narrative. Executive messages will never be classified as “interesting narratives.”

But, that’s nitpicking. Overall, Microsoft Stories may be one of the better corporate storytelling sites.

What do you think? Has Microsoft really hit the nail on the head here?

Arik Hanson is principal of ACH Communications. A version of this article originally ran on his blog, Communications Conversations.


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