Microsoft Stories: Best brand storytelling site on the web?

After just a quick peek at the Microsoft Stories site, you can’t help but be impressed.

Clean. Easy to scan. Big, popping visuals.

It’s a pretty slick site.

Microsoft Stories 1

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 (titled “Inside Microsoft’s 24-Hour Idea Factory”). Just read through the first few grafs of that post. Doesn’t that read like a novel? The writing is fantastic. It’s well researched. And it’s clear, the author (Jennifer Warnick, who writes many of the Microsoft “stories”) has spent a great deal of time in the Garage as preparation for writing the story.

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, look more closely at the posts. Notice how they’re produced. They’re not slapped together like some make-shift blog. Every post seems to be almost individually designed–I don’t see a lot of “templates”here.

What I do see is big, eye-popping visuals. I see large close-ups of employees and leaders. I see pull quotes (remember pull quotes?). I see unique artwork. I see illustrations.

This is high, 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 the key to fantastic brand storytelling–and I think it goes something like this…

 

Your employees = personal stories

Microsoft Stories 2

Right on the front page is the story of Kevin White, program manager at Microsoft. And 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. Wait, what? In fact, the story begins by talking about Kevin and his winery, with few mentions of Microsoft of his work (we get to that later). And, that’s the rub. They could have told the story of a smart program manager working on the latest updates on Bing. But, they chose to tell the story of a part-time winemaker who happens to work at Microsoft. Sure, they worked in the “work” 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. Promote their passions. Their interests. Their loves. And your brand will eventually win. Microsoft has figured this out.

 

Produce posts like magazine stories

Microsoft Stories 5

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. Big visuals. With well-designed graphics that helped tell the story–or pique my interest. Take a run through a few of the Microsoft Stories–you see the same thing. Take the story titled “Digital Detectives”, for example. First thing you notice: Black background. Second thing you notice is the embedded graphics (a few grafs down)–just like a magazine story! That whole story–it just FEELS like a story I’d see in ESPN the Magazine.

 

100 percent focus on quality content

Microsoft Stories 9

If you look closely at the Microsoft Stories site, what’s the one thing you DON’T see? Social share buttons, for one. And also: Comments. Hmm…strange for a corporate storytelling site, don’t you think? Not if you’re focused on one thing, and one thing only: Content. For example, this 88 Acres post that really effectively launched Microsoft Stories is really 8 different posts in one–a chapter-based blog post, if you will. 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. But, if they really are focused more on corporate reputation and sentiment (which, by the way, is what the Microsoft folks themselves say), then social signals and comments really may not matter as much as they would for other blogs/sites that look more closely at shares and impressions. And, it also allows the content team to focus on what it does best.

Now, not EVERYTHING Microsoft does on the site is perfect. For one, they still have too many employee profiles on that front page (14 of 21 to be exact). I mean, I’m on board with showcasing your employees, but if it’s me, I’d like to see a bit more balance.

I also don’t like the 3,000-plus executive message from CEO, Satya Nadella (yes, 3,000 words). Long-form content is fine, as long as it’s an interesting narrative–and we all know executive messages will never be classified as “interesting narratives.”

But, that’s nit-picking. Like I said, overall, Microsoft Stories may be one of the better corporate storytelling sites I’ve seen to date.

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

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3 comments on “Microsoft Stories: Best brand storytelling site on the web?

  1. tsauce says:

    arikhanson hmmm.ay e?

  2. arikhanson says:

    BridgetForney MSFTnews Hey thanks Bridget!

  3. TpatMN says:

    Hi Arik,

    I think they have. I’m a huge fan of the Xbox team at Microsoft and absolutely enjoy reading the stories about the people managing the huge projects. I particularly like the James Mickens post about research. The topics are relevant, exciting and easy to read. Two thumbs up!