A Storytelling Masterclass with Microsoft

Steve Clayton
Steve Clayton, Chief Storyteller, Microsoft

I think everyone who attended the BritCham Singapore event – Storytelling – The 5 Secrets To Telling Simple Stories That Make People Act – are feeling pretty happy we scrambled out of bed in the dark to get there on time. It was really compelling stuff and thank you Steve Clayton for taking the time out of your frantic schedule to be with us.

You were rewarded with a fabulous audience and everyone was buzzing afterwards, in-person and online. As I think through my key take-aways, so far, I’d say it is the following.


When Steve started his role as Chief Storyteller for Microsoft, the media were telling a not so savory story about Microsoft – the story of a boring company that wasn’t capable of innovating for the future. However internally, this ‘story’ didn’t align with how employees felt about the company, but they couldn’t get the media to shift what they were saying. As a person who’s spent some years with Microsoft, I knew exactly what he was talking about. So when Steve started uncovering great Microsoft stories and the media said no to publishing them – it wasn’t newsworthy, audiences wouldn’t be interested, etc.. – he said OK, and thus was born Microsoft Stories. Check it out. It’s awesome.

Early success

One of the first pieces published was 88 Acres. I loved this story. For me, personally, it signaled the birth of B2B content marketing on a global scale, and the ROI didn’t hurt its case either. With almost half a million hits in the first few days, and media coverage after the media rejected it, 88 Acres also generated an extensive sales pipeline! Definitely a lucky start for any story, but more importantly, it created the groundswell needed for the company to embrace storytelling.

Controlling your own narrative

What these two points highlighted is the starting point and justification for going into storytelling in the first place. There is tangible ROI in the 88 Acres story (business leads) but the most important ROI, which is not so tangible, is that Microsoft was now able to manage its own company narrative and not let the media dictate it anymore. World perception started changing towards Microsoft after this as well, with consumers more positive towards the brand (that’s my opinion). But how do you measure that?

ROI is a constant question I face in Asia, so hearing Steve speak about it from this perspective was very powerful. Whether it’s recruiting and retaining awesome employees, changing perceptions of your brand, building customer or partner loyalty, and so on, the way businesses need to think about content marketing ROI cannot be the same as how you measure marketing ROI. Don’t just look at leads, look at the big picture. Look at the changing regard for your company. Look at your recruitment and retainment numbers. That’s where storytelling ROI sits. Leads are a bonus.

We’re in the image business

Images! One VERY clear point that came through was “if you’re in the business of storytelling, you’re in the image business.” This was a point emphasized a few times, but I don’t think anyone in the room disagreed. Steve then took us on a journey into the impact great photography has had on Microsoft in the last couple of years. From Satya’s Nadella’s appointment, where again the narrative was on Microsoft’s own terms through it’s CEO page, through to a magnificent story in Kenya. Images are go! So hire an excellent photographer or find one in your organization. Not convinced? Do a search for Satya Nadella images and you will see that the vast majority are Microsoft’s own photos. Again, owning its own narrative.

The four Ps

People, Places, Process and Products. No story appears with just one P – it has to be two or more, and that is why Microsoft stories are working. There’s more people focus. It’s not just about product stories any more. The stories make us think or feel, or both, which is even better.

Patience please

While Steve got off to an excellent start with 88 Acres, he put that down to pure luck. Since then, he acknowledged that true success in storytelling is a long term process, which happens over years before you really start seeing results. So please, be patient. From my perspective in Asia, I find the appetite for patience rather low, with many expecting great results following short term pilots. Steve is right about patience and we need to take heed. Make the leap and commit for the long haul. That’s when the magic happens.


At the end I asked Steve to delve more into ROI – a question I am asked every day in Asia. He has the proof – it works – and he talked about the tangible and intangible ROI as a result of storytelling. Then he said – just tell great stories. Start with one. It can’t hurt your business telling better stories. Steve I concur. It can’t. So let’s get going Asia. And let’s stop clipping our wings trying to line up all the ROI ducks before we even give it a go huh? People like great stories. Let’s tell them some.

If you attended the event, I’d love to know what your key take-aways were? I know there were many more, but this is what got my attention. What got yours?

Thanks to Steve for a really great session, and to BritCham Singapore for a great event.




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