[Podcast] Brand Storytelling with Miri Rodriguez

[Podcast] Brand Storytelling with Miri Rodriguez

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In this enlightening episode of JUST Branding, you’ll discover the art and science of brand storytelling through the experiences and insights of Miri Rodriguez, a celebrated storyteller and branding expert with an impressive history at Microsoft.

Miri, an author and speaker, delves into the nuances of creating relevant brand narratives that transform audience perceptions and build strong connections.

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Key discussions include Miri’s branding journey, the power of storytelling, building a ‘Storytelling Machine’, how to leverage AI, plus case studies and practical advice.

This episode is a must-listen for those interested in elevating their brand’s narrative and connecting more authentically with their audience!

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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, and welcome back to JUST Branding, the show where we delve into the art and science of branding. Today, we’re diving into the heart of brand narratives with a very special guest. Joining us is Miri Rodriguez, a storyteller extraordinaire, who has massively crafted narratives for some of the world’s most renowned brands, most notably at Microsoft for the past 11 years.

With her unique blend of empathy and insight, Miri helps brands connect with their audiences in the most authentic and engaging ways. Her approach turns customers into advocates and stories into movements. Today, she’s here to share her wisdom on how to craft stories that not only resonate but also to transform the way we see a brand.

We’ll explore the power of an emotion-driven story, the pitfalls to avoid, and the secrets behind the narratives that have captivated millions. Plus how we can incorporate AI and digital advances to enhance the power of storytelling. So listeners, prepare to be inspired as we welcome Miri Rodriguez to the show.

Miri, thank you for joining us on JUST Branding. Oh, thank you both.

I don’t even know when we started this because we’re having so much fun backstage, but I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me so much.

I had to snap out of that. You’re like, we’re on.

I’m like, we’re on. Here we are. Well, thank you.

Thank you for the platform and thank you for having me. I’m so excited.

It’s great to have you here.

I can just tell from the fun we were having backstage, Jacob’s going to have to keep us in order.

I’m not going to get a word in. I can tell you.

Our audience is going to be very surprised and we are going to be surprised because we don’t even know what’s going to happen next.

Well, the thing is, Miri, right, you’ve picked on your specialism is the subject. I’m highly passionate about as well, which is storytelling. But what I’m really excited about, about what we hopefully will dive into throughout this episode, is how we take the concepts of storytelling and make them useful to brands and particularly within organizations.

That is going to be super exciting. But without further ado, I know Jacob’s got some proper structure to this. So I’ll hand back off to him, but I’m excited about what’s coming up.

Me too.

Me too. Well, before we start, did you want to share a little bit with our listeners about you, your history, your journey into branding, perhaps how you came to write the book on brand storytelling, which just came out before we jump into it.

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Yeah, thank you. So, you know, I was never a person, I’m a writer, but funny enough, I never was the kind of person that said, I want to write a book. And so I just write for writing.

It’s my passion is what I do. I was in London actually giving a talk around brand storytelling. And the publishing house was there.

They asked me to write the book and I said, no, I said, no, three times. You know, I was like, nope, not doing that, not writing a book. But they eventually convinced me under the notion that the things that I was sharing with people were so good that I was sharing them one to, you know, one to one, one too many being 500, maybe a thousand, two thousand people.

But if I wrote the book, people all over the world could really just absorb this and learn and democratize storytelling. And that really resonated with me. I was like, yes, I want to do that.

I want to democratize storytelling because a lot of people are confused about what it is, how to implement it, what to do with it, how to leverage it, and really the power of it and also the ethics of it, because a lot of people don’t know how. Once they get this power, they’re like, oh my gosh, what can I do with this? Everything.

And so I felt a sense of responsibility. And that’s how the book came about. I’m at Microsoft 11 years.

Six of those have been a storyteller. It is an actual role. It’s a title.

We have around 4,000 storytellers worldwide at Microsoft, which is fascinating. And I sit on the Council for Storytelling, which is six of us kind of leading the Global Storytelling Commission at Microsoft. And it’s exciting times, especially in the era of AI.

I know we’re going to get into this meant as soon, but for me, you know, when I started this whole thing, and when I started my career in comms, never would I have imagined would be here having this conversation on the digital platform, connecting from all parts of the world with listeners from all over the world. So technology has played a beautiful role in the stories and the stories we tell and how we tell them. So I’m here to talk about that, how I’ve done it and how we can all learn from my do not do at home mistakes, which I made many.

So the book is a lot about that too, all the things that you should not try at home because I did and I failed.

You’ve definitely reached the pinnacle of your career here, making your way onto JUST Branding.

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It won’t get better than this.

Where do I go from here? I’m retiring. I am retiring.

I’m done.

Please don’t. We need more of you.

Well, there’s $4,000 to choose from that. So there’s quite a lot. I’m mind blown by that actually.

Can I ask a quick question about what you just said though? So you said that there’s a number of storytellers, actual positions in Microsoft. How long has that been the case?

And just give us a bit of a sense of how that came about, because was that you, was that before you, or how did that come about? Because that’s quite remarkable.

It is. It’s not before me. So basically when I was there, Satya, the new CEO, came on board, and he really came in to shift culture from the inside out.

And one of his things, it was at a time when we were taking our on-premises to the Cloud. So the Cloud shift, the digital transformation shift within Microsoft, so not outside, within our own engineers. And this was a very vulnerable time, right?

Because our engineers didn’t know how to be Cloud engineers. They had never been Cloud engineers. The Cloud didn’t exist.

And so it was something new and something that they were navigating, and Satya decided, hey, why don’t we tell those stories? We’ve never gone inside and said, what’s happening inside Microsoft? So it was a new approach to how the brand shows up in a way that is new, that it’s fresh and that consumers could actually, and possible customers could empathize back with the brand.

That was new because Microsoft was before that, you know, an enigma. Nobody knew who worked there and what they were doing and where they were. And now it was this exposure of, hey, here we are.

Here’s who we are. And this is what’s happening in our space. So I was called along with two other people that were in constant marketing to come into engineering, into the engineering organization and actually begin to tell those stories.

So that’s kind of how it started, grassroots. And it was, and that’s where I failed massively because I didn’t know how. I mean, I was like, I could do this, not.

And it was like three months of hell, honestly, of like how to do this. And especially because I’m not an engineer. So that started all of it for me.

And it started all of it for Microsoft in storytelling.

What is the definition of a storyteller in Microsoft then? You mentioned some engineers. Are these engineers also storytellers?

That could be. They don’t necessarily. So storytellers are anywhere in any vertical.

So mainly they’ll be in marketing and comps, but there’s many ways to tell a story. So there’s product storytelling, there’s video storytelling, there is internal, external, there’s sales storytelling, there’s finances, data storytelling. So how to tell a story from different angles and different verticals of the organization for business functions.

So yes, and it’s really, there’s a lot of them. And the way that we have been able to, I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but in the storytelling engine that we’ve been able to build is around how to enable each of these functions within an organization to tell the stories, right? There’s this main narrative of Microsoft, and then you make it yours and make it your own in your own audience.

If you’re a finance person, if you’re operations, if you’re support, all of these are telling the brand story really in their space.

We’ll definitely get into how it works. When you say storytellers, there could be some non-believers out there who think you’re reading from a book and you’re just telling a story. It’s important to define what storyteller is, especially in each context.

Perhaps we start there, defining how you define… How do you see brand and how does brand storytelling fit into that?

For me, brand is a very big word, I think, for all of us here, especially in JUST Branding. There’s a lot that is involved in brand, but to me, in the context of how storytelling plays in, it’s around the feel. Every brand has a feel that is associated with it.

If you create it, whether you create it on purpose, which you should, or if you don’t, it just happens, it’s the culture of the brand. You think Nike, you think sports, you think Disney, you think… I’m being very American right now, but Disney, you think happy.

What is that association that people connect with at the feeling level with you, with your brand, and then the story, what it does, it actually, it exemplifies that. It tells the story of that feel. I did a test because I heard a statistic that branding, that association happens in less than three months.

So if I’m able to test this theory that if I want to be associated with something, the feel of something, it takes three months for my audience to do that. So I did that on two channels. I did it on LinkedIn, I did it on Twitter, and I associated my brand, one with ice cream, which I love, and then the other one with shoes, which I also love.

So shoe lover, ice cream lover, two different audiences. I mean, it took less than a month, it took less than four weeks for people to start, people I never knew to start, you know, I intercepted their weekend, they would send me DMs, you know, direct messages saying, hey, Miri, have you tried this new flavor of ice cream by Ben and Jerry’s? And I was like, holy crap, like people are looking at ice cream and thinking of me.

You know what I mean? Like that’s the association. So brand, and I did that to understand the psychology behind what the power of the brand has to associate a feeling.

I hope I don’t die in like the associations, like Miri loves ice cream and heels, right? I mean, more to me than that. That’s the responsibility I think the brand has to actually align core values, brand mission, the story, what the product is, what the, you know, what the social responsibility, all the things that encompass the brand, what is that feel that people go, oh, there’s that brand and they do this and you know, this is what it means.

So the story enables that feeling.

If I need to say that about ice cream, because I see Matt online, he has like a little lightning bolt next to his name on LinkedIn and his logo has a lightning bolt. So I see that about Matt and same with me, like flamingos, I had that as my emoji.

You know flamingos?

Why not?

Pink flamingos, I love it.

Look at this.

Oh, my day.

I will never look at flamingos the same way. Never.

Jacob just stood up on his t-shirt.

He’s got a flamingo.

Oh, my goodness. Minds are blown in this instance. Can I just come back, though?

Because I’ve got something I really want to kind of throw at you, Miri, and see what you’ve got. So I’ve also played a bit in this space in Brand Story Telling, as perhaps you may know.

I do know. Tell me about your book. Give me the name.

I love the name.


Matt, you knew this.

Well, this podcast is about your book. My book is called Story Attagy, but your book is called Brand Story Telling. And for folks out there, my book plays at a much more strategic level, whereas yours really gets into the weeds and there’s a lot more depth to it.

So read his first and then read mine is what he’s saying.

But the way that I sort of looked at this is, look, you know, my definition of brand, I don’t know what you think about this, is that it’s the meaning that people attach to a product, organization or an offering. So it’s what they think about us. And so branding, which is the game we’re all in, is the attempt to manage that meaning somehow.

So, and obviously these are big topics, but this is how, as simple as I can get it. Now, the question we’ve got is, well, how best do we manage meaning as human beings? And the answer is through stories.

That is how we compute the world around us. That is how we understand our place in the world. That is how we understand our sense of being and where we’re going and all of, look, just the way we interpret life, like the psychologist, we could get deep.

The psychologist tell us that we have like a pre-written story in our minds of ourselves and how we interact. So storytelling then is obviously crucial for us to manage meaning. We need to understand the principles of it if we’re going to build powerful brands that people can connect with.

So what do you think about that? Would you agree with that sort of synopsis?

I agree and I said yes and. So yes, it is meaning. It’s also, but you can argue, so I’m going to play this back to you.

You can argue that you don’t have to do it story. You can say, well, I can showcase the meaning through brand assets. Yes, you can.

Is it effective? Is the question. And that’s a lot of people.

And when we look at the history of a brand, that’s where we, you know, before Storytelling became a thing, we heard about it six years ago, people were thinking about assets. Let’s create an advert. Let’s create PR communication.

Let’s send this communication out. Let’s create a campaign. These were assets to the brand.

Let’s share our mandate of core values of our website. Let’s create our mission statement. Those are all assets that attempted at some point and could have landed in one way or another where it can explain the meaning of the brand.

Where I say feeling is where story comes in differently is that it’s an emotional transfer of all that information. And to me, brand storytelling is taking all of that and making a very strategic approach to transfer that emotionally in a form of a story because it’s more memorable, because we’re cognitively prepared to receive it and remember it and absorb it. And it’s not passing through the noise and the digital, perpetual craziness of content that we’re absorbing, that our brains aren’t even prepared to on a daily basis.

So story has become powerful, not because it was not ever powerful, but because it really cuts through the noise and it gets through the heart when we open ourselves to it. And we go, once we say once upon a time, we lean it. And so I can sit here and really talk about so many great things about my brand and give you all the brand assets and we give you all the things.

It doesn’t matter. It’ll pass me right by. I’ll remember 2% of it tomorrow.

But if I tell the story, if I give you like the origin story of the brand, the why, it really weaves all of it together in a way that just works for all of us because we’re meant for stories. We live for stories.

And if you can tell stories that allow the customer to become part of that story or at least resonate with that, that’s the goal.

That is the goal because now the customer sees themselves, right? And now it’s their story. It’s not the brand story.

It’s them with the brand. And now they are emotionally even more attached, embedded, and they’re looking for the outcome. Like what happens to the character?

Because I’m the character, right? What happens to me in the story, which is even, I mean, that’s a whole other strategy. We can be here all day on that.

A follow up question on that. If it’s about the why and the emotion and the customer seeing themself in the story, how do you find the balance between being what’s authentic for the brand, but also connects with the customer?

It’s a great question. Authenticity today has a lot of tentacles because we’re seeing a conundrum of certain things. First one is actually the new generations.

There’s the millennials, there’s Gen Z, there’s Gen Alpha, and now Gen T. These generations are each weaving their own part of the story of the brand. They are the ones driving some part of that story.

It’s an example. You put out a product, a brand puts out a product, and the product is a great product. There’s a lot of features, and you’re going out to market with all the great campaign around it.

If Generation Z, who tends to actually review with their peers the product before they even consider even buying it, if they have a narrative about the product, even though your brand is having a narrative over here about how great the product is, it actually could clash. They could say, well, that was not created green or ethical, and so now the product itself being a good product may actually fall into this. It could even be a false narrative.

We don’t know. There’s this conundrum that we’re seeing in what brand storytelling is doing because there’s a lot of noise from people that are not the brand telling the story of the brand. There’s brand storytellers out there for your brand.

There’s the opportunity for brands and really the responsibility for brands to really drive what is the actual story and the narrative and the why, and especially in today’s socially charged and emotionally charged world because this is an emotional connection that we’re making with customers. For us to really think about what it means and back to that feeling, I’ll give you the example, at Microsoft for a long time, our mission was to deliver a PC on every desk and every home. That was what we did for many years and that’s how it worked.

Enter the Amazons, enter the Googles, enter the Facebooks of the world and the digital age. We’re seeing an immediate shift in our environment and where we were sitting in the market. And Satya came in and he’s like, we’re going to change the narrative.

Our story is going to be to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. Empowering is the story. Empowering is the feeling.

I wake up not to deliver a product or create a product. I wake up to empower something or someone. That’s powerful.

That’s what I do. And so my story is that at Microsoft, the story of Microsoft is that. And when we think about it from that perspective, any consumer saying anything different, when you hear empower, you’re going to associate that with Microsoft.

And so Microsoft has done a really great job to deliver that over the years where now you associate it and you can’t undo it. It’s like, I can’t unsee now if I go to the zoo or even here in Florida, we get actually wild flamingos. I see a wild flamingo.

Jacob, right? It’s a thing. It’s going to happen.

It’s a psychology thing. So the brand has a lot of responsibility and a lot of strategic work to do to enable that narrative against all odds and against the environments that play for brand storytellers everywhere.

Brands must consistently communicate the right message then. So if they’re going to tell the story, they have to keep doing it over and over, and they have to define what that message is. I think that’s the perfect leeway into, your storytelling machine that you speak of.

So can you talk about how this machine, storytelling machine works?

Yeah, one of the things I keep seeing, I consult with brands all over the world, and big and small, Fortune, 100, all the way to mom and pops. And when this thing came out about storytelling, everybody’s like, oh, I’m going to go tell stories. That’s what storytelling is.

It’s like, no, that’s not why, please pause and stop. It’s not. A storytelling machine is really an internal strategy to bring all the key players today that are telling the brand story, going out to market sales, marketing, operations support, of course, communications, internal, external, and really defining what is two things.

First is the origin story. What does that look like? Why does your brand exist and why?

You will never run out of space and content to be able to tell people why your brand exists, where it’s going, why it’s doing what it’s doing, why it’s pivoting, why it stopped doing this product, why it’s going to go digital. There’s, you know, the brand is an entity and it’s growing up and it has friends and foes and hopefully it doesn’t die, so it’s growing, getting better, and that is the origin story that keeps going. That’s the story that will always be told.

Reminding consistently your audience why it’s doing this, what it’s doing. It’s a beautiful way to embed the narrative, the origin story that continues through anything that you do. So it’s not a marketing plot and it’s not a campaign, you know, it’s not a tactic, it’s a continuous approach.

And that takes everyone to understand. That takes, and the machine is gonna be creating a central location, an assets location where you’re creating the story, you’re creating, and I talk about it in my book, assets, decks, kits. You’re educating from the inside out and telling, using your own storytellers, your employees, your partners, your vendors to tell that story from the inside out.

Understand the story and tell it in their own way, right? That’s the first one. The second one is then the story lets.

There are many stories that combine from each of the verticals, we’re talking about this offline. People in finance, people in operations, they take that story, make it theirs, and now that story means something different. To empower someone in finance looks different than at Microsoft than to empower a 12-year-old playing Xbox, to empower a 50-year-old cloud engineer, to empower a government entity.

I empower government entities, and so that’s my job, but I’m still empowering under that umbrella of to empower every person and organization on the planet. If you’re able to look at your mission as a brand today, read your mission statement. Is it something that people know?

Does it have a feeling in it? Does it talk about your audience? If it doesn’t, people probably don’t even know your mission statement.

Your employees know it? I mean, is it just a statement because the shareholders need it and the about us section of the website? Or is it the mandate?

Is it the story? And so I invite people to really think about what are you telling people about your brand and what is the feeling that it’s creating when they come in contact with your brand? And that machine does that.

You’re able to create, it is an opportunity today to create all of that from the inside out and to sit and invite people that you never did, siloed with sub-organizations, bring them on a table and say, truly, what is our story and what are we telling people out there and who’s saying what and when. And so you build that machine. We’ve done it at an organization as large as Microsoft, 170,000 employees.

So probably you can do it too.

170,000, wow. So that’s a very high level overview of the machine, right? Defining the why.

It is. Well, I mean, how much time do we have?

Well, this is the meaty part of the podcast. So we’ll dive deeper. You define the why and you repeat it and you create your own stories for each individual, make it your own.

How do you do that for, especially with an organization of that size, how do you make it scalable?

Yeah. So I told you I failed. And so for me, that was my question.

How, how do I do this? It’s massive. I thought I could.

I had some comms chops, some marketing chops, none of it helped. What, what actually ended up happening in my case, which the book came about because of that, I thought about stories as a product. So I use design thinking approach to craft and design stories, stories before they’re told, you got to tell them where to go, right?

Before you tell them, you got to tell them where to go. And so there’s this deep strategy around what happens to the story, what is the mission of the story? Where is the story going and why?

I use design thinking. And so the five steps of design thinking, which is to empathize, to define, ideate, to prototype and then to test the story. And that helped me just kind of, it helped us sit in a room and go, well, first of all, who are we empathizing with and why?

It was a very deep question. I didn’t know, first of all, personally, that empathy was a skillset that we can acquire. I thought it was a personality trait.

I was not an empathy, an empathic person or yeah. I don’t have empathy naturally, so I had to build it. You know, I was like, my kids will call me called the Ruthless and I’m like, yes, and, you know what I mean?

I was like, no, no empathy over here. And so I was like, what is this? How do I even begin to apply this into my work?

And so I learned that there are actually three levels of empathy. I won’t get deeper into this, but there’s a way for us to cognitively, emotionally, compassionately, get people to see our brand as human. So humanizing the brand is no longer talking human on social media.

It is, there’s a Miri behind Microsoft. There’s an engineer who’s struggling behind Microsoft. And so now we break the idea that the brand stands alone as a big brand and a big tech brand.

And it’s now there’s people behind that brand and there’s people that we can connect with. If I’m struggling, you’re probably struggling. If I’m having doubts about cloud, you’re probably having doubts about cloud.

So there’s a lot of that conversation that enabled through the empathy. So empathy became a value and it became the way for us to look at content differently. It was no longer creating content for content’s sake.

It was who is our audience? Who are we empathizing with? That’s a big question to ask.

And it sounds like, dog, we gotta do that. But a lot of people don’t do that. A lot of people don’t put on paper who is our audience and who do we want to empathize with?

And also who do we want them to empathize with us? Like what is that empathy level we want them to have with us? How vulnerable are we willing to get as a brand to show our humanity?

Then defining, defining the audience, defining the characters. Matt, you talked about seeing yourself in the story, very important because if our customers don’t see themselves, they’re not going to engage, period. Oh, there’s Microsoft talking again about the product once again.

So it’s like now if I talk about how the product empowered a 12 year old Xbox player with a disability, now people are listening because now we have a really great story there. How we used power apps to enable EMT services so people can actually text instead of call 911. That’s a story that’s saving lives.

And so that’s when you see you and I as citizen embed ourselves in the story. Defining is another step. And then we get to ideate.

That was really hard at the beginning because it was essentially creating space for creativity and a lot of people don’t have time. But I say if you don’t have time and space for innovation, you never innovate. And so we created time.

We started doing office hours. We started doing, we created a storytelling council with storytelling. We call it Sunday Storytellers, where people came in a community in a Teams channel.

We brought them together so we can learn from each other. We can bounce off ideas. We can, I mean, there’s so much stuff happening.

Once a month, we brought someone from outside for training. We creating training decks. We created just so many different things that began to happen, a summit, an annual summit to bring us together in person.

So this community became a live community where we were like, okay, we’re all lost on storytelling. Let’s figure this out together. And it was vulnerable and it was powerful.

And there was people saying, this is how I do it. And it was me here going, this is how I’m doing it. And we figured it out.

So creativity is important in creating the space for that and allowing that white space is important. And it needs to happen from the top down. Leadership has to buy in.

Leadership has to say, let’s dedicate one hour a week where the teams come together and just create. And it’s a long-term approach. It’s not an ad, it’s not a campaign, and it’s not gonna, you know, you’re not gonna monetize it tomorrow, but you will in the long-term because you’re gonna start seeing those results.

And then testing and prototyping and testing. As the name says, this is ideas that are not fully fleshed. We’re producing huge, you know, big productions of, you know, multi-million dollar stories immediately.

We were just saying, hey, let’s see what works. If we’re empathizing with this audience, if we tell this story, what happens? And we began with, let’s say for me in my space with engineers, one story and it became so good and so powerful that it became a six-part series because people were like, we want more.

We went from, you know, and this is a green story that lives in for devs in developers space. It lives in a place that it’s not branded. So it’s, we get like 125,000 views per year, not a lot for Microsoft.

We went from that to five million with no branding and no money behind it just because the stories worked. So they work, you know, people know and learn and share a good story. I use design thinking, you don’t have to, but create a machine that has a methodology for developing, crafting, designing and delivering stories, not just them.

So, you know, you’ve crafted this story, just what does that look like in terms of the nuts and bolts? Is that like a, just a document, a Microsoft Word document? See what I did there?

You made a great PowerPoint. But in all seriousness, so is that like a document that sits somewhere? And then how do you test that though?

Are you inviting colleagues to post that and just to kind of assess response rates? How does that sort of work?

Yeah, all of it.


Yes, Anne. You can start with that. You can start with a whiteboard with the sequence of stories and what we build the story arc.

It can be on paper. It can be a word document or not. It literally is building the story arc.

Each of these phases, step one, empathize. It’s empathizing with my audience. Who’s my audience?

What am I doing? Exposition of the story. So I’m building the story arc and then depending on who my audience is, and this is where I failed as well, I was like, oh great, reels are coming out.

Let’s do reels. Well, my audience is engineers. Engineers don’t like reels.

And engineers don’t even like me. They’re like, who are you? Why are you here?

I was like, okay, this is not working. So I had to empathize with them. And when I did that, I was like, okay, how does an engineer consume content?

How are they going to like my stories? I have a great story, but it’s not working. I can’t deliver it.

How will they consume it? And then through empathy and a lot of time and a lot of patience with interviewing them and understanding my audience, which is the engineers, I learned that they like short pointer blogs that lead to technical papers. They like to read in the like 800 word blogs.

So I turned a story into an 800 word blog and it was a ghost blog because I wrote it by another engineer and then they loved it and they ate it up. So it’s really, it’s asking yourself your question, the very basic question, how does your audience consume content? One story can be told in multiple ways and delivered and formatted in many ways and it will depend on your audience and that’s the empathy part.

100%. I think this focus on audience and storytelling is absolutely crucial. One of the approaches that I’ve found works really, really well and it’s exactly what you’re saying, I think, perhaps with different words, is that basically the mistake some people make when they think about storytelling, I find, is that they try and make themselves the hero of the story.

And ultimately that’s boring for a lot of people, right? With this idea of empathy, like you were saying, and other people can put themselves in it. What you have to do, the trick, the magic, is to make your audience the hero of the story, or at least someone like them, so that they can connect and they can immediately be like, oh, I get this, right?

So one thing, here’s another thing to throw out, you and the listeners, right? Have you, I don’t know if you utilize it. I mean, you talked about the story arc, okay?

And one of the people that did a lot of work in that space quite famously is Joseph Campbell, who wrote a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. And through his research, you’re probably very familiar with it, but just for our listeners’ point of view, through his research, he kind of discovered, he’s one of, there’s a number of them, but he’s one of the people quite famously that kind of realized that stories have this similar arc, like to all of them. And he had this kind of whole structure, which I tend to, I love, cause it’s just like-

Yeah, it’s unbelievable. Once you know this, guys, folks, you’re like, what? So like, let me show you real quick, right?

The Hero starts off in their ordinary world. There’s this call to adventure, a mentor shows up, the Hero, not really keen on the mentor, not really wanting an adventure, kind of resists, but something happens, the Hero has to leave their ordinary world, and they’re suddenly out of their comfort zone, and they’re traveling through this unknown. There’s, like you were saying, Miri, there’s like villains, and then there’s people that help them.

And ultimately, the whole story comes around a massive crisis. I don’t know, an asteroid’s hit in the earth, or a ring has to be destroyed in a mountain, or the Hunger Games have to be won, or whatever it is. It’s like unbelievably chaotic, but the Hero remembers what the mentor shared with them.

At the start, and suddenly, the Force is being able, the Hero builds their strength, they use the Force, they destroy the Death Star. We are through, and everybody’s like, yes! And we’ve all kind of, we all just, all at the center of it.

We all have a win. And then the Hero goes, gets that victory, the Hero goes back into their ordinary world, and we’ve all just breathed a massive sigh of relief. We’re like, oh my days, this has been great.

And that’s the story arc, but one thing that’s amazing is that along the way, the Hero always learns something about their character or that there’s a problem the Hero has to deal with on a personal level as well as this kind of thing. So the whole thing is just like, we just love it. Like all of us are consumed by that story arch again and again and again and again in our lives.

So why have I said all that? Well, first of all, because I think it’s really interesting, but I think it plays massively into what you were saying, right? Which is that if we understand our audience, we can understand the crisis or the challenges that they’re going to have in their story that’s coming up.

And I always like to think, well, in their story, what is the brand? And my answer to that is the brand is actually the mentor. At the start, it’s helping, giving you stuff that you don’t really realize, giving you advice, giving you thoughts, it’s going to be with you.

Oh, wow, there we are, she’s dropped the brand.

The brand is your brand. Well, I call that the Robin to Batman effect. We are the Robin, you were the psychic.

And if Robin dies, it’s okay, Batman’s still alive, he’s going to save the day. But Batman is the main character, that’s our customer. If they win, we win.

If we get them to finish line, if we enable them, if we use our superpowers to enable their superpowers, they win and then we win. And so that’s exactly what you’re saying in the hero journey. If that’s putting your customers at the heart of your brand story, is that it’s zooming out and going, is my product the hero?

Is my brand the hero? Is my solution the hero? No, the customer and what the solution is doing for the customer, we’re stepping out, we’re the sidekick over here.

And if they win with our stuff, we win as well.

Yeah, there’s a whole… I love that section in your book about Robin and Batman. That’s fantastic.

That’s exactly what we’re talking about. So I just think that that is just so exciting. And what I think is particularly exciting and is something that you said earlier, and you said it wasn’t like suddenly stories suddenly became useful, right, to us.

They’ve always been there since, you know, since the beginning of history.

The dawn of humanity.

The dawn of humanity. It’s the way our brains are wired. So cross culture, cross time.

This is how we think. So if we’re going to build meaning, build brands, you know, create things that people connect with emotionally, we need to get to grips with this, folks. And that’s why storytelling and the psychology of storytelling is amazing.

And that’s why you need to read Miri’s book.

And that’s why we’re here talking about it.

That’s why we’re here talking about it.

I love it. Anyway, sorry, Jacob, I’ve gone completely off course.

That was very, very exciting. Thank you for sharing that.

We went to the mountaintop and came back.

We’re back in the comfort zone.

Carry on, Jacob.

Before we go on to the next section, I was going to bring in Donald Miller’s Story Brand book. That’s kind of simplified that idea into a very usable framework.

But let’s take a left turn. Stories have always been there, but AI has not always been there. So I know you have been deep into AI.

How do we streamline this story building process? And use AI and other technologies?

Yeah. It has been an incredible time for me. I am so privileged to work in a company that we’re actually leading in the AI space.

We partnered and we collaborated very early. So first of all, AI itself, it’s been around a while when we’re talking about generative AI informing our stories or even telling stories for us. Generative AI, the large language models.

This is the latest technology. I’ve been testing this since January because I’ve had access to it. So I’m really privileged to play with it.

The first thing that I started to do was learn my AI, have that relationship so that it can learn me and I could learn it. I could understand its capabilities, its functionality, its limitations or not. I think that’s very important for everyone to really think about when you’re using a large language model tools such as ChatGPT, Bing chat, because it is learning from us.

That’s the first thing I have to say. There’s a responsibility and we’re calling that responsible AI that we have to have because it is informing and it’s learning from us as we go. So it is not an all one-stop shop, know it all that we draw from.

I think of it as a smart intern that comes in and helps you out like a Su’s writer. That’s very smart, very limited and you got to teach it and you got to form it. And it’s still learning.

And so when you come in with that perspective, you come in understanding that there’s a lot on you that enables that technology to make it do what you want it to do for you. What I have learned so far with integrating AI in my storytelling, a lot of people will be like, oh, now I can write the story for me. Yes, but no, it probably will not do it justice, and especially if we’re intending to be empathetic toward our audiences, it’s not going to give you a lot.

I’ve tested it, maybe 80 percent. It’s actually good-ish content. It doesn’t sound like me even though I’m training it to sound like me.

So it’s getting better. Will it get there? Possibly.

But I think the opportunity for all of us here and the way that I have learned it is in the empathy factor of learning our audiences and how we’re going to deliver the story arc. AI, it has helped me remove a bunch of things. Number one, my biases.

I come in and I write with biases because I have them. I’m a Latina, immigrant from Venezuela in the States. As much as I want to strip that off of me to write neutral global content, that’s not going to happen.

I don’t think like a CIO. So it takes me a lot of research to write a piece for a CIO and I’m trained, but I have limitations. So when I run my content through AI, it actually gives me a lot more context in the exposition part of the arc.

So the regular story arc is exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. Every story follows that approach. You may not land it that way.

You can start with the climax and say, bombastic, let’s start with the death of whatever. That’s okay. That’s your audience.

But it all follows the sequence. So in the exposition, I’ve learned that it can give me a lot more context than I didn’t have before. I’ll give you a real example.

If I’m writing content for a governor or a CIO in a state agency, which I am, today there’s live news happening at the state and local level here in the US, that these governors are not only flirting with the technology, they’re also writing regulations about it. And there’s mandates and executive orders. Now it would take me months and I would probably not be successful 100% to try to go state by state, city by city, locality, municipality, to see what was the latest order that came out last night.

What I can do right now is I can say, Hey AI, what is the latest orders that came out in the US related to AI? And it’ll list them and it’ll tell me the sources. And now I have context to say, oh, I probably need to tweak my content a little bit, the content that I wrote yesterday, and now won’t land because there’s this happening.

And that is something that we didn’t have before. And so many failed attempts to deliver content. And now with social media going so rapidly, the digital space, we have an opportunity to pause, run it by and have it really give us the context that serves the landscape to our audiences.

So now we can be extra empathetic to our audiences, which is fascinating. In the rising action, it actually can give you the pacing. It can say, hey, Miri, you’re going too fast.

Your character is moving too fast or too slow for this audience. Get to the point faster or slow down because they don’t know a whole lot about this topic. You think they do, but they don’t.

In the climax, it can actually deliver several ways to the climax point and say, you’re going here. There’s other ways that this character can actually deliver that very mountain top moment. There’s different ways.

So it gives me three or four that I hadn’t considered. At max, I’ve done two. It can give me six.

It’s given me up to six. In the following action and the conclusion, same thing. It actually has a predictive and an emotional analysis that when I ask it, is this emotion, what are the emotions or the themes in the story for this audience is going to say, hey, too emotional, Miri, you’re being too Latina.

Slow down. This is an engineer’s. They don’t care about that.

I’m like, okay, great. It’s too bombastic. Slow down.

Or no, you need more. You got to get more compelling. There’s a sense of urgency.

So it can actually give me the perspectives that I had not considered and the angles that I had not considered with additional storylines that I had not considered. One of the things that I ask everyone when they try AIs, run your content and ask the question. First of all, reverse engineering.

Say, what are the themes in this story? So write a story, whatever story, and say, ask AI, chat chibit, what are the themes? You’re going to get immediately a list of themes of what this AI is reading about your story.

And half of it, you probably didn’t intend. You’re like, oh, that’s the theme, okay. And so it really reads it back as reverse engineering, the abstract of what you meant in the story, and it enables you to really make it compelling and even more empathetic toward your audience.

You kept mentioning that you taught it, like you taught the AI. So I’d like to know what you’re feeding it. And on a more practical sense, like the framework, are you telling it to say, I use this framework, and then I’ll output some questions like what is the main character?

And then you input more information. Because I found that if you put garbage in, you get garbage out. So the more you give it, the better the results are gonna be.

So you have to set those parameters. So I’m curious to the parameters that you use and also what you’ve trained the model on or the GPT on.

So I’ll use ChatGPT because this is an open source and most people can use it. Right now I’m also using Bing Chat, but a lot of people don’t have access to that yet. And it’s a lot more involved and there’s a lot more technology behind it, which is even cooler.

But in ChatGPT, because everybody can access and most people can access it right now. The first thing I’ve done is I have kept the chat by itself going. So new chat, new chat, new chat.

And the reason I’ve done that is because I’ve asked the same question at different times about the same content to see what it gives me and to see its evolution. So I want to keep track of that, by the way. So keep track of your chat.

Don’t delete it or don’t run one long chat. Just start asking. Every time you chat with it, create a new chat is what I’m saying.

I’ve taught it who I am, right? This is what I do. This is my LinkedIn profile.

This is who’s feeding you. This is who you’re talking to, right? It gets to know me.

Hey, Miri. Nice to meet you. I actually gave it a name.

Its name is Remy, which is Miri backwards. Now we’re friends. Now I’ve told it how, when, basically, my voice.

Here’s my tone, here’s my voice, and I typically will create, I’ll start with whatever content. I’m like, hey, turn this paragraph into a story with this character. I give it a context.

It’s going to give me about 80 percent of a story that is not mine. It’s going to give me whatever it’s going to give me. Then I take it and I give it the different angles.

It’s not for me to write it, but I want to see how it’s thinking. I said, for example, okay, turn the story, simplify it for a five-year-old. Make it more compelling for a CIO or a CEO level, a CIO in Brazil.

Now I start adding intersectionality to the story to understand what it’s changing and why. Make the story relevant for the Japanese culture, and it starts to actually feed me information about what I need to consider when I say a word that it’s not honorable, or why it’s not honorable, or I can’t be too American and coming in so strong. I got to bring my story back.

The way that I’ve trained it is, here’s what I do, here’s my job, and you’re helping me give me the different contexts that I need to deliver for specific audiences. Then I take that, I write my own content with that. It’s almost like research, and then I take that research, I write my own content, I run it back to it, and I say, okay, this story that I wrote, what are the themes of the story?

What do you get out of the story? What is the emotion the story is giving you? If you were a CIO in Brazil, what are your key takeaways?

Now it’s like I’m testing my audience without testing my audience. I’m using it as my audience. I’m using it as the test part of how I would read it.

It’s giving me immediate feedback and I’m like, okay, I didn’t consider that one thing. Now I need to consider it. I start to train it that way and I’ve seen more answers.

I’ve seen more themes. In the same context, it used to give me maybe two or three. Now it gives me up to six and seven.

It’s learned me enough to say, okay, she really needs a lot more here of context in this specific area, in the climates or whatever the story arc piece is.

More questions, are these defined in your ChatGPT settings, or are you doing this on a chat basis?

I’m doing it chat by chat and I do thumbs up. There’s a feedback you can give it, so I do give it feedback. I take time to be like, nope, that wasn’t exactly what I needed or I need a little bit more.

Can you next time? It’s learning, right? I am taking time to teach it.

In the way that I do the chat, I have created my own prompts. I plug in my prompts and I know what I’m going to prompt it with, so they can give me what I need back.

That’s what I was getting at because each chat doesn’t remember. You have to each one you start, so you have to a prompt at each time.

It’s a new chat with a prompt and it’s a new chat with another prompt, but I’ve created the prompts to, they’re so much fun because one of them could be like, tell me the story in emojis only. Why do I do that? Because once I’ve removed words, I can see visually what I was trying to say and I’m like, oh, this is not landing how I really intended it.

Because words can be a lot of things, but once I take that and I make it visual, once I take it to Dali and I’m like, turn this into a Picasso painting, turn this story into a Picasso painting. I’m like, holy crap, that’s really not what I thought it would be. I just use it for an immediate feedback on, is this landing the way that I thought it might specifically to the audience that I want to deliver this to?

What’s the emoji for empowerment?

Oh, there’s so many. There’s usually a little hero emoji with a little mask. There’s a crown.

Sometimes it gives me a queen crown because I notice I use a lot of queen. So there’s so many things to empower. There’s usually the empower, the social empowerment.

So it depends on the context. It does read the context, so it is going to give me different things.

Amazing. Is there anything else you want to share on AI before we move into the next?

Again, I’ll say this. I’ve learned in being in the technology industry for so long, that technology doesn’t make us bad or good, it makes us more of who we are. So yes, people are going to leverage this opportunity to do harm because they’re evil and that’s what they’re going to do.

But folks that really want to enable this for the better, to deliver great content, to enable more things, to remove the biases, to bring equality, whatever that mission is that we have, to land a good message. And we can’t shy away from it, we can’t be scared of it. It is our responsibility to own it and to teach it the right ways with ethics around it and responsibility so that it can learn and that it can learn from us.

So there’s hackers hacking and there’s us on the other end doing hopefully good work. So anybody listening, just get started, just play with it, just get to know it, have fun with it, ask it, all kinds of questions that you’ll be surprised about the relationship you can build with it. It’s really fascinating to me.

And again, if you think of it as a smart intern, you’ll have fun with it and you’ll be able to really enable it for what you need.

What is the best prompt that you can think of right now on the spot to interrogate a story, to see if it will be successful or not?

Okay, the best prompt that I’ve used is to actually turn the story into a poem. And the reason for that is there’s a lot that is involved in strategy of poem in terms of how to create the consonants that make sense, that rhyme, and that actually creatively deliver art, right? So to an audience that enjoys that.

So when I take something that is technical, because typically it’s like technical content, deeply technical, and I can turn it into a poem, it gives me the angle that I’m like, okay, I delivered something that’s going to resonate technically, but it’s going to resonate. So that’s a fun one to watch.

Love it.

Love that.

That’s so cool. You can tell by the amount I’ve said on this bit about AI, like, or Jacob’s space, the mind, but I’m sort of a laggard when it comes to, is that the right word?

I’m using AI all the time. Chat GDP is just unbelievable, what it actually brings to the table. I think you’re right.

It’s like an assistant. From what you say, Jacob, I think the more that you put in, the more you train it, the better that you get out. So do you go in at the start?

Sorry, just one other question. Do you go in at the start and do you tell it to think like a master storyteller?

I do.

Who understands the principles of Joseph Campbell’s work or anything like that? How do you set it up?

I do. Funny enough, I create all kinds of angles. I’m the CEO of PepsiCo and I want to tell this story.

I am this, I’m a frog. I’m like so many different things. It’s the same story being told from that perspective and it’s so amazing to really think how it just turns the content and translates it to that angle that I don’t have the brain.

Really, it gives me so many different ways to tell a story that I hadn’t considered. One of the things for me, I’m also writing a novel, currently writing a novel, and there’s an eight-year-old character, which I thought I had in my mind. I was like, oh, I got this.

Then I got deeper with AI and I was like, how does an eight-year-old think about love? I forgot. I’ve been eight years old before, but I didn’t realize that.

What does love mean to an eight-year-old? As much as I want to, in my 40-something year old brain, I’m no longer thinking about that the same way. It really brings it down to the semantics and just the tactical points of the brain of something and the angle of how I’m going to deliver that to that audience, which is fascinating.

That angle is really important. Matt, you said you’re a laggard. I’d say I’m the very early adopter.

I just created a brand bot, a chat GBT or a GBT of my own. I set the parameters to act as a brand in design and marketing expert. And with those instructions and some other variables, it just created this bot.

And now you can just click a button and access that own GBT.

I noticed that, Jacob. I tried to access it, and it was like your version of chat GBT.

You need plus. At the moment, you need plus.

It’s coming or something. And I was like, flipping Jacob. He’s there again, right on the razor’s edge.

There’s me blundering behind. Old man laggard. Here I come.

I’ve got to wait. Whenever I was like, off he goes. The flamingo flying high again.

It’s six o’clock my time, so when you say laggard, I can’t help but think of a beer. That’s all that my brain is like. Flamingos and beer.

It’s been my time, so I’ve already had my beer. I’m on my fifth, but no, I’m kidding. No, brilliant.

Absolutely brilliant. I think the more that we use AI and Jacob, that’s a genius idea of yours to create that bot. I think that’s great.

Maybe you could create one, Miri, on storytelling. You could create one that other people could start teaching it as well.

Yeah, I love that. I also should say around that, I think there’s beyond the bots, and I love the bots, guidelines should be created policy. When we think of marketing, for example, there are guidelines.

There’s marketing associations that kind of talk about the ethics of that transaction. Storytelling is such a powerful emotional tool. We really can move hearts and minds with it.

And now with AI, I mean, it’s supercharged. There was a colleague of mine who actually did a test. He’s the head of comms and it’s a tech company.

It’s a partner at Microsoft, and he did a survey, and he actually got 15,000 responses, which is incredible. I’ve never heard of that. Anyways, he had AI-only content that he created.

He had human-only content and a human plus AI. And 100% without fail, everybody chose the AI plus human content creation, and it was fascinating. And I say that because the question always will be, well, will it replace us?

Will it replace me eventually if it’s able to learn you so much that, you know, eventually? And no, the reason I say that is because it will never know the relationship I have with my customers. It will never know the depth of conversation that I get in a one-on-one interview with my engineers.

And I bring that to the table. I get to mine it for that, and then I get to embed that into my empathy, my human side and my, you know, the insight. I’m saying AI can turn data into information, but we are the ones that are going to turn information into insight, that sentient thing, that is our lived experience, that is our relationships, you know, at the very core human level.

And so, no, I don’t think it will do that. Don’t quote me on that. I don’t know where it’s going to go.

Machines are here. But I think that opportunity is to lord over the machines, not let the machines take over. And the way that we do that is by applying those ethical boundaries, those responsible boundaries, and to learn it so that we understand it, instead of letting it kind of lord over us.

I’m glad you’ve cleared that up, Miri, because for a while now, I have been worried that Jacob is not actually real. Thank goodness for that. He’s actually a real person, folks.

He is not.

Miri, it reminds me of this post I saw that says, AI took my job in big capital letters, and then underneath it says, to the next level. It was a game by five hours. Brilliant.

Very good.

So there’s so many questions that I didn’t get to, but we are getting to the time. So I’ll leave these questions up to you, like what to answer. So we have case studies, or we have practical advice or mistakes to avoid.

What would you like to go with?

I think we touched on practical advice a little bit when I was saying the ethical and the pieces on how to leverage AI. So the question about case study is, do I have any examples of powerful storytelling? There’s many, but I’m actually going to share one that I think many people have seen, and because they’ve seen it, I think it’s relevant to the conversation.

I hope you’ve seen it. It’s Apple’s video on their sustainability report that they launched a few months ago, a few weeks ago. So every today, and this really alludes to the social stance and the stance of a human entity of the brand, the humanity of the brand, there’s demand from the consumer side for the brand to show up as human, to have core values, social responsibility, to talk about what those are.

It’s not just a product as good as it is. The brand has to show up with all these core values and talk about what they are and how they are impacting the world and the environment. And so there’s that pressure that the brands have.

And Apple was very creative recently to actually do a video in a storytelling form where Mother Nature showed up to the boardroom and they were reporting on their latest sustainability practices in the last year. And so she’s kind of grilling them on things that they needed to have done and be doing. And I found it incredibly powerful from a storytelling perspective because personifying Mother Nature does exactly what we’ve been talking about, Matt and Jacob, around the character.

We can all be Mother Nature because we’re all part of nature. So we all understand her. We’re like, man, if she’s hurting, we’re hurting.

She’s Mother Earth. We live on Mother Earth. So we, as you watch this video unfold, you’re nodding and you’re going, yeah, I get it.

Yeah, okay, that’s me. Okay, I’m impacted. I’m there and I have nothing to do with this whole thing.

I am emotionally vested in three seconds in because I’m like, I get this. So the impact is not, here’s what we’re doing and we’re so awesome and by 2023 and by 2035, we’re going to be carbon neutral. Who cares?

What is the impact and what is happening right now and why is that important to the world? And by the way, you and I are part of the world and we are part of nature and we are in nature. And so they did a really beautiful job in personifying and bringing us in, inviting us into the story.

They’re very active characters where we feel immediately connected to what is happening and why that’s important. And you walk out going, you’re brilliant. I mean, this is exactly what any story should do.

I had no idea I was going to come into, it’s actually Apple, you know? So I’m like, I don’t know. And I loved it.

So any story like that, that can actually magically invite you in by the hand and go, this matters to you. And this is why, from the beginning, it wins.

Love it. That’s a great one to end on. So before we wrap up, can you please let us know any key takeaways you want to share and where people can find you and connect with you.

Not where they can find you, let’s say connect.

Well, you can find me. I’m just kidding. No, online, you can find me online for sure.

mirirod.com, that’s mirirod.com. And you shoot me an email. Let me know what you’re thinking, thoughts, questions.

We’re going to get to all of them today. I do endeavor to respond personally. It’ll take me a few, maybe a few days, but I will, I promise.

It’s something I pride myself on. I do want to connect with people one-on-one and especially answer questions. LinkedIn, of course, Miri Rodriguez, and my social avatar is at, my handle is at mirirod.

Any of those places, Instagram, you can find me as well. Advice is get started. Don’t be afraid to try tools and to tell stories.

We all started somewhere. We’re not master storytellers, but we do have the cognitive ability. You ask a child today, how was school?

He or she or they are going to tell you a story. They’re not going to say unless they say good or bad.

That’s because that’s how we communicate. That’s our innate ability to do so. So bring that to the table.

It’s not that hard, but there’s strategy behind it. So don’t just tell stories, design them for impact with intention, with empathy and with curiosity. Create the space for curiosity as well.

Miri, it’s been absolutely fantastic having you on. You’re such a bundle of energy. You’ve dropped so much value.

We really appreciate it. Folks, buy this book. It’s called Brand Storytelling.

We’re all sharing on screen right now. It’s in the second edition by Miri. It goes through all of the things that we’ve touched on in the podcast and loads more that we haven’t even had a chance to get through to.

So please do do that. And Miri, thanks so much. We really appreciate it.

To all the folks at home, thanks for listening in. Please like JUST Branding. We don’t often mention this, but if you found some value in this episode, please drop us a review.

We’d really appreciate it. Five stars if you’re wondering how many stars to give. That’s what you’ve got to do.

We really appreciate it. And it’s been an absolute honor. Take care of yourself, Miri.

Keep in touch. Thank you.

Thanks for having me.

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