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How a Microsoft Storyteller Champions the Voice of the Influencer to Build Trust

Feb 9, 2017

The evolving digital landscape makes it nearly impossible for a brand to be heard by its target audience. The constant influx of noisy content coupled with ad-blocking technology means our customers have every way to tune us out.

What’s a marketer to do? How can you flip this opportunity and truly speak the language of your customer? You must tap into a trusted source that is already being heard by your audience.

Influencers are your customers’ one true source of trust. In order to help you tap into that trust, I reached out to an industry expert for an interview. The following covers my lively conversation with Aileen McGraw, Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft HoloLens, centered on customer-centricity and influence. As a marketing professional, Aileen truly walks the walk, making her a prime example of how to approach influencer relations. Take a peek.

TB: Describe your role: What do you do for Microsoft?

AM: As a product-marketing manager, I’m responsible for grassroots storytelling at Microsoft HoloLens, the first self-contained, holographic computer that enables users to engage with digital content and interact with holograms in the world around them. My objective is to find incredible mixed reality experiences and then amplify them.

TB: What are some of the greatest challenges in your role?

AM: I love and am always challenged by the fact that HoloLens surprises me every day, as does Microsoft. I love telling stories for an industry that’s in the midst of defining its vocabulary, but as a storyteller, that means the unknown can overwhelm. That’s because it’s so hard to keep things simple when I’m so excited about the “try it to believe it” things that technology like HoloLens unlocks. It’s great to be at the forefront of mixed, augmented, and virtual reality, but it also is changing in real time.

TB: How can working with influencers help you to overcome those challenges? Or, can it?

AM: I love using social data to inform my strategy, my writing, and my storytelling. But it’s never going to be a linear process.

To overcome these challenges, influencers can help. Not only do they know what a community or audience is talking about, but they also know what drives the leaders’ conversations. 

For HoloLens, influencers help me move beyond topics like coding language. I can really hone in on the unknown and understand what a community or audience cares about. That can both narrow and expand the way I’m thinking about how I share a brand, a product, or even how I’m sharing my own thoughts. 

TB: How can brands build authentic, meaningful, and enduring influencer relationships?

AM: Build influencer relationships with a goal in mind; make it contagious and set expectations. One of the expectations should be risk taking and creative freedom…because when a brand and an influencer grow together, that product power can spread like wildfire--because it’s believable. 

Share why the relationship is important for both of your brands. What aspects of your brand and this influencer inspires you or challenges you? With influencers, we both have something at stake and something we will win with the relationship. Your brand, story, and relationship should grow from your marketing.

TB: Why is it important for brands to champion the voice of the influencer?

AM: Championing the voice of the influencer does a lot of things: it makes the message authentic, believable, and about compassion and respect, which creates that trust. When we are giving creative freedom to influencers, we respect them and their identities, which is really powerful. We approach it like a new friendship and a few things become obvious and important. The love has got to be mutual. You can’t say, “Love my brand and talk about it this way.” The obsession needs to feel natural or obvious.

Your brand should have a story that’s so compelling that people want to put their own spin on it. And then your marketing isn’t a mere regurgitation. Even though it’s one person, the story resonates with many. That’s a unique trust that doesn’t necessarily come from a brand.

TB: How can brands inspire people to feel like they are part of the story?

Small businesses are really unique because they often have owners who can champion their social channels, such as Molly Moon Neitzel of Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream in Seattle. But for bigger brands that want to have the same empowering trust as small businesses, that is when it takes reaching out to real people. 

User-Generated Content (UGC) is a really great way to see the successes and stresses of community content creation. I think brands can also build power together when reaching out to an influencer and asking them, “What story do you want to tell and how can we help you tell it?”

TB: What are some new ideas you’re looking to implement moving forward?

AM: I love using influencer relations to inform the way I approach the feel, the energy, and the narrative of my work. It’s a huge social research tool for vocabulary. I want to continue doing that.

I want to help myself and others break way from any expectations that this should be an automated process. You can provide anyone with amazingly powerful technology, tracking, data, and tools, but it is not automatic and you still need to be a living, breathing human. 

TB: How can marketers drive digital transformation within their organization?

AM: Digital transformation needs to become a process that’s contagious, both inside and outside the brand. It’s important to be inspired and then take action on this blur between the physical and digital. Even though AI and machine learning can terrify and inspire, people will always be part of the equation. It’s never going to be just a person or just a technology. With digital transformation, we can record, remember, learn, and iterate. We can build better, stronger relationships by harnessing data that helps us to personalize and scale. That means taking on risks and celebrating the freedom that comes with collaboration.

If I’m breaking down silos, I always try to place my product and myself in that new digital fusion. And as you’re creating, you need to define what’s next. That’s the heart of digital transformation.

To learn more about Aileen McGraw, make sure to connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

It's always a pleasure learning how marketing professionals approach influencer relations. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. Stay tuned for upcoming practitioner interviews and make sure to subscribe for content updates.