Storytelling, Michael Brito likes to say, is engrained in our DNA. Humans have always told stories, passing them down from generation to generation. But telling stories well? That’s not easy.
“The word storytelling gets thrown around a lot, but I don’t think people understand how to create narratives,” Brito said. “We all gravitate toward stories. The challenge in business is to create ones that resonate.”
Brito, a leading digital strategist, explained how organizations can empower employees to become brand storytellers as a featured speaker at the inaugural Summit by Dynamic Signal. While he is an evangelist for storytelling in business, Brito also has a great story of his own to tell. Like all good tales, it’s filled with unexpected plot twists and turns. Such as . . .
Joining the Marines out of high school. Preparing for a career in law enforcement. Having an epiphany while – of all things – attending a bridal show.
“It is kind of funny how you find your way,” said Brito, an Executive Vice President at the Zeno Group. “But what I learned over time is that I understand the Intranet, audiences, and how to get the right content to people when it matters. I don’t know exactly how you define that. But I have a knack for helping organizations connect with internal and external audiences in ways that drive action.”
“The Marines taught me to be accountable for my decisions, to work hard, and be self-motivated,” he said. “Nobody likes hiking 20 miles in a full pack or running 15 miles on the beach. But the military teaches you to accomplish things you might not want to do or even think you can do.”
His transition back to civilian life included college classes with the goal of becoming a police officer. But he found a path to his true calling in an unlikely place.
He and future wife Kathy were attending a bridal convention when Brito struck up a conversation with a vendor selling gowns. Brito was stunned at the cost of dresses – as well as the mammoth size of the wedding industry. He saw an opportunity. His brainstorm, in those early days of the Internet, was to create a digital directory that publicized wedding merchants like photographers, caterers, florists, and so on.
“I had a lot of fun building my own small business,” Brito said. “For me, it was easy, and I was good at it. I’ve never thought of marketing as a job, but rather something that I like to do. When you have a passion for something, it doesn’t feel like a grind going to work every day. It’s not a chore. It’s always been that way for me.”
A career was born.
Over the past two decades, a man who says he can never sit still for very long has been a marketing dynamo. Brito has written three books, spoken at TedX, become an adjunct professor at two Bay Area universities, and held executive roles that include Senior Vice President of Social Strategy at Edelman, where he consulted for Fortune 500 companies.
One of his specialties is teaching organizations how to mobilize their employees as powerful brand ambassadors.
“There are not many marketers who could consider themselves experts in the field of Employee Advocacy,” said Russ Fradin, the CEO of Dynamic Signal. “Michael definitely is the exception. He was an early believer because he saw that a successful program could create authentic, personal connections with consumers. What makes Michael different is he answers the ‘how’ questions for marketers.”
The reason why Brito is so passionate about amplifying brand messages through the voices of employees on social media comes down to one word – trust. He notes that there’s less faith than ever before in institutions. But people do trust other people they know. That authenticity is priceless at a time when the general public is growing more cynical, he added.
Just like all those years ago at the bridal event, Brito recognizes an opportunity. He explained that using internal communication to help build strong culture results in happier employees, increased productivity, and a higher likelihood that the workforce will eagerly share the brand’s story.
“Your employees already are storytellers,” Brito added. “Organizations need to help them create a narrative. It’s also about developing a strategy that gets that content in front of the right people.”
But it all begins with a great story.
Executive Vice President at Zeno Group
Summit Speaking Topic: Unleashing Employees to Become Brand Storytellers
Family: Wife Kathy; daughters Milan (17) and Savannah (13)
Home: Santa Clara, CA
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Business from Saint Mary’s College of California and a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Golden Gate University
Career: Served eight years in the Marine Corps (four years of active duty); business roles include senior social marketing positions at W2O Group and Edelman Digital
Fun Fact: Author of three books, including the recently published “Participation Marketing: Unleashing Employees to Participate and Become Brand Storytellers”
Interests: Spending time with family, avid fan of San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Lakers
Favorite Books: “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell and “Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Favorite Movie: “Man on Fire” with Denzel Washington
Best Advice He Received: “My mom always reminded me to be grounded in reality. Don’t have unrealistic expectations. When you have realistic expectations about outcomes, you’re more likely to be happy.”
Learn More: Listen to his appearance on the Military Entrepreneur Show podcast
Follow: @Britopian on Twitter
Five Questions with Michael
What is the most significant communication challenge facing organizations today?
“The biggest challenge is culture. Leadership needs to build trust and transparency internally. It means thinking about larger societal issues outside of your business and getting involved in that larger discussion. That all comes back to the distribution of communication and how you get the workforce aligned around that message. But for all of that to work, you first need that strong culture that enables you to build a story that your employees can embrace.”
If you could share one piece of advice with communicators, what would it be?
“When I talk to marketers, I always ask: ‘How do you get content in front of your audience? How are you going to distribute it?’ You have to think about more than just coming up with a great story. Yes, the most important part is what you’re saying. But you need to make sure people have the chance to engage with that message.”
Where do you see Employee Communication and Engagement heading in the future?
“I see it becoming two-way engagement. There’s always been a top-down communication style at organizations. But that’s changing with the gig economy and the Millennial generation becoming more dominant in the workplace. Employees expect more. Communication is going to become a dialogue. There are places where that’s happening today, but you certainly don’t see that throughout business yet. The idea of communication at most companies is still: ‘Here’s a message from the CEO to employees.’ In the future, that’s going to become more two-way because people expect a dialogue.”
Why is it critical for communicators to be gathering now?
“It helps all of us to talk through some of the challenges that we’re going through and listen to the solutions that people are finding. When your company is struggling with a particular problem, it’s good to hear how your peers are overcoming the same thing. It gives you a different perspective. That way, all of us can walk away with actionable steps to address the challenge we’re going through.”
Why are you most excited to be attending the Summit?
“I don’t mean to drink the Kool-Aid, but I’ve been a huge fan of Dynamic Signal for years. Being surrounded by your customers and people interested in your platform makes me very excited. I’m also eager to share my perspective on this space. When I speak, I don’t talk about theory. People can take action from our discussion. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”