87 - Ana Maria Henao, Microsoft

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This is a podcast episode titled, 87 - Ana Maria Henao, Microsoft. The summary for this episode is: <p>In Ep. 87 of Earned,<strong> </strong>Conor sits down with Ana Maria Henao, the CMO and general manager of US Consumer Channel and Partnership Marketing at Microsoft. We start the show by diving into Ana Maria’s recent transition from 25 years in the CPG sector—with much of her career spent at Procter &amp; Gamble and PepsiCo—into the tech industry, and how the recent AI boom has shaped her experience thus far. We then discuss Ana Maria’s leadership style, and break down the “Three C’s” that she applies every single day. Next, we explore how Microsoft works to cultivate brand love and community, balancing functional efficacy and emotional connection to its products. We then dive into Microsoft’s approach to influencer marketing, and Ana Maria emphasizes the importance of embracing creator content. To close the show, Ana Maria shares her process for self-reflection and active meditation.</p><p><br></p><p>In this episode, you will learn:</p><p><br></p><ol><li>The "Three C’s" that guide Ana Maria's leadership style</li><li>How Microsoft works to cultivate brand love by balancing functional efficacy and emotional connection to its products</li><li>Why brands should embrace creator content in their marketing channels </li></ol><p><br></p><p><strong>Resources:</strong></p><ul><li><a href="https://www.microsoft.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Microsoft</a></li></ul><p><br></p><p><strong>Connect with the Guest(s):</strong></p><ul><li><a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/ana-maria-henao/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Ana Maria Henao's LinkedIn</a></li></ul><p><br></p><p><strong>Connect with Conor Begley &amp; CreatorIQ:</strong></p><ul><li>Conor’s LinkedIn -<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/conormbegley/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @conormbegley</a></li><li>CreatorIQ LinkedIn -<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/company/creatoriq/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @creatoriq</a></li></ul><p><br></p><p><strong>Follow us on social:</strong></p><ul><li>CreatorIQ YouTube -<a href="https://www.youtube.com/@TribeDynamics" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @TribeDynamics</a></li><li>CreatorIQ Instagram -<a href="https://www.instagram.com/creatoriq/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @creatoriq</a></li><li>CreatorIQ TikTok -<a href="https://www.tiktok.com/@creator.iq" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @creator.iq</a></li><li>CreatorIQ Twitter -<a href="https://twitter.com/CreatorIQ" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @CreatorIQ</a></li></ul>

Anna Maria: Either we like it or not, consumers are going to talk about our brands. And that's where you have to understand that it's not your sharing custody. You have lost a lot of control of the content that is happening out there. So I think the best way for you to do that is one, to recognize that, two, to celebrate the fact that there are millions of consumers that are willing to talk about your brand. And I think the moment you embrace it, then you start creating value for the brand. I think the moment you try to control or you try to ignore, then it's when you get in trouble.

Conor Begley: Not only is Ana Maria a badass, she was the global VP of marketing at Pepsi and now the CMO of consumer in the US at Microsoft, she's also just a super kindhearted individual. I think you're really going to enjoy the show today. If you do be a friend, tell a friend. Thanks guys.

Speaker 3: Explore the minds and marketing strategies behind today's winning brands and businesses. Tap into the power of the Creator economy with Earned by CreatorIQ. Here's Conor Begley.

Conor Begley: Hi everyone. Welcome to Earned, today I've got Ana Maria Henao on the show. Welcome to the show, Ana Maria.

Anna Maria: Hi Conor. Thank you for having me. Excited to be here today.

Conor Begley: I know I'm so glad that Igor thought to connect us and I have way more questions than we'll be able to actually address today, but we're going to do our best to fit it all in.

Anna Maria: I'm very happy to be here and let's see how much we can get today, Don.

Conor Begley: Perfect. I really wanted to start out with something I'm fascinated about because as I looked at your background, I realized that you got dropped right into the middle of one of the biggest technology revolutions of the last 20 or 30 years, which is artificial intelligence. So ChatGPT got released just a month or two afterwards. Obviously Microsoft denounced partnerships with Bing that integrated AI, which completely changed the product, again within a couple of months of you coming in. So I'd love to know what that period was like knowing that you oversee Bing and just what it's looking like moving forward.

Anna Maria: Well, definitely has been a very interesting six months to say the least. As you said, right after I joined Microsoft, it was the announcement of AI, it was the release of ChatGPT as a consumer facing product. And then ever since the integration of more AI features into all of our products, it feels like it's a pivotal point for the company. And I will say in general for technology, because the use of AI, I think right now we're just scratching the surface of everything that AI is going to be able to do for us in our personal lives as well as in our professional lives as we seek to be more productive every day. So learning a lot, there is part of the Microsoft culture we use a lot of something called growth mindset. So certainly that growth mindset has been practiced every single day for the last six months in an accelerated way to keep up with the change. But what we see is a future where AI is going to play a very significant role in the way how we use our products. So we're definitely very excited for what the future is going to hold for the company as we leverage more and more the use of AI.

Conor Begley: What was that period like? Because I have to imagine they kept a lot of those partnerships fairly under wraps, so I'm sure they're like, Hey, we're announcing this, this week, please put together an initiative. Is that just like every week there's something new coming your way?

Anna Maria: Yes, and I would say probably one of the biggest differences was with CPG. I spent 25 years of my career in CPG companies and the initiatives, big initiatives, transformative initiatives, you have months if not years to get ready for it and you know beforehand that they're coming and you prepare everything, you're align the partners internal and external and everything is catering towards that moment when finally the initiative is taking place. In the case of AI, we are learning as we go, literally drinking from the fire hose, understanding what we can do, how we can do it, how to communicate, how to improve the experience for the end users. So it has been very different for me to see how such a big and important initiative has been cascade and we have reacted to it is very nimble, extremely agile, and one where we just, I would say progress versus perfection probably will be the best way to define it.

Conor Begley: I bet. I mean it was so interesting, especially during that first several months to see how rapidly things happened within these trillion- dollar companies. This is not something, even technology yes, it moves quickly, but it doesn't tend to move that fast. I would've loved to be a fly on the wall. I think it would've been really fun.

Anna Maria: Yeah, definitely. I would say 10 years from today, a good conversation starter will be this experience that I've been going through for the last six months and along with all the other employees of the company, my peers, we have been all going through this together.

Conor Begley: You've been very successful on the CPG side, right? At Pepsi at P& G before that. Oh, Saab Miller as well. What made you decide after 25 years in CPG to switch industries to go to something that's totally, obviously it is still consumer facing, but technology's very different. What made you decide to do that?

Anna Maria: I would say probably three things. The first thing was getting out of my comfort zone. I have been in CPG or I was in CPG for 25 years with fantastic companies, amazing love brands. But at some point you start to think what will it look like to work for something totally different? So I would say pushing myself to be out of the comfort zone probably was one of the reasons why I started the conversation at Microsoft. When they reach out to me and said, oh, this is interesting, it's different. Then the more I had the opportunity to get to know the company, I would say there are two things I was very impressed by was one, the talent, the people that I had the opportunity to interact with through the interviewing process, the caliber of the talent and the quality of the people was for me very, very important because I am very particular on the way how for me, values are very important. So I was able to see how that was coming through the people I had the opportunity to interact with through the interviewing process. And I'm very happy to see what I see now that I'm inside. And I would say last but not least, the purpose of the company. I have worked for, previously for three companies that were extremely committed to the purpose of making the world a better place and using the platforms for that. And what I see at Microsoft is a true commitment as well to empower people to be the best they can be every day. So the purpose was certainly probably like the bow, the wrap, the gift that made me decide this is a great opportunity and I went for it.

Conor Begley: What's really interesting about it as well is like you said, Microsoft reached out to you, which I'm surprised they too had want to cross vertical boundaries, right? Go into totally new categories and bring people in. It's pretty fascinating. You'd mentioned values there. One of the discussions that I thought was really fascinating was your discussion around curiosity, compassion, and courage on the P& G alumni podcast.

Anna Maria: Yes.

Conor Begley: Can you describe that philosophy for people? I thought you, I'm not going to do a good job of summarizing it. I think you did a much better job.

Anna Maria: Yes. So it's probably the journey that I have been on through all these years in my career. About five years ago I start to reflecting, they always ask you this question about leadership, what leadership means to you and how you been able to successfully be a leader. And then I start reflecting on what does it really mean? What I have learned in the last years as I've been through my professional journey and then I landed on this concept of the three Cs. So the first, I would say for you to be a successful leader today and for the future, there are three concepts that I try to actually apply every single day. So the first C is compassion, and compassion is all about empathy, but the definition of compassion is empathy plus action. And I like the definition a lot because it's not only about understanding the other side, either be the consumer, the customer, a coworker, someone that works for you, it's not just understanding but it's what you do with that understanding how you turn that understanding into action. So I love that concept because what I have seen is you need to understand, you need to have lots of empathy. But for example, if we talk about consumers and you understand the consumer very well, you know what they want, you know what they need. But then if your decisions are not made on that understanding, but what is convenient for the company, then empathy becomes useless. So that's why I like compassion a lot because it is understanding it's lots of empathy, but it's turning that empathy into action and it's championing that understanding and being honest and truth to that understanding so that your actions are honoring those things that you have learned. So the first one is, as I said, compassion. The second one is curiosity. I will say for me the brain is a muscle that you have to keep on training every day. So it's the conviction really that you're never a finished product. And what you see here, particularly what I have lived in the last 25 years, if I wouldn't have been curious, I wouldn't have been able to make it to where I am right now. And I don't think I will be able to make it to the next five years or even the next six months. Because if you think about AI, the fact that I joined the company and the AI revolution hit two months after, you have to stay curious. You have to keep this open mind, you have to become lifelong learner to really be successful because if you believe that you're an end product that you have learned it all, then you become very quickly obsolete. So I will say curiosity is very important and is about exercising your brain every single day. I have two teenagers, I have to be curious every day to keep up with them, to understand how they interact with friends, how they see the world. And then I need to keep informing myself so that I can have a good relationship with them. And the same is true in the workplace because we need to be curious. We're in constant evolution. Nothing is really constant in the world anymore. So we need to be curious and to remain curious all the time. And then the last C is about courage. And the definition of courage that I use is that courage is not the absence of fear, but it's more the conviction that action is more important. Every single time that you're making a decision, you need to be courageous to lean in and to say, okay, I'm going to do something here. And what I have seen is that sometimes in the absence of courage, if you are waiting for the 99.9% certainty of what is going to happen, of all the information that is available, then you study in a lethargic mode that what's happening is opportunities are just going by. So you need to be informed. So you need to be intelligent as to when to lean in, but at certain point you just need to lean in and face the consequences of your actions. And if it doesn't work, say okay, at least I'm learning because fear is always going to be there. You will never get to a stage where you're like, I'm a hundred percent certain that the results are going to be a hundred percent what I'm expecting. There is always risk. So for me, courage is important is to know when to pivot, is to know when to say, I know enough, there is risk, but this is sufficient. And then I will lean in and I will just assume the consequences of whatever happens. And I think as far as those consequences, you take it with a growth mindset so that it's constructive and if you fail, at least you're learning. There's always again and way more than if you just stay in pause and do nothing.

Conor Begley: One of the areas that I've found really challenging is how you encourage that kind of down the chain. And I'd be curious how you do that. This ability to be like failure is okay, right? It's okay to make decisions without perfect certainty and if it doesn't go, all right, that's okay. How do you think about creating that culture internally of accepting failure, moving fast, operating with impartial information at times? Obviously that's something you guys are having to do right now, day to day on the AI front, how do you instill that within the organization?

Anna Maria: It depends on the impact of what you're doing. Certain things you can lean in and the risk is not very high. So you just lean in and you learn. But on big things, what I have done in the past, and it has always worked, is I'm not trying to attack the full immune system. I'm not a true believer of big bangs and changes that are revolutionary. And because it's too big, there is too much in the immune system that is going to attack the change and then you will end up just trying to justify or explain or try to bring too many others with you. The way how I have seen change work best for me, at least in my experience, it has been starting small and grow fast. So I think if you just identify a use case where you feel there is a high chance of success and you do that well, even if you fail the learnings on that small cell, they say that test tube are so powerful that then you can start growing like a virus. And that is my approach to change, is just take a small piece where you really believe you're going to be successful, do it very well, and then prove your concept. And with that concept proof, then you will start seeing that actually there is demand for change because everyone wants to be part of a winning team. So the moment that you're successful, even if it's in a small environment, people will start looking and saying, oh, I want some of that. You're coming through you, so you don't have to find the new system. The immune system is coming and saying, I want to join this party. So for me, the approach that has worked best, I would say it has been this approach of a virus. Start small and then spread fast.

Conor Begley: I think I need to learn from you. I think my approach unfortunately has been the big bang, which is like, let's do it. And then I, knowing that I'm going to face significant backlash, right?

Anna Maria: Yeah.

Conor Begley: I think I need to adopt that approach. How do you get people excited about it and get it so that it's a pull, not a push, you're not pushing it on people but they're pulling it out of you. You're just getting started. But are there any areas within Microsoft, within divisions that you focus on that you're excited about? You're starting to see some change really take place. Because obviously you come in, right? You're going to have your own like, hey, oh, I love this, I love this, I love this, but this area can get better. What are some of those areas where you feel like you guys can get better?

Anna Maria: What I'm really excited about is, well AI certainly the revolution of our products and what's ahead is a huge chapter of what... It's very exciting at the moment. But I will say the other one is our CMO, Chris Caposella. He has been and publicly very committed for us to leapfrog more on what we call brand love. We have fantastic products. The features, the breadth and the depth of our products is immense and it's very, very competitive and in many cases is best in class. I will say we're committed to advance more is in brand love and it's how we move. We have a better balance on this very functional connection that we have to a more emotional level. So consumers feel excited and they feel that emotional connection and stronger connection with the Microsoft brands. We have brands like Xbox where, I mean the link and the strength of the bonding weighed out between the brand and the consumers is very, very high. But in other brands, I will say the strength of the connection is more rooted on the functional benefits that we offer. And we're working more and more towards a better balance of that functional connection, we're an emotional connection.

Conor Begley: I mean it's been fascinating from the outside to just observe the evolution of Microsoft, the brand. I think specifically when I grew up, right, Microsoft was Bill Gates, it was the leading edge and then I think it fell off for a little while. And then over the last I think five years, seven years, I think it has come back both as a company but also just as a brand. I think that it's really recaptured this momentum as being seen as the cutting edge and being something that people are becoming more attached to. How do you do that kind of functionally? Okay, so that's the mission. We want to make people more connected to the brand. What are some of the ways that you actually solve that or do that?

Anna Maria: I like a lot the concept of how brands grow by Byron Sharp and he talks about the balance between mental availability and physical availability. So for a brand to be successful and to grow, you need that balance. So mental availability is all about do I know the brand? Is the brand relevant for me in the moment when I'm going to use the category? And ultimately is the brand, the brand that I would choose? So it's that all bonding and let's say irrational connection that you can build with the consumer, but that needs to be paired with what he calls physical availability, which is, is the brand present in the places where I go to buy can I find it and ultimately are there enough? Is the value proposition attractive enough for me to make the choice to buy that brand? So I will say it's a combination of the two and it's always that fine balance, right? Because if you have a lot of mental availability, let's say you're going to buy a car. If you ask me, okay, what are the brands that comes to mind? I will say maybe Ferrari and McLaren and what have you, but the truth is they're out of reach. So you have a lot of mental availability, you might have lots of awareness, but then you're not relevant. In the other end, if you have lots of physical availability, you're present, you are available, you know the places where the consumers are going to buy, but ultimately there's no that connection then you're lacking. So I will say the balance of the two and how you can truly make sure that you have strengths in both is when really the magic happens. Because it's the emotional aspect is strong, but also the functional aspect which justifies the purchase is as strong. So then boom, you have that positioning that gives you a competitive advantage versus others.

Conor Begley: A hundred percent. I think from a mental availability's perspective, or at least from a brand connection perspective, obviously we're in the business of social media, influencers, user generated content that's really exploded over the last call it 10 years or so. How are you thinking about that as a channel? How do you guys think about investing in that? And from a numbers perspective, it's growing very fast. We're tracking the data, you're growing very quickly. You'll still see a gap like Apple and say Google are getting greater volume. So how do you think about that channel? How do you think about investing in it? What is your philosophy with it, et cetera?

Anna Maria: I would say, I could be very strategic, right? Is there numbers approved that consumers believe influencers more today than what they see on regular advertising or what they can read on a magazine. Even sometimes the recommendation of an expert has less weight than the recommendation of an influencer they trust. But I would just go with the kitchen logic. I have been...

Conor Begley: I'm excited to hear this.

Anna Maria: I have been, and I am guilty of buying things that I never thought I needed just because I saw someone on Instagram using it. I talk with my friends and they are guilty of the same. So I think it sometimes, and I go back to curiosity, sometimes it's just the art of observation of how people behave that really gives you the right cues. I will say I am pretty competent on marketing and I know that they're influencing my mind, still I'm using my Apple Pay to buy it. So that is just proof that it works. The connection that we're building with influencers is such that we actually believe we know them. I have never seen them. But at some point you start building a relationship and you start feeling that sense of familiarity and you start believing they are someone very close to you. And then when they say this works or I'm using this for my kids, or in beauty for example is a big category in fashion, you follow them just because you have believed that relationship of trust, even though you have never met them and probably you never will. But you like their lifestyle and you feel they're very authentic. And some of them, they don't look as commercial, some are, more inaudible still. So for me, sometimes I yes, look at the numbers, do the, let's say the more intellectual exercise, but at the end of the day it's just simple observation of your behavior and the behavior of people that you know. And when you see that that repeats enough, there is something there that is working and there is definitely worth for you to see how that can be of benefit to the business where you're working.

Conor Begley: I always go back to just the question of how do people learn about things and how do they make decisions? And I think that that's really what marketing is. At what point are you going to have an effect on how somebody learns about something and where they go to learn about that thing and make the ultimate decision. And so for me, I as well buy plenty of things that I find online. And so I guess the question is, okay, so we believe in it. I mean there's thousands of influencers that talk about Microsoft and all the subsequent brands of Microsoft, Bing and Xbox, et cetera. How are you as an organization investing in that? Do you have a team that's spending time on it? If they are, are they gifting products? Are they paying influencers? What kinds of activities are they doing? Obviously again, business that we're in, I think it's something I'm super curious about.

Anna Maria: Yes. I would say first thing you need to do is we have a team that is dedicated to this, a very passionate team actually that is dedicated to this. And they have moved the needle quite a lot for the company I would say in the last 12 to 24 months. The first thing is you need to cover the basics. You need to do a due diligence of who this influencer or group of influencers are from the point of view of reach, compatibility with the brand. Do you want to feel associated with them? Is it the right fit? Does the story feel organic within the world that they have created, but also the risk, right? Because at the end of the day when you start using an influencer, the influencer is the face of your brand. So you kind of need to project what can go wrong. This person can be doing something that is not appropriate or we don't feel very comfortable with. So I would say the due diligence of how compatible is the influencer to your brand and how the two equities can live together in a way that feels natural and organic to the reach. Are we reaching the right audiences? And I would say a risk assessment is also very important. And then it's to start building with them stories that feel once again authentic for them. I don't like the stories where you can see clearly that the influencer is being paid. I like the stories where they are truly using or interacting with a product in a way that is part of their natural story. For example, if you have, I have seen, I don't know, fitness influencers that out of the sudden are doing things that I'm like, what does this have to do with the story? There needs to be a connector.

Conor Begley: At least try guys at least give it a try.

Anna Maria: So those are the stories that I don't like. I don't think it's a matter of gifting the product or paying them. Of course this is their work, so I recognize that and as much as I work, they work and you have to be respectful of that, but at the end of the day, you need to respect the brand as well. And then finding the right way to really create a storyline that makes sense. Sometimes it's funny and it doesn't make sense and that's why it makes sense. But when I say it makes sense is that it feels they are who they are. They're not changing their DNA because of you, but rather your product is becoming part of the story in a way that it feels right. That's how we try to approach this space because otherwise either you are not effective or in the worst case scenario, the consumers will reject and that then end up being a negative impact to your brand.

Conor Begley: So I'm going to butcher the quote, but I remember this quote and it was like, a good communicator when they can take something fairly complex and describe it in a really straightforward and simple way, and I think you do a really good job of that. So just some feedback from me, I've really appreciated that. And a hundred percent agree, when it doesn't make sense, when it's inauthentic, when it's not in line with who that person is, not only does it hurt them, but it ultimately just doesn't work very well either. And so another topic that I think is really interesting, and I'm going to kind of combine two things. So one is, you mentioned you used to have to create two or three pieces of content a year. Now you have to create two or three a week or more than that, hundreds a month. And a lot of that content now is shifting from content you don't even create yourself, but just reusing content from other people, whether it's a consumer or an influencer, et cetera. Have you guys started integrating a significant amount of that content into your other channels, whether it's your website or your ads or your emails? How do you think about that integration of content that you don't create yourself into your marketing channels and how do you work with that when it's not always going to be perfectly on brand or perfectly on message?

Anna Maria: That's actually a really good question because when I started this journey 25 years ago, I was at Procter& Gamble and best school for marketing at the time. And it was, I would say, easy compared to what we have to do today because it was...

Conor Begley: Well if you got it wrong, it was really bad because you only got one shot.

Anna Maria: It was predictable. So it was like baking, here are the ingredients, these are the amounts, and if you mix it right, you will get the cake. Today, the ingredients are changing, the amounts are different every day. So you have to be more flexible and steer and try to react to what's happening and what's working. Back in the day, I have only one segmentation and it was demographic a little bit of psychographics and that was it. Today we have micro segments and the content that works for students right now we're about to implement back to school and then we're talking to the students and we're talking to the parents and what is working for them. So it becomes way, I would say more complex because we have more information and we can personalize way more than what we could do 25 years ago. For me, the big impact of the digitization era has been the democratization of the information. And what that means is that information is available to everyone. And now as the brand guardians that we are, we share custody of that brand with the millions of users that use our brand every day. And that's a mindset shift that happened in the last 15 years that is very, very important. Because before we were in control, the TV, I will serve you the content and you will take it and you have no option. And I will interrupt, I don't know your soap opera or your current inaudible or the game that you were watching, and I will interrupt that and I will serve you my ad and you had no other choice but to watch it. It's very different today. So we're sharing the guardianship or the custody of the brand and either we like it or not, consumers are going to talk about our brands. And that's where you have to understand that it's not your sharing custody. You have lost a lot of control of the content that is happening out there. So I think the best way for you to do that is one, to recognize that, two, to celebrate the fact that there are millions of consumers that are willing to talk about your brand, consumers that care enough that will write a review either if it's good or bad, but they care sufficiently to spend two minutes or three minutes letting you know how it's going. And I think the moment you embrace it, then you start creating value for the brand. I think the moment you try to control or you try to ignore, then it's when you get in trouble. Because I had to deal many times with issues and crisis that we had with consumers. And what I have learned through that is when you show you care, consumers will appreciate that. But when you disregard or ignore or be like inaudible and say like, you are wrong, I'm right. It's when things really goes south very quickly. So we celebrate that. I mean, we have to celebrate the fact that people care. We have to celebrate the fact that people create content of good quality or bad quality, but they're spending time with us. That's fantastic. I mean that's what you want to have. We want to become part of the social conversation. You want to become an urban legend. You want people to wear a t- shirt that says Microsoft or Xbox or Pepsi in my previous life. And when you see that on the street, you're like, wow, this is fantastic. I mean, people care. The worst place where you can be is in limbo when no one cares because then there is nothing there. When people care, there is passion. I think that's the best place. But for me is how you embrace that and how you channel that energy to co- create something with consumers that make the brand stronger. For me, I would say that's the underlining idea that I try to use for this.

Conor Begley: I love that concept of brand custodian. I don't know why, I'm sure somebody has said it before, but I've never heard it. 70% of what I'm interviewing on here is CMOs. And so this is the first time one of them's mentioned it, and I love that, right? You're not in control in the same way you are. You're guiding the mission, you're guiding the community, but there's a community. So I just did a podcast two days ago with a woman named Danessa Myricks who's got over a million fans on Instagram. She's killed it, self- made brand growing very, very quickly, top 50 brand we track. And she's like, yeah, I stress out every night going to bed, if I haven't replied to all the comments that night. But you think about it from a personal perspective, even somebody that writes something negative, they care enough to go out and talk about it. And every time somebody does that and they go out and they talk about the brand and they don't hear anything back, they don't get any response. It's a really big missed opportunity. You feel bad versus alternatively, you go out, you write, oh my God, I love my new surface, whatever, I've been using it to do this, that, and the other thing. And then somebody from the Microsoft team reaches out and says, Hey, thanks so much for giving us a shout- out. Let us know if you ever want to get coffee. That's such a meaningful connection for them. And so being able to do that at scale is challenging, but so powerful when you can. Very cool.

Anna Maria: Totally agree.

Conor Begley: Well, let's do one more question and then we'll do a fun end of show question. So you seem to be a person based on my observations, that spends a significant amount of time in self- reflection and even documenting those reflections. So the three Cs being an example of that, do you have a formal process for that or is this something that you wake up at night and you write yourself a note and then you just remember it? How do you think about self- reflection and documentation of that?

Anna Maria: I love to run and I run regularly. I exercise six days a week. And for me, that is my active meditation. And I like to do that because as I am spending an hour or so in the morning exercising, then it's when I have those moments of self reflection. So I use that time, it's a quiet time. Sometimes I listen a lot to podcasts or audiobooks and it's that moment when my mind is totally disconnected from the tasks and it's really when I have an opportunity to think about what's going on or connect one idea to the other. So I would say having that space and creating that space is very important for me. It wasn't always like that. I have two teenagers when they were little kids. It's harder to do it because you're busy and you have to look after them. But the more I have done it, the more I have realized it's probably the most powerful hour of my day because it's for me. So even when I travel, I sometimes wake up at three in the morning and I still make the hour just because I'm committed to it. And it's not because of the physical aspect, but I will say it's more the mental aspect. It gives me the space to think, it gives me the space to create, it gives me the space to clear my mind if that's what I need and to re- energize. So I would say probably that's when most of the reflection happens is in that morning active meditation as I call it, time.

Conor Begley: I love that. So my last grandparent just passed away, my grandfather, and he was in his early 90s, so he'd outlived my other grandparents and he was a really good artist and I asked him, why do you think you lived so long? And he said, I exercised every day. And he kind of went on about this story about it. And so I need to, I've gotten into a decent routine, but I'm not like that. I don't wake up at 3: 00 AM while I'm traveling to work out. So I think I need to do it both for self- reflection and for just living a long time. I think one of my favorite facts about you is that you went to the National Math Olympics in Columbia. Right?

Anna Maria: Yeah, I did.

Conor Begley: Which is interesting. Yeah. So congrats on that. So I'd love to know, are you still a math nerd? I watch math, TikTok videos. Is that something you still invest in? Have your kids adopted that as well? Or are they like, no, mom's weird. We don't want to be in the math Olympics? Tell me about that.

Anna Maria: Two answers, on the first question, I do love math problems, like challenges. Can you solve this in three seconds? And I'm like, oh, go for it. I guess it stays with you. I love numbers. I actually use numbers a lot for random things like running. I count up to 100 and I know that two minutes have passed while I'm running. And then if it's more like if I want to go faster, then I count faster. So I use, I like numbers, it's just the way how I am. So yes, I still use numbers a lot for fun on a regular basis. And of course for work. And no, my kids hate that. I'm good at math, but the fact that I went to Math Olympics, they feel lots of pressure. So I'm not even consulted for homework. They don't like to do math homework with me. They do very well in math, but I'm not a resource for them, I guess they feel a lot of pressure.

Conor Begley: Oh my gosh, I am so appreciative of the time that you took out today, and it's not surprising to see where you've gotten. And I'm excited to see what you do as you embark on your new career in the technology sector and applaud your continued growth mindset and desire to learn new things. So thanks again. I'm so glad we got to spend the time.

Anna Maria: Oh Connor, it has been an absolute pleasure for me to be here today. Fantastic conversation. I truly enjoyed this time and I hope we get to have another conversation soon.

Conor Begley: Let's do it. All right, bye Ana Maria.

Anna Maria: Bye. Thank you.

Speaker 3: Be a friend. Tell a friend and subscribe. Earned by CreatorIQ. CreatorIQ is your all- in- one solution to grow, manage, scale, and measure your influencer marketing program. Ready to unlock the power of the creator economy? Get started with a demo today @ creatoriq. com.


In Ep. 87 of Earned, Conor sits down with Ana Maria Henao, the CMO and general manager of US Consumer Channel and Partnership Marketing at Microsoft. We start the show by diving into Ana Maria’s recent transition from 25 years in the CPG sector—with much of her career spent at Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo—into the tech industry, and how the recent AI boom has shaped her experience thus far. We then discuss Ana Maria’s leadership style, and break down the “Three C’s” that she applies every single day. Next, we explore how Microsoft works to cultivate brand love and community, balancing functional efficacy and emotional connection to its products. We then dive into Microsoft’s approach to influencer marketing, and Ana Maria emphasizes the importance of embracing creator content. To close the show, Ana Maria shares her process for self-reflection and active meditation.

In this episode, you will learn:

  1. The "Three C’s" that guide Ana Maria's leadership style
  2. How Microsoft works to cultivate brand love by balancing functional efficacy and emotional connection to its products
  3. Why brands should embrace creator content in their marketing channels


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