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From Profit to Purpose: The Power of Brand Storytelling

Financial Services / 11.2.22 / By Kristin Johnson

During a visit to the NASA Space Center in 1962, President John F. Kennedy encountered a janitor in the hallway and asked what he was doing working so late.

The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President.”

Not mopping the floors or building electrical circuits. But putting a man on the moon.

Neil Armstrong’s leap for mankind didn’t begin with a footstep on the lunar surface. It began when a leader with a bold vision inspired a 400,000-person organization to rally around a single purpose. And that unifying story is what fueled one of the greatest achievements in human history.

Defining the brand narrative

The simple-but-purposeful mission of putting a man on the moon stems from an overarching brand narrative: the sole reason for an organization’s existence. It’s used to create meaningful, emotional and value-driven connections between your brand and your customers that ultimately help grow your business. Consider the narrative as the building block for brand strategy and a purpose that’s carefully woven into every piece of a company.

It's easy to wonder: Why focus on developing a brand narrative when there’s already a demand for your offering? Because a brand is no longer defined by its product or services. A brand is made up of every belief, moment, conversation and experience shared between a company and a customer. In fact, consumers are paying just as much attention to what brands stand for as what they sell.

A strong narrative needs to dig into the hearts and minds of your customers to address common pain points, offer a different perspective from the status quo, and connect to larger conversations happening in your industry and the world. This forces us as marketers and business leaders to think about the following questions:

  • Why does the brand exist?
  • What challenge does our product or service solve?
  • Are we cultivating a culture and living our purpose?
  • How can we contribute to creating a better society?

Answers to these questions inform and support every business decision moving forward while aligning an organization’s people, processes and overall strategy.

The benefits of brand storytelling

Some of today’s best brands are using narratives to tap into larger, socially conscious movements. Look at REI: a multibillion-dollar retail giant that shuts its doors on Black Friday to invite its 12,000 employees and all of America to #OptOutside together. Why? To connect with nature instead of consumerism. Today, the narrative remains true for new initiatives as REI’s collective community works to fight climate change and reduce environmental impact.

Or Dove, on a mission to help the next generation feel comfortable in their own skin and develop a positive relationship with beauty. The company’s Real Beauty initiative ensures that every woman and girl sees themselves and their stories represented in today’s media and culture. Not only has this truth produced tremendous sales, but it has also become an important cause for more than a decade.

Because these brands are allowing what they promise their customers to guide their every operational move, they’re able to form deep connections while reaping tangible and intangible gains. Here’s how a business can benefit from developing an authentic brand narrative:

  • Create an identity. Whether launching a business, new product line or campaign, a narrative helps immensely with goal setting. A unique brand identity humanizes your brand, communicates your value and makes you stand out from the competition.
  • Build like-minded teams. It’s no secret: people feel more engaged, productive and loyal when they feel like the work they do matters. When leaders and employees are aligned on what they believe in—and they build a community around it—they become unstoppable.
  • Unite your company. Narratives are especially helpful for organizations with different sub-companies, product lines or audience segments. While tone, strategy or tactics might differ on a granular level, the narrative serves as the overarching truth that unifies a brand and creates a cohesive message.
  • Stay relevant. A powerful brand narrative allows you to connect with and contribute to larger narratives in the world today—ultimately giving a sense of purpose. While companies may grow and evolve over time, communicating a relevant narrative keeps you relevant as a company.

Cultivating community in financial services

Some might say that finance and investment lack a sense of emotion. Between data, sales objectives and rigorous compliance rules, it can seem difficult to stand out in genuine, human ways. But here’s the thing about humans: they’re hardwired for storytelling.

Content marketing is one of the biggest opportunities for telling stories in the financial services industry and an especially powerful tool in relationship building. When it comes to reaching the right people, we must first remember that consumers are more than buyers. They’re making carefully considered choices to invest in companies that represent something they can believe in and belong to. So how can content transform financial messaging of the past?

Keeping in mind that money and the safety it represents are emotional, we can start by doing the following:

Address pain points. Content won’t necessarily be used to directly pitch products and services. But understanding your customer and creating audience personas allows you to tailor messaging around their specific needs, provide unique value and become a trusted thought leader. How can you cut through the sea of sameness to truly improve the lives of your customers?

Meet your customers where they are. Gone are the days of interruption marketing and a one-size-fits-all approach. Whether it’s a how-to video or a report on the latest financial trends, forming a deep connection is the greatest way to make an impact on your customer. Take advantage of the latest technology, analytics and real-time data to define your distribution channels, build a content hub, and create a meaningful, holistic experience for each of your different target audiences.

Lead with purpose. While purpose and profit might not be mutually exclusive, companies that stand for something bigger than what they sell have the opportunity to create a community of engaged and loyal advocates. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, like generating qualified leads, focus on the impact and how finance touches every aspect of a consumer’s life. It’s in the first home they buy. The business they were able to open. The time they were able to spend with their kids. These are the stories people can rally around.

Over time, a consistent content marketing strategy has the power to build brand awareness, nurture leads and increase retention. When products and services are tied to a meaningful story, we’re able to build a community, grow our business and help create a better world. And if we truly embraced the idea that our individual roles are critical parts of a collective mission, imagine how much happier, fulfilled and connected we would be.

The janitor made it clear—we all have a purpose in our company’s story. So as business leaders, marketers and humans at the heart of it all, that leaves one question: What are you doing here?

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Kristin Johnson