How Banking Firms Can Build ‘Purpose-Driven’ Brands

As younger and more socially conscious consumers and employees increasingly interact with banks and credit unions, financial institutions must create something beyond the traditional provider. Here are four guidelines to follow to fulfill corporate social responsibility.

I was recently chatting with my son — a Millennial — about a new protein bar that he has taken to storing in his backpack to munch on at work. I had never heard of the brand. So, being a marketer, I asked him how he had found out about it and what he liked about it. He told me he had discovered it through friends, all of whom liked the fact that the bar was healthy, high protein, made from GMO-free organically grown grains, and wrapped in a compostable wrapper.

Oh, it’s also tasty, he said.

That conversation was a reminder to me of the challenge facing all marketers today, regardless of industry. In a demographically shifting marketplace, brands can no longer succeed solely through differentiating themselves on the basis of superior product features and functionality. They need to align their brands and products with larger societal causes that are so important to younger generations.

Consumers and Employees Alike Care About Causes

Studies show that nine in ten Millennials are willing to switch brands to patronize one associated with a cause and purpose. Purpose also matters internally. A Gagen MacDonald agency analysis found that as employees live and model behaviors that bring purpose to life within a company, the organization tends to see higher levels of innovation, growth, and customer and employee engagement.

I’ve seen the power of this firsthand. Working at an established financial technology company, I have learned the importance of developing a purpose-driven brand that is actively engaged in its community. Of course, our primary purpose is helping our clients succeed, but to do that we need to help their customers succeed, as well as their communities, and the entire financial ecosystem.

Not only is this the right thing to do, but creating a purpose-driven brand is instrumental in helping companies differentiate themselves in a dynamic marketplace.

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Four Pointers for Building a Purpose-Driven Institution

1. Purpose is an inside job. Millennials tend to scrutinize things differently, so it’s important that brand alignment with purpose be seen as genuine. It must really be part of the firm’s culture and backed up with genuine initiatives that give employees an opportunity to get involved with worthy causes and market movements that excite them and make a difference in the world.

In other words, a sense of purpose must build from the inside out or it won’t feel authentic.

At my company, giving back is one of our guiding principles. Our management team takes this commitment seriously and works to build a culture of giving back into the fabric of our day-to-day work. Employees are actively encouraged to take part in charitable activities, particularly those that are near and dear to our clients. Many of those activities, in fact, are done elbow-to-elbow with employees of the financial institutions that we serve.

2. Be true to yourself. A brand’s purpose must be consonant with its core competency. Every company has its own “superpower”: a wide reach, a fresh capability, something that sets it apart. It’s important to identify what is unique about the brand and find ways to use that power for good.

Our core competency here at my company is financial technology. We use it to empower clients to better people’s lives and bring change to the financial world.

Building on that, we saw an opportunity to leverage our expertise to bring financial services to the unbanked. Working with government, banks and non-profit groups in India, we created a Financial Inclusion Lab, along with Financial Inclusion Literacy Centers. By offering products and services to banks and financial institutions that help millions of unbanked people in India, we contributed to economic growth and personal financial freedom for many in the nation’s rural population and millions of women.

3. Make it local, as well as global. Taking on global issues can be compelling, but never forget your more immediate community. Whether your company is big or small, you can tap into your employees’ passions and interests on a local level to drive change and instill purpose.

For example, we created an annual internal global coding competition where employees from around the world work together for 48 hours to use emerging technology to solve a local challenge. That challenge may be a business, social, humanitarian, scientific, or philanthropic challenge. The theme of this past year’s program was “Innovation Empowering Hope.”

Through this program, our employees have the chance to stretch their minds, work outside their usual confines, and engage with new team members. As a bonus, the program has resulted in the development of everything from new product concepts and enhancements to internal tools and process improvements.

4. Let purpose be your driving force. Building — and keeping— a purpose-driven brand is no small task. It requires support across an organization: executives need to believe in it and employees need to engage in it.

Done right, creating a purpose-driven brand will empower your institution’s clients and employees, and make a huge difference not only to the company but to the world. That’s truly worth supporting.

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