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Keeping it real: Storytelling, brand purpose, and Pearl Jam

Written by Rohan Vyavaharkar Published on   6 mins read

As a brand, it is critical to present that message to your consumers, current and potential. Your brand story, hence, is born from your purpose.

Whenever I find myself feeling down or need some inspiration, there’s always only one song I lean on.

Eddie Vedder’s raw silk like words remind me of why I do everything that I do. They help me reconnect to my core, to my simplest aspirations, to my purpose—to make things better for those whose lives I can touch. So, you could say that in a sense Pearl Jam’s Just Breathe is as close to my personal ‘purpose statement’ as possible. The song helps remind me of what truly matters, helps me refocus when I’m lost on my path to wherever it is that I’m going.

As an individual, you could have many ways to express your purpose to your target group (like I do to my primary audience, i.e. me, through music). As an organization, an articulated organizational purpose is usually a great way to signal internally and externally what you do and why you intend to do it. Often, in times of turbulence and disruption like the ones we’re living in today, it’s perhaps more important than ever that we remember why we exist.

Photo courtesy of Lee Campbell/Unsplash.

The value of a purpose statement

So, how does having this purpose help in practice? A stated organizational purpose like we have at Omidyar Network India—We invest in bold entrepreneurs who help create a meaningful life for every Indian—tells our own team we exist primarily to make investments that will help create positive, inclusive social impact in India through our entrepreneurs. It tells the market that if you’re an entrepreneur and are innovating to make people’s lives more meaningful, we want to hear from you.

As we worked on our purpose statement, we attached a deep meaning to each word. For example, the phrase ‘meaningful life’ from an ON India lens implies opportunity, dignity and rights.

Nike has made its mission to ‘bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world’. And before you conjure up a picture of Naomi Osaka rushing to the net to retrieve a drop shot, Nike defines anyone with a body as an athlete. It tells us that its shoes and apparel are for the athlete in each and every one of us, regardless of ability and physical attributes.

Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble, calls his version of purpose, brand ideals. In his book, Grow, he defines an ideal as the good your company is doing in the world, or the ‘highest order benefit’ it is bringing to its customers. According to Stengel, the ideal is a brand’s raison d’être. Profit and business growth, he argues, is a direct outcome of thought-through and well-articulated ideals.

At this point, you’re probably wondering, where does this purpose manifest? Is it the big, bold lettering we put up at the office reception or is it a catch phrase to work into every webinar that you are invited to? It’s both of these and a lot more. It’s your strongest marketing tool, it’s also the glue that holds your team together and eventually, it can even be your legacy.

Think of Southwest Airlines whose purpose is to ‘connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel’. That they live their purpose is evident in many ways. Their cabin crew interacts with you in an informal and yet memorable manner. Their frequent flyer program has no blackout dates for when you can use their points, unlike the complicated systems of most other airlines. And their reliability is underlined by their generally on-time performance.

Taking the brand purpose to your brand story

Photo courtesy of Austin Distel/Unsplash.

Companies we respect, and those we love, are grounded in purpose. They also constantly remind themselves of their reason for existence and act accordingly. Hence, as a brand, it is critical to present that message to your consumers, current and potential. Your brand story, hence, is born from your purpose. One of the core objectives of a marketing campaign must bring to life this ‘reason for existence’.

The point of this is simple. You want your key audience to be motivated to engage with you. If you know what someone stands for and the qualities she possesses, you find it much easier to identify with that individual. It’s no different with a brand.

Once you have your brand purpose, and you know who your key audience is, next you have to identify where and how the audience consumes its content. Are they primarily a digitally native audience, or are they medium agnostic? Are they looking to engage in conversations only on some issues and not on others at this point in time? Are they more inclined to engage on LinkedIn than on Instagram?

When you have the psychographic makeup of your audience, you then go about telling your story. Here it is very important to let the message and audience dictate the medium. If your research finds that your core audience is willing to talk about things that you care about only on Medium blogs, for example, then you’re best served optimizing your storytelling on that platform (note: It is highly unlikely that it will be limited to one platform only). Hence, you then need to ensure that you create a narrative technique that answers a simple question—why should the audience care?

Know, Try, Care

As a journalist one of my earliest lessons in story telling was an acronym—KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. A global study by brand consultancy Siegel + Gale finds that brands that keep messaging simple also thrive on the business front. Hence, as a storyteller, ask yourself the simplest and most genuine way to tell your brand’s story that helps deliver on your purpose. There’s no story without purpose.

Could the story be told from the perspective of a customer who uses her or his own words in a testimonial that underlines your organizational purpose as well as reminds the audience why they need you? Are you better served using simple animated GIFs to ask a series of questions that demonstrate the role your company plays in answering those questions? Or, are you perhaps better served in being a part of an ongoing conversation on Twitter rather than starting something new?

None of the above would be of any use, though, if you went about this in a way that wasn’t authentic or real. Brands that are not genuine tend to get found out, just like we tend to call out ‘wannabes’ or ‘posers’ in our everyday lives.

So, the key words for any storytelling effort once you have identified your message and audience are: Relevant (platform, and topic), simple, and authentic. To my mind, it’s that straightforward.

One last thing to keep in mind, is always know what success looks like before you start off on your story telling journey. It’s important to link any effort directly to metrics and business outcomes. Yet, whatever the numbers say, your campaigns will only be judged and remembered if it helps your audience understand your what you do and why you do it.

To read similar stories, please hop on to Oasis, the brainchild of KrASIA. 

Rohan Vyavaharkar loves using words, pictures, and sounds to take people on a journey. He shapes narratives for brands and bedtime stories for his two daughters. A journalist by training, he has worked in marketing for sports, tech, health & wellness, and FMCG brands. During the day, he works at Omidyar Network India, an investment firm focussed on social impact. The rest of the time, he keeps busy either playing some sort of sport or watching live (and repeats of) Manchester United games.

Disclaimer: This article was written by a community contributor. All content is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the interviewee herself. If you’d like to contribute, you can apply here


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