5 Lessons To Improve Your Brand Story From The World of Fiction

There is always a way to set your brand apart; if there isn’t, you have a serious problem beyond marketing your brand.

The way CEO profile interviews are managed by PR agencies was one of the many bug-bears I used to have as a journalist: In brief, the good ones had a narrative underpinning the boss’s aims that clearly appealed to the emotions of potential clients, while the bad ones were simply a miasma of facts of no real importance to anyone but the company itself.


There have been a great deal of blogs over the years from our peers on how to create a ‘brand story’, how complex this can be and how we should overcome this by playing to clients’ emotions. Apparently, we can do this through a diffuse blend of in-house data, relevant case studies of other companies and sectors, focus groups and the brand’s ‘vision’.

But that’s complete hogwash. The basis for a good narrative should come from one individual, the protagonist – usually the founder or CEO – and should spell out how their hard-won lessons are relevant to their potential clients.

We have been taught this from the world of fiction: if a reader sees a glimmer of their real-life issues represented by an individual in a story, they will be emotionally hooked. That’s how to reel in potential clients – a fact that is often over-looked by brand strategists and, therefore, rarely put into practice.

The basis for a good narrative should come from one individual, the protagonist.

It’s the way human brains work, according to Lisa Cron, literary agent and the author of the excellent Story Genius. She argues the need to learn from the narratives of others has been hardwired into our brains from the Stone Age: “We come to every story we hear – not just novels, which, evolutionarily speaking, arrived on the scene about five seconds ago – hardwired to ask one question in what’s known as our cognitive unconscious: what am I going to learn here that will help me not only survive, but prosper?”

If we can get this right, the ‘sell’ becomes a whole lot easier: “When we’re lost in a novel, the protagonist’s internal struggle becomes ours, as do it’s hard-won truths.”

Find that seemingly insurmountable personal struggle that is relevant to your target client base and you will hook-in the emotions of – and therefore the attention of – potential clients. Everything other than the founder-protagonist’s struggle is just window dressing: the company’s evolution (the plot), its in-house subject matter experts (supporting characters) and even the regulator (one could say the antagonist!).

How does this work in practice? Below are some top-level steps I have learned from the past decade of coaching executives on how to create a financial brand narrative:

1. Make it personal

brand story personal

The protagonist could be the founder, CEO, or an influential MD. Highlight an issue that is close to their heart and aligned with the interests of their future clients. (Note: if you are an international conglomerate that doesn’t believe in ‘star culture’, you need to have a ‘face’ to front this issue or the emotional connection just won’t be there.) Bring in the individual’s past, use anecdotes and make it personal. Show that they care.

An example of this can be seen in FTfm’s profile of Rahul Chadha, entitled, ‘I have this habit of looking at ladies’ handbags’. Not only does this title hook the reader, in it he explains that as a keen observer of consumer habits, Mr Chadha is compulsive about noting which products and brands are hot among friends, family and colleagues, as well as where they are positioned in stores. This is used to illustrate his detail orientated approach to investing.

A great literary illustration of how to explain the life events that have informed an individual’s life goals can be found in Stephen King’s On Writing: a memoir of the craft.

2. Link issue to the company’s ‘USP’

If the founder/spokesperson wants to democratize wealth management or define a more effective way of ESG investing, ensure that is matched to the company’s offering – and ideally ensure it is the only company with this offering (if not, see step 4 below).

3. Build drama

By showing how the founder’s/ CEO’s struggle has led to the formulation or reorganization of the company/product offering. This narrative should have an ‘inciting incident’ which led to the creation of the company/ initiative, a difficult journey with a ‘mid-point’ where the odds were stacked against them (everyone loves an underdog) – culminating in a ‘crisis point’ that the company surmounted. An instance of this can been seen in this profile of  fund manager, Gina Miller, in which the 2008 crash is cited as the unlikely genesis of her investment boutique, SCM Private. The article quotes Mrs Miller as saying; “We got a call saying, ‘Armageddon’s about to hit, you’d better come back home’.”

John York’s Into The Woods is a fantastic overview of how to build a narrative structure. Personally, I think it helps if the crisis point aligns with a call-to-action to clients; for example, have we reached a tipping point where the lack of cultural diversity in the investment management industry is beginning to erode investor returns?

4. Get your facts straight

Ensure all the details above align. If you are not the only robo-adviser targeting millennial investors on the market, find something that makes you different within that sub-sector (and, yes, there is always a way to set your brand apart; if there isn’t, you have a serious problem beyond marketing your brand).

5. Target your audience

Ensure the style of communication is targeted to your audience. Much like an author thinks in terms of literary or commercial fiction – consider who you are speaking to and what level of detail is required in all communications, from media relations, to videos, marketing collateral, events and social media.

Finally, if doing that all-important profile interview with your CEO and a top journalist, think carefully about the location. Is the CEO opining on the atrocious level of fees in the private banking sector from his corner office in Canary Wharf, Eric Clapton’s guitar hanging on the wall behind him and Ming Dynasty vases to the left and right?

This might not fit with your over-arching narrative (Step 3), so perhaps think again.

Article by Peregrine’s Managing Director, Alan O’Sullivan.