Stories Restore Brand Reputation

“We learn best-and change-from hearing stories that strike a chord within us.” John Kotter

Last week we delved into how we amplify brand stories.

This week we are going to look at how stories can restore reputation lost.

Barclays is a role model for how to use stories in a brand crisis to regain trust and change the conversation. The Barclays brand, which had suffered from the global financial crisis, was later damaged by accusations that Barclay and other banks had manipulated key interest rates. In June 2012, Barclays agreed to pay $450 million to American and British authorities to settle the allegations, the first of several banks to reach settlements in the cases.

The trust level for Barclays in Britain plummeted during 2011 and 2012 to under 60% of its level in January 2011, compared with 90% for its competitive set. As result Barclays trust level was well below that of its competitors. In that time frame, banking was the least-trusted sector in a global survey covering 28 countries. It is not a stretch to conclude that Barclays was the least trusted brand in the least trusted sector in the UK. Barclays decided to change.

In February 2013, Barclays announced a new brand purpose: “Helping people achieve their solutions – in the right way.” The purpose had five supporting brand values, which included respect for employees and stewardship (to positively impact communities and support sustainability programs). Extensive training of 140,000 employees combined with a purpose driven evaluation system, changed the firm’s culture.

The newly empowered and inspired Barclays employees created and led dozens of higher-purpose programs on their own. One, the Digital Eagles, is an internal group that grew to over 17,000 employees. Its mission is to teach the public about surviving and even thriving in the digital world. Among its programs are informal Tea and Teach sessions about digital coping, and Digital Wings, an online series of courses that advance people from newbie to brain-box levels.

The saga of culture change and employee-driven social programs makes a compelling brand story. But it was the stories around the program’s clients that touched people with emotion.

In June 2014, the communication strategy changed. Product-based communication was replaced with real stories of real people that would shine a light on higher-purpose initiatives at Barclays. There were 40 or more significant programs, but the focus turned to four, including Digital Eagles. The other three were Code Playground, which teaches youngsters ages 7-17 about the basics of computer coding; LifeSkills which gives young people the skills they need to get jobs in a digital workplace, using a free in-school and online learning program; and Fraud Smart, which gives free help to people trying to keep their money secure in the digital world. All four programs were communicated via stories of real people.

Employees were inspired and energized. And customers and prospective customers changed their perceptions of Barclays. From the start of the campaign in summer of 2014 until early 2016, trust was up 33%, consideration was up 130% and emotional connection was up 35%. The new campaign drove 6 times as much change in trust and five times as much change in consideration as the product-focused campaign that preceded it.

CMO Perspective – Barclays

The stories made a difference. Steve Rich, a sports development officer, had lost his ability to play soccer because of a car accident. But he could participate in “walking soccer”. Wanting to help others do the same, he decided to raise awareness of walking soccer and turn it into a nationwide game in the UK. With the help of Digital Eagles, Rich created a website that connected over 400 teams across the country – and connected individuals with teams. He is partly responsible for the growing interest the sport has generated. There is now a national tournament.

In another story, a woman named Zena tells how the LifeSkills program helped her son Paris prepare for getting a job. First was the Wheel of Strengths, which helped identify his strengths, interests and personality traits and suggested types of jobs that would suit him best. Them came the CV Builder, with step-by-step guidance for creating a compelling and relevant curriculum vitae. Finally a mock interview offered valuable practice and confidence-building. The result was an interview with one of his top target firms.

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