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Empowering audiences through purpose-driven storytelling

Jan 10, 2023

When asked how much weight she places on purpose-driven storytelling, Jennifer Brennan,  creative director of the Washington Post Creative Group, doesn't mince words.

“Purpose-driven storytelling matters because it literally encapsulates purpose, and purpose is something that as humans, we are spending our entire lives trying to figure out,” she tells the Native Advertising Institute. “What's the purpose of our existence? Why are we here?”

Brennan argues that the more human side of purpose-driven advertising is what really resonates with consumers.

“If purpose is at the heart of the story, people naturally can relate to it right away.” 


Purpose must translate into action

According to Brennan, a commitment to purpose resonates with customers, but organisations must transform their commitment into concrete action.

Over half of respondents to the 2021 Washington Post Consumer and B2B Influence Study strongly agreed that firms had a responsibility to listen to their customers' thoughts, and 34% strongly agreed that they go out of their way to buy from honest and ethical organisations.

Only 14% of those polled strongly agreed that they believe what corporations say about their own products or services.

“This is why platforms matter,” Brennan says. “One of the biggest takeaways when you're doing purpose-driven storytelling is that brand purpose is a journey, not a destination. It always needs to be infused within your content, within your story, and it should evolve.” 

Brennan added that a brand's story should change as its mission develops over time.

“As things happen in society and in the world, your brand purpose should adapt and pivot slightly so that you're relating to people where they are and [with] what's happening around them.”

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Slow and measured steps

She cautioned that developing a purpose-driven platform takes time.

“I think brands do have the power to change perception," she says. “But again, that comes over time, and with the right media partners and platforms. You can’t just come up with a big, bold brand purpose statement and throw it into some huge campaign and expect it to make a difference”

Brennan believes that while a brand's mission should "infuse everything you do," it should not be so overt that it becomes bothersome.

“It doesn't have to be big and bold. It just needs to be present, and again, it needs to be honest and authentic.”

She said that brand purpose is a long game that needs to be invested in “over and over and over again.”

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Dealing with potential controversy

Brennan understands that a company taking a strong stance may turn off some customers, so she looks for partners who share similar beliefs.

“Focusing on brand purpose could be potentially controversial,” she says. “I think that's where the platform matters. At The Washington Post, our brand ethos has to match their brand ethos.” 

She emphasised that the Post seeks human subjects with universal themes that "get to the heart of what people care about."

She also stressed that it is important for both brands and publishers to know their audience.

“We are going to use our audience insights to know what people want to hear about, and then we're going to tailor the content to that specifically.”

Story by Ray Weaver

Ray Weaver is a professional communicator with experience as both a broadcast and print journalist. He was the Public Information Officer for several government jurisdictions in the US, including the Governor of the State of Maryland. He is also an experienced voice-over artist, actor and published author and singer/songwriter.

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