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Sharifah Niles-Lane on How Eastern Bank Makes Brand Purpose a Mission for Good

By Taylor Holland on August 22, 2018

When Sharifah Niles-Lane, Eastern Bank's vice president of digital marketing and social media manager, proudly states that "community service and social activism are really rooted in our DNA as a company," she has 200 years of history to back her up.

In 1818, before there was a national banking system or even a national currency, only wealthy people had access to safe places where they could save, invest, and borrow money. A group of philanthropists in Salem, Massachusetts decided this wasn't right. They pooled their resources and formed the Institution for Savings. It was only open for one hour, one day a week, and was staffed by the founders and volunteers, but it offered customers the opportunity to get loans, secure their savings, and even earn interest. The first customer was a widowed woman, who couldn't legally make the deposit herself (she had to use a proxy), but just allowing her to have an account was pretty radical in 1818.

That's the kind of founding story that content marketers dream of. It's both inspirational and aspirational, historical, yet progressive. It's a brand purpose that has inspired centuries worth of good stories, or as Niles-Lane and her team would say, stories about doing good.

Join Us For Good

Image attribution: Maura Wayman

That's the thinking behind Join Us for Good, Eastern Bank's hugely successful bicentennial marketing campaign.

"Everything we do is really rooted in that original idea of doing what's right and smart, from a social justice perspective and a business perspective," says Niles-Lane. "I think that just speaks to the evolution, and how we came to this Join Us for Good campaign. As we approached our 200th anniversary, we wanted to renew our energy in that commitment. We wanted to turn our brand purpose-'do good things to help people prosper'-into a movement that's bigger than the bank. Our goal is to bring together our customers, colleagues, and community as a self-sustaining force for good, and part of that is letting people know that when you invest with Eastern, when you become a customer, you're not just getting fairly priced financial products. You're ultimately doing good for the community."

Turning Brand Purpose into a Call to Action

Launched in March 2017, Join Us for Good has helped Eastern Bank achieve significant lifts in brand awareness over the last year. The bank also grew its annual net income nearly 40 percent in 2017. That's not just good news for the bank. It's also a boon for the community, considering Eastern gives 10 percent of its annual net income to local charities. Eastern Bank's employees also volunteered more than 60,000 hours in 2017 and donated to causes that are important to them.

Niles-Lane says the Join Us for Good campaign is just a natural extension of that spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy. "It's rooted in what we do every day, and it's not about being boastful. It's about wanting our customers to feel like they've joined a movement, and also that they've made a smart choice doing that."

To get the word out, Eastern Bank partnered with agency, CTP Boston, to create a fully integrated, hyperlocal, multichannel advertising campaign that would help the brand connect with a larger audience of do-gooders.

The first step was to find out what "good" meant to that audience, so CTP and Eastern hit the streets of Boston and asked them. Then, the brand turned those interviews into a series of commercials and long-form videos.

The crown jewel of the campaign is Eastern Bank's new content hub, The Join Us For Good site acts as the bridge connecting national social justice issues to local communities, empowering and inspiring people to do good in immediate and actionable ways. Understanding the need for an always-on digital content strategy, Eastern Bank partnered with AMP Agency for the social media strategy and Skyword for the brand site strategy, skill sets, and technology to create a storytelling engine to fuel and build continued momentum for the campaign.

Brand Purpose Meets Brand Storytelling

Far more than just a company blog, the Join Us for Good micro-site doesn't spend much time talking about Eastern Bank. The publication focuses on stories about individuals, businesses, and organizations who are doing good for and in their communities, as well as social advocacy issues that are important to the bank.

For example, there's a story about Gay for Good, which recruits members of the LGBTQ community to do volunteer work, and a story about the Urban Farming Institute of Boston, which is providing fresh produce for Bostonians while also creating a local farming economy and jobs.

There are stories about the history of Boston and stories about the people who have helped make Boston what it is today. And just as importantly, there are stories about progressive social issues that Eastern Bank believes could make Boston (and the world) even better.

The bank also continues to make new stories. For example, early on in the campaign, the bank teamed up with local football legend Doug Flutie for a social experiment turned social media hit. Flutie and bank employees handed out $10,000 worth of five-dollar bills to people on the streets of Boston and asked them to pay it forward. As a result, Eastern Bank trended twice on Twitter in one week and increased the brand's net sentiment score from 33 to 65 percent. This might have seemed like a PR stunt if another company had done it, and the entire Join Us for Good campaign might ring just as hollow for another bank. But Eastern has 200 years worth of history, and a treasure trove of stories, to prove its message is authentic. More recently Eastern Bank has expanded their partnerships by adding local Boston baseball legend David Ortiz as one of their "Partners for Good." They have created a series of social media videos and articles with David to aid in amplifying the Join Us for Good message.

"I am a firm believer in authenticity," says Niles-Lane. "I know you hear that a lot. It's sort of become a buzzword in marketing, especially when it comes to storytelling, but it really is important because at the end of the day, customers are savvy. They get it. They're having messaging thrown at them from every direction, and if you're bandwagoning, they know it. Yes we are a business, but we want to take our audience on an advocacy journey through our storytelling message. At Eastern, we believe in breaking down the barriers that stand between people and prosperity. Businesses have the means to act as a voice to do that, so we feel it's our responsibility to do so. I think our audiences believe that and trust us because of it."

Niles-Lane says that trust in the brand stems from centuries of "walking the walk" and, at least in part, from effective storytelling.

Eastern Bank

"Storytelling needs to be real, and storytelling is effective when you can evoke the right emotion. Our goal is to create a movement, that is sparking people to take action on something. There's the notion that if you can start with anger and fear, and then incite some sort of hope, that's when you'll get action from individuals. When we're looking at the stories that we should tell, we're looking to educate, inspire, and activate the audience with emotional stories and clear calls to action. We don't make [our content marketing] all about Eastern, because it's not all about Eastern.

"It's about our communities. What are the things, good or bad, that are happening in our communities? What are the issues that we need to be educated on? Who are the people or businesses that are already taking action and can inspire us to do more? And then, in the background, how is Eastern also supporting the community in a lot of those areas? The idea is that we're educating you, but the people we tell stories about, they're the ones who should be inspiring you."

That was certainly the content marketing approach that Eastern took when promoting the opening of its new Roxbury branch earlier this year. "It was so exciting and so impactful to tell the story behind why Eastern chose to open a bank in Roxbury," says Niles-Lane. "There hadn't been a bank opened there in 20 years, so we're going where there is a huge disparity for income and wealth. And that's because of our mission to ensure everyone has access to fairly priced financial services, but it's also because Eastern was already deeply rooted in the Roxbury community. We have been long time partners with and have worked with a number of organizations in the community. We have staff who live there or grew up there, including Roxann Cooke, our senior vice president and regional manager, who oversaw the development of the new branch. So again, it's authentic because we have these personal connections to the community."

To promote the new branch, Eastern told these stories, online and off. "We did a number of community service events with the Roxbury Boys & Girls Club, and worked with them to tell the stories of women who helped shape the history of Roxbury."

Niles-Lane says the response to these stories, and to the Roxbury branch opening, has been outstanding. The branch opened in May, and in June, Eastern held a block party to celebrate with the community.

"When we walked around and talked to the people, they asked, 'How do I open an account right now?’ because no one had ever done that for them. We've been so well-received because the folks behind the bank, we are boots on the ground. Our chair and CEO, Bob Rivers, and vice chair and president, Quincy Miller, are active in the community and inspire others to do the same. Customers know our goal is to make the community better, because when the community is good, business is good."

From Walking the Walk to Changing the World

Eastern isn't just willing to go where other banks won't go. The brand is also willing to champion issues that other businesses won't advocate for-from immigration, to gay marriage, to transgender bathrooms.

Eastern Bank has done more than talk about these issues. It was the first company in the US to sign the GLAD Amicus Brief challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. It was one of three companies (along with Google and Harvard Pilgrim) that led the lobbying for Massachusetts' transgender rights bill and continues to lead the business community in ensuring the legislation is upheld in the 2018 November voting season. And when President Trump signed a directive banning transgender individuals from the military, Eastern put up a billboard that read "Good salutes all those who serve our country. All." The word "all" featured the colors of the transgender flag.

"We've been vocal about what we care about and courageous," says Niles-Lane. "We're a bank, and we had a billboard on major highways that said, 'Hey we're going to stand up for LGBTQ rights.' Some might not like it, and we know we have customers who may not like it, but we're here to make sure the world we live and work in is diverse and inclusive. Overall, the campaign has been extremely well-received. There's a handful of negative comments that we might get on social media if we put out a story on an LGBTQ community or the African-American community, but for those two comments, there are 200 likes."

Most Eastern employees like it, too. When the bank polled staff about the Join Us for Good campaign, 70 percent agreed that the campaign made them proud to be an Eastern employee, and that the brand messaging is consistent with their experience with the bank.

"Our employee engagement scores are up," says Niles-Lane. "We're consistently voted one of the best places to work, and the campaign’s authenticity resonates with employees. And I think one reason it's been really well-received internally is because we've had transparent and authentic leadership. Some employees might not necessarily agree with all of these views. Our leadership has addressed that and said, 'We understand that and respect your beliefs, but this is how we see the future. This is how we see the world.'"

Success is Measured By Trust

Doing good is doing wonders for business, and so is great brand storytelling. Niles-Lane says that over the past year, engagement numbers across social media platforms have increased more than 300 percent.

"It's absolutely a formula that's working. We're going to continue to measure and refine. What's really important to us is continuously looking at what we're calling the advocacy journey, as well as the traditional customer journey (awareness, consideration, participation), and when do we have license to say, 'You seem like a person who should be joining us for good as a customer?' We have KPIs that are very much tied to that traditional funnel: What does engagement mean? Is that part of our awareness or participation bucket? What does a share mean? What does a video view mean? What does all of this mean for us and what we're trying to accomplish? So, we are looking at that, because all of this is great stuff, but we also have to measure what type of impact we are having. And it is resonating. The types of stories we're telling, this campaign, it's resonating with the audience. And I think that just speaks to the fact that we've built trust with the audience, and they believe in the mission of #JoinUsForGood."

Featured image attribution: Maura Wayman


Taylor Holland

Taylor Mallory Holland is a freelance writer, editor, and content marketer specializing in technology, healthcare, and business leadership. As a content strategist, Holland contributes thought leadership content for some of the world's top brands, including Samsung, IBM, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, and UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. She has been a contributor for The Content Standard since 2014.