Humanising a digital world through creative storytelling – by Mashreq’s Suad Merchant

by Suad Merchant,SVP, global head of brand and corporate communications, Mashreq bank


Everything in our modern world is a tap away, be it food, services, or even banking. And, it’s a noisy world saturated with products catering to every conceivable niche. I believe the best way to set your brand apart in such a world, to help customers notice you amidst the noise, is through authentic, compelling storytelling.

As brand marketers, we must rethink what it means to be heard, remembered and most importantly, loved in today’s world. We need to know who our audiences are, what dazzles their mind, touches their hearts, and stimulates their senses to create consideration and trust and eventually generate a fan following. 

Generational Gap

Banking for our grandparents meant heading to their local branch and interacting directly with a branch manager, and enjoying the comfort of having a human relationship with your bank. The longevity of the relationship and the brand’s heritage were the values that were important for brand consideration. However, with increased digitisation and smartphone fluency, the new generation i.e Gen Z prioritises convenience, prompt resolution and a hassle-free banking experience. Their connection to the bank stems more from their perception of the authenticity of how the bank aligns with their individual values and how it delivers the service with a purpose – supporting the local communities and small businesses, empowering the women workforce, participating in the green initiatives and so on. In fact, Gen Z could even consider tech companies as financial providers if it aligned with their values. 

While it may seem like we’re dealing with different worlds, I see four vital transcending generations factors.

 – Is the brand listening empathetically?

 – Does the brand’s purpose align with my values?

 – Is the brand honest? Is it authentic?

 – How relevant and contextual is the brand in today’s digital world?

We have seen a lack of face-to-face interactions in the last few years, causing diminished relationships. The human connection is missing, and with it, so is the trust. It’s more critical than ever for us to focus on humanising our brand and bringing the human back into the digital. 

 Breaking through the clutter

 Storytelling may have started in caves, but it remains just as relevant in the digital age. What began as folklore and drawings on cave walls evolved into black and white film, and now, colour video in our palms. The means of consumption and experience have evolved alongside the format.

Consumers today have a slew of choices and prospects in purchasing products. As per McKinsey, in the last 3 years we have seen 74 % of the customers trying new brands with the surge of e-commerce and 40% of the customers switching to a new brand globally. Data shows that as choices and channels increase, brand trustworthiness is more valuable to consumers. And it’s especially relevant to financial services brands as they are expected to manage the most sensitive bits of customer information. 

 The one factor that remains constant, which separates memorable stories from forgettable ones, is empathy. If your story, whatever its medium, cannot create a connection with the audience or draw out an emotional response, it’s already failed.

 One of my favourite quotes by John Lennon “I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So, I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?” 

And so is the context of the metaverse. When the metaverse inevitably becomes one of the preferred media for communication — an idea that brands and customers alike are excited about — it’ll still be good storytelling that will stick with the customer, just more immersive. We simply move from storytelling to “story-living”, so to speak, by allowing customers to view and experience a story in new ways. 

In essence, invest in great story telling, infuse it with empathy and authenticity, remember that the customer is always the hero, and you are only a guide. It’s okay to make mistakes or to admit that we aren’t there yet. Showing that you care is what creates that relationship and drives the brand narrative. Above all else, the story needs to be compelling and unforgettable. As a brand, you need to consistently drive the message home so that your audience is clear about what your brand stands for. Simultaneously, reach out to people about the things they care about and focus on their best interests. Once you’ve done that, you’ve made them the co-author of your brand story, a partner in your journey, as much as you are in theirs. It’s like a partnership – you are telling your brand story with your customer’s needs interwoven somewhere within its fabric. 

That’s when you can start building a tribe.