Charles Schwab’s Kirstin Falk on brand storytelling

In the past five years, Charles Schwab has created nearly 20 films telling engaging stories centered on the brand platform “Own Your Tomorrow.”

In the past five years, Charles Schwab has created nearly 20 films telling engaging stories centered on the brand platform “Own Your Tomorrow.” From stories of brave career changes and retirement reinventions to breakthrough technological and medical innovations, Charles Schwab’s branded content has inspired and entertained. Here, Kirstin Falk, managing director of brand storytelling and innovation at the financial services company, discusses what makes “Own Your Tomorrow” the perfect storytelling vehicle and what it takes to reach consumers today.

How do you approach your role at Charles Schwab?

My goal is to humanize our brand through story. The innovation piece of that is to identify new and emerging ways to tell that story and to connect with consumers in an emotional way and continue to maintain an experimental mindset because of how constantly marketing is changing.

What is the company’s content strategy?

We are a company founded on the belief of transparency and providing the customer with the right information so they can take ownership of their financial lives. At the end of the day, our brand promise is “Own Your Tomorrow.” What we try to do is see through our clients’ eyes and provide content and resources to enable people to own their tomorrow. Our team is focused on branded content, content that isn’t product marketing or advertising but really uses stories, human stories, to connect with people and inspire them to make better decisions to set them on the path for owning their tomorrow.

What makes good brand content?

Everything starts with a good story. The bar on that keeps getting higher and higher. We have two competing trends in the marketplace right now: The fact that the average attention span is less than that of a goldfish, and people are binge-watching. What connects those two is creating a good story that is emotionally resonant with the consumer and is relevant to where they are in their lives, and is inspirational. When you have a good story, you can create a six-second ad to iterate parts of the story or you can have longer-form content that shows up in places like Netflix or Hulu. With branded content, you add the layer of the brand; you’ve got to create authentic content that is reflective of the brand’s values.

Why did you decide to tell the story of Not Impossible Labs and Mick Ebeling’s quest to help an artist suffering from ALS?

Mick is a client of Schwab, and we love to celebrate our clients. It is incredibly inspirational to see the way he’s taken a challenger attitude to solve large, complex problems. We are huge believers in people who exude those values: challenging, asking questions, being engaged. That is key to the way Mick approaches things, and it is key to the way we view the world. There was a lot of natural synergy about why that story makes sense for us — the resilience and spirit and the true “Own Your Tomorrow” attitude that Tempt [One] has as somebody who is in a hospital bed every single day of his life and still wakes up with a positive, optimistic, can-do attitude. We felt it was a great story to tell and share with people, one that really brings our brand values to life.

How have you seen the marketplace evolve in the five years since you joined Charles Schwab?

The content space has exploded. I was at the branded storytelling conference at Sundance, and the amount of content being produced by companies is beyond anything that we would have imagined. My takeaway is that years ago people used to spend millions on TV production, and what you are seeing now is a real shift to creating evocative branded content. You see the entertainment industry moving into the branded content space and some amazing partnerships happening there. I do think the bar continues to be raised in terms of the level quality and the competition…and the reality that people aren’t watching TV ads the way they used to. TV isn’t done, but now it’s part of an integrated online/offline strategy. You see the entertainment industry doing that very well.

What have you learned?

I’ve learned that there is an art and science to this. We really lean into the creativity, the art, the soul part, but there is also tremendous opportunity to get data from the various platforms to optimize the content. My role is constantly balancing the art and science of creating branded content.