Building from the past: using heritage to support a brand

Company: Nationwide Building Society
Sector: Finance
Impact: Brand building, advertising & marketing; Corporate identity; Employee induction & engagement
Sponsor: Head of Marketing & Engagement
Timescale: 2016 – ongoing

Project brief

In 2016, Joe Garner became CEO of Nationwide Building Society. He wanted to make the most of the organisation’s unique heritage and he set in train the hiring of their first professional archivist to:

  • rediscover Nationwide’s history and founding purpose
  • enable Nationwide’s archive and heritage to become a corporate asset.

The new archivist used material in the archive collections to uncover the story of Nationwide and create a timeline of its history. This rediscovered heritage has been used in

  • employee inductions and engagement
  • brand advertising campaigns
  • history feature walls in head office and other key offices
  • content and posters for Nationwide branches


Building society since 1884 poster
Mortgage number 1 poster
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Our job as marketers is not to create purpose. It is to unearth it, shine a light on it, unravel the implications for strategy and tell our unique stories through its lens. Where do you start? I believe you start with making friends with (or in our case hiring our first) archivist. By understanding your past, you understand not just why things are as they are in the present but what the opportunities for the future could be.
Sara Bennison (Nationwide’s Chief Product & Marketing Officer) to the Financial Services Forum about the relationship between profit and purpose, 2017.

Business archives used by the team

  • Foundation documents of Nationwide Building Society’s predecessor, the Southern Co-operative Permanent Building Society. Records date from the late 19th century and explain why the Society was set up and its purpose.
  • Minute books and annual reports from 1884 to the present day. These allowed the archivist to put together key milestones and achievements.
  • First mortgage ledger dating from 1884. Contains information about early borrowers and their mortgaged properties.

Outcomes and business benefit

  • Multiple advertising campaigns in broadcast and print media focused on the history of Nationwide
  • Uptake in brand metrics after release of heritage-focused advertising
  • Increased employee enthusiasm and pride in Nationwide
  • Ongoing involvement by the archives team in employee induction, external and internal communications campaigns and brand marketing to stress the original and ongoing purpose of Nationwide as a building society

Lessons Learnt

  • A brand’s unique history differentiates it from others in the same sector. Using archives to tell that history gives the story authenticity.
  • Employees feel company changes and strategy are more credible when they are connected to original purpose and trusted history.
  • Archivists should be included from planning stages in marketing projects that focus on the company’s history. They can help
    • develop the heritage storyline
    • provide archive material to use as creative briefs, visuals and evidence
    • ensure the final product truly reflects the company’s heritage and does not overstate claims