How SunTrust Bank Worked to Build Trust Among Distrustful Consumers

CMO Rilla Delorier Oversaw Aggressive Social-Media Outreach

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When Rilla Delorier assumed the post of chief marketing officer of SunTrust Bank in 2008, the banking crisis presented her with an opportunity -- to position SunTrust as a beacon in the storm, through new advertising from Mullen that launched in October of that year with the tagline, "Live Solid. Bank Solid."

SunTrust ad
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A SunTrust ad with the 'Live Solid. Bank Solid.' tagline.

"The campaign launched based on research that we were doing with clients at the time that showed that people were waking up to living within their means," said Ms. Delorier, who previously was director-marketing for the bank's wealth-management business. "We went from concept to launch in six weeks."

Believing in a consumer-driven marketing approach, Ms. Delorier knew that to really bring the concept to life, and secure connectedness with consumers, the bank -- the ninth largest in terms of deposits and assets, she said, and ranked by the Reputation Institute for American Banker in May as the second-most reputable bank in the U.S. -- needed to aggressively leverage social media, centering efforts on the "Live Solid. Bank Solid" theme. To that end, she oversaw the development of a host of online and social-media channels with which to engage consumers: the Bank Statements Blog, launched in June to help clients with their financial decisions; LiveSolid.com, a free online resource center available to everyone; the LiveSolid Twitter feed, with 2,000 followers; the LiveSolid Facebook page, "liked" by more than 15,000 people; a YouTube channel; and AskSunTrust on Twitter, which launched in October 2009 and helps clients resolve account and service issues.

But making sure the campaign and outreach efforts are hitting the right notes takes constant attention. "Monitoring how it's going and all the client research that we're doing does help us know whether we're being effective," she said. "We feel it's very important to listen to clients and hear what's on their minds."

In a recent interview with Ad Age, she shared her view of effective social-media outreach for building brand trust.

Rilla Delorier
Rilla Delorier
Ad Age: How have you personally gained an understanding of all of these new social-media tools out there and whether they were right for you?

Ms. Delorier: By spending a lot of time with other industries and talking to other marketers, through our agencies, as well as networking opportunities -- really seeing that other industries were tapping into social media and seeing it as a much richer way to connect with their clients.

One of the key things I kept hearing was, "When it's a dialog that people want to be having with each other, it works really well with social media." And for us, with "Live Solid. Bank Solid," our whole positioning is helping people really get regrounded on the intersection of life and money, and that is a topic that people are talking about. They're wanting to learn more, they want advice and support and they want it from peers that they trust. Because that was such a live dialog in the marketplace, that presented an opportunity for us to plug into that and provide advice and counsel [about] it. Not a lot of people out there are talking about CDs, but a lot of people are talking about how they are making tradeoffs in the household given the recession.

We found this as a way to provide advice and counsel to them in the ways they were already talking about it -- social media.

Ad Age: What kind of consumer research has informed your efforts?

Ms. Delorier: We do tremendous amounts of client research, [including] telephone surveys across our entire enterprise. We are very focused on driving client loyalty, so we have done hundreds of thousands of surveys to get a sense of what is on their minds and what are their financial questions and how we can make sure SunTrust is oriented with helping them with those issues.

Ad Age: Who is your target market and what do you know of their social-media habits and aptitude?

Ms. Delorier: One of our primary target markets is moms with children at home, and many surveys show they are some of the biggest users of social media. So we saw an alignment with our target market. We then did start small. We wanted to see what kind of content they'd [be receptive to].

We use a lot of social-media monitoring [tools] like BuzzMetrics and Nielsen and Sysomos, which measures social-media mentions across all social-media formats.

We're able to get not only the mentions but the tenor of our brand versus our competitors, [as well as identify] what kinds of financial topics are being discussed online.

Ad Age: How much of your annual marketing budget is allocated to social media?

Ms. Delorier:The great thing is less than 5% of my total spend is in social media. We've reached over a million customers this year through that mechanism. It's a very efficient way to get feedback on what's working and what's not.

Ad Age: Why only subtly brand LiveSolid.com?

Ms. Delorier: The purpose of LiveSolid.com is to help people with the intersection of life and money and to think about how money plays a role in life. It can't look like we're trying to sell something. It can't be a bank-centric site. The site is set up in order to help educate people and help them make decisions. We felt it important that it be subtly branded.

We're very focused on [sending] the right message to the right person through the right medium. It is based on the intelligence of what we know about you based on what you're doing on the site.

Ad Age: What are some examples of AskSunTrust on Twitter?

Ms. Delorier: Let's say someone needs help with online bill pay. Or is having a hard time locating an ATM. We can tweet [advice for those sorts of queries].

Ad Age: How are you able to measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts in terms of sales/new clients?

Ms. Delorier: We're able to get a lot of feedback from who's participating to their satisfaction; we're in some cases able to use web analytics to track all the way to sales.

Ad Age: What kind of result have you seen from the campaign?

Ms. Delorier: Since we launched "Live Solid. Bank Solid," we've outperformed our competitors with regard to household growth and deposit growth; we're working on measuring exactly which things are driving that growth.

Ad Age: Your messaging is largely tied to the recession. What will you do to ensure that it evolves as consumers' needs and feelings about their money evolve?

Ms. Delorier: I don't think our messaging is tied to the recession as much as it is tied to people's attitudes toward their money. I feel people want to be much more aware of where their money is going, making the right financial decisions.

People historically haven't been looking for advice on their basic banking. Now with changing regulations people do need help from banks that they trust. Our positioning is being the bank that can help people know that they're making the right financial decisions.

Ad Age: What kind of new restrictions on your advertising do you anticipate from the creation of the new consumer protection agency?

Ms. Delorier: We're still trying to understand what the implications are. It's still relatively new. The whole point behind it is to ensure there is transparency. "Live Solid, Bank Solid" is actually grounded in this concept of moral marketing. Very transparent, very focused on the client's benefit.

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