CMO Spotlight: Susan Johnson, CMO, SunTrust
In today’s edition of the CMO Spotlight Series, I’m happy to bring you some interesting insights into financial services marketing with a deep focus on branding through positive customer experiences.
Purpose, Compassion and Critical Thinking are the 3 most important attributes a modern CMO must have, according to Susan Somersille Johnson, CMO of the 10th largest bank in the United States, SunTrust. While they may seem like fairly obvious traits, Johnson says they are often taken lightly or not sufficiently cultivated. I would agree; a majority of CMOs would add these to a general list of “good-to-have” attributes rather than place the utmost importance on developing them.
Johnson says she was drawn to the SunTrust brand because of its strong sense of purpose. The stated purpose of the bank is to “light the way to financial well-being and help customers gain confidence over their finances.” More importantly, the bank strives to implement this purpose in many different ways.
How Do You Achieve Your Brand Purpose?
A refreshing change from the stereotypical obsession with numbers, Susan talks about measuring SunTrust’s success not merely in terms of increased sales, but instead, in terms of how effectively customer needs are being met. For individual customers, the bank tracks and monitors how they are helping people reach financial stability, make significant investments such as buying their first home, accomplish financially challenging tasks like sending a child to university, live their dreams such as taking an expensive vacation, and so on. When the focus of the entire team is on making sure that every customer, no matter how simple or complex their needs may be, is taken care of in the best way possible, the brand starts to truly deliver on its promise.
SunTrust has chosen sports as their vehicle for embedded marketing. The reason for that, says Susan, is because, “The sporting experience is a positive one, and we want our brand to be part of that fan experience.” Given that a sporting event is a high-energy display of emotions by fans, it makes perfect sense for a brand to reach out and aim to ride along on that wave of adrenalin.
What Role Does Compassion Play in Brand Marketing?
I would say, a LOT! The days of cut-throat price wars and loud, pushy, in-your-face marketing are over, and out. Johnson says she is inspired by the dedication she is seeing as she visits branch after branch of the bank around the country. Employees live by the principle of, “I stay awake at night so my clients don’t have to. It’s my role to figure out what they need today, tomorrow, and the day after, and help them so they can sleep easy.” This is showing compassion and it can only come from really listening to your customers. Marketers everywhere talk about gathering feedback and listening to customers, but in my opinion, far more profess to doing this than the ones that actually do.
To her credit, since her appointment as CMO in August this year, Johnson has been traveling around to meet employees and customers in branches across the country. She says it’s important to recognize the blurring lines between consumer and commercial banking customers. The common goal is to understand different circumstances—both life/personal and business-related that impact a customer’s financial goals. Only then can you begin to identify and offer appropriate solutions from your portfolio.
So, remaining true to your brand purpose, and showing compassion to customers’ needs are two fundamental aspects of marketing which every modern CMO must imbibe, promote and live by. The third, according to Johnson, is critical thinking.
Why Is Critical Thinking Integral to Brand Performance?
Brands need to be agile, even in a highly regulated environment such as banking, says Susan. She emphasizes that while digital media, mobile marketing, social media and Big Data have all put information at our fingertips, it is easy to feel swamped in a deluge. Having access to analytical data is all very well, but what you do with the data, how you apply those insights to your marketing, what changes you implement based on findings to help more customers and improve their experiences overall with your brand—that’s the most important part of having access to data.
While it may seem as though flexibility and agility are difficult to achieve when there is so much regulation to keep within, Johnson says it works to SunTrust’s advantage. “ Because of the regulation, all of the teams are very familiar with information, reporting, analytical skills and documentation. They have this rigor of reporting that doesn’t exist in a lot of marketing organizations. So because we have this skill, we know how to flex muscle. That is transferable to the way we deal with client information, so we can use it best to help clients. I think some of the skills we have developed because of the regulations actually help us to be more nimble and stay closer to the client.”
- How is your brand demonstrating the desirable traits of staying true to its purpose?
- Does your B2B marketing strategy uphold the principle of showing compassion to customer needs?
- Is your mountain of data causing an information overload? Or are you able to achieve critical thinking and enhance customer experience with your brand?