In 2022, Purpose has moved from the periphery of company strategy to its core. The Purpose Power Index 2022, the first empirical study of Purpose based brands, confirms that Purpose significantly contributes to increasing people’s willingness to buy from and work for a company.
Despite this growing understanding, a big challenge remains. Only 10% of CMOs have activated their Purpose inside and outside their organizations (Kantar). And among those who do, recent studies indicate that 80-85% of Purpose initiatives fail in execution.
So, who is doing it, and doing it well?
Vinoo Vijay is Chief Marketing Officer at Truist, one of the largest commercial banks in the nation. He also happens to be one of the top CMOs in the country who is activating the company’s purpose effectively. This interview puts Vijay at the center of activating purpose. He agreed to talk to me, and he relishes the opportunity to pass on what he has learned in the process.
1. What is Truist’s Purpose?
Our purpose is to inspire and build better lives and communities. This purpose has been our core grounding from the inception of Truist three years ago. It’s clear to us that scaled modern banking is just table stakes. What drives us, and makes us distinctive, is our absolute commitment to our shared purpose, mission, and values. Our belief is that a reimagined combination of touch and technology, combined with our deep teammate, client and community focus, puts us on the path to live our purpose every day.
2. When you were considering the offer to come to Truist and how did you know you’d be collaborating with leaders who believe in building a purpose-driven bank?
Your question includes an important and correct assumption. I had no interest in being the CMO of just another bank. I had already served as CMO at TD Bank, as well as created and ran brand and marketing at Ally Financial. What was, and is, important to me is having an active and positive impact on colleagues and communities, and it was obvious as I spoke with Truist leaders that they were deeply driven by purpose. Even now, we center our work in purpose. It’s a constant reminder of our why. And because we are a wholly new brand and reimagined bank, we have an incredible opportunity to translate our purpose intention into a genuinely different kind of banking experience.
3. Knowing that Truist’s Purpose is larger than simply increasing the number of new checking accounts, why does it need a purpose?
For the longest time the key focus and message of banking was around security. Imagine the imposing bank branch with six-inch thick walls protecting your money. That era was followed by one that emphasized scale. The sheer power of size. Think 60-story buildings. And for the last 15 years or so, the industry focus has been digital utility as digital became ubiquitous. Maximizing utility within our mobile six-inch screen. In the last couple of years, we are seeing a shift towards a focus on the communal. What I mean by that is, we’re recognizing that we don’t live in a vacuum. That we have shared experiences. And our actions impact others, and the actions of others impact ours. Think six degrees of separation multiplied. Our collective wellbeing is inexorably linked. This era demands that we find and create shared, common purpose beyond ourselves. In fact, we crave it. Whether as a teammate, or as a client. So the question now is not whether we need purpose, but how well can we deliver on purpose for our teammates, clients, and communities. Just as security, scale, or digital utility was the hallmark of our past, purpose is the blueprint for our future.
4. Communicating that purpose must be challenging. In a new study, less than 25% of CMOs are not activating the company purpose; what’s been your strategy?
Challenging, yes. Impossible, no. Activating purpose presented wide open whitespace for Truist. Banks do well meeting the functional banking needs of clients and communities. We get the functional job done. But the emotional needs. The more human needs. The needs that, if met, reinforce trust and commonalities. That inspire and build better lives and communities. Those needs aren’t typically being met by financial services providers. We knew that if we could find a way to both reinforce internally and, establish externally, our legitimate claim of being a more purposeful bank, we could stand apart. To your point, however, the language and visualization of purpose can lack believability and feel trite. It’s easy to be cynical about emotional attributes. Truist’s approach has been to go at it from the inside out starting with leadership. Our Truist Leadership Institute specializes in leadership development that focuses on the whole person and how their beliefs, especially their purpose, influence their leadership style. Leaders are tasked with not only identifying their purpose, but writing it down and leading from their personal purpose.
As we thought about how to translate our intention into an external narrative, we looked at language we already use internally. One of our key values is Care. Care is an encompassing word. It’s intentional. It’s focused on others. It alludes to a belief in and departure from industry indifference. It speaks to how we show up for teammates, clients, and communities. So we leaned into that word, and framed our position that “When you start with Care, you get a different kind of bank.” And we believe that to be true. Care can affect how people experience the brand. And if we can apply the power of a safe, scaled, digitally capable bank – with Care – then we will create a different kind of bank. That promise is how we think about our strategy, our experience development, our teammate development, and a vibrantly local community approach.
5. Truist today is everywhere, on TV, on billboards, on social media, on sports stadiums, how important is it to build your brand?
We are a new brand. And our scale demands we are in the top 3-5 bank brands in terms of awareness and consideration. Given there are several industry brands that have close to 100% awareness, we have our work cut out for us. As we journey there, our approach is to lean into what makes us unique – our purpose, a relentless pursuit to activate our purpose through Care, our focus on human touch and technology, and our vibrantly local emphasis on community engagement.
6. It seems like the CMO function is undergoing change. What do you see in the future of Marketing and the role of a CMO?
I’ve been in the marketing function for almost 30 years and have been head of marketing or CMO for more than a decade. The marketing function has gone through a couple of key evolutions and is going through one now. Thirty years ago, the big shift in marketing was enabled by the emergence of relational databases. That put marketers on the front end of direct marketing acquisition strategies. The emergence of digital was the next transformational moment, driving marketers to become CRM and client experience champions. Now, I think the shift is toward deepened integration of brand and purpose. Marketers need to be the champions of purpose, always connecting the work to the deeper “why.”
7. So when you’re sitting around the table with Bill Rogers, the CEO and Chairman of Truist, talking about strategy and what to do next, what keeps you centered? Do you think about the purpose on a daily basis?
I do. My personal purpose is to elevate the power of care and joy in my daily life. For me that means using every interaction to exchange a little bit of care, a little bit of joy with whomever I am with. I find the more honest and authentic I am, the better my chances are of having interactions that result in successful exchanges of care and joy. At the end of the day our lives are made up of millions of individual moments. The more of those moments have heart and happiness, the more I think our life is one well lived.
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