It's been a long time since Americans saved their pennies. Since the start of 2005, Americans saved just 0.5 percent of what they earned, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. But that is changing. Savings picked up in 2008 as the financial crisis deepened and a new sense of thrift altered the consumer mindset.
Atlanta-based SunTrust Bank, which is headquartered in one of the states hit hardest by the recession, is witnessing this savings phenomenon and is reacting with a new campaign to attract deposits. Through October, Georgia's unemployment rate was at seven percent, above the national average. The bank's chief marketing officer Rilla Delorier says that as a result of the economic tumult, the $170 billion-asset bank has seen an increased interest among customers to be more careful with their spending.
"People are saying it's time to live solid and live within their means and frugal is sexy," says Delorier, who took over as CMO starting in June. "If you look at the previous decade, people have been more talking about the 'dream' and buying it and keeping up with the Joneses. Now it's about doing the right things [financially] and making the right choices."
To address customer concern over the economy, SunTrust unveiled its new brand positioning, "Live Solid, Bank Solid," in mid-November. According to Delorier, the campaign came about after months of consumer research. Among the findings: 83 percent of respondents would rather be envied for spending wisely than for spending freely; 83 percent said "how" you spend your money is more important than "how much" money you have; and eight out of 10 respondents believe that feeling in control of one's finances will breed felicity.
At a time when most banks are talking about how solid they are, Delorier says SunTrust talks about how it can help the client get on solid ground. "'Live Solid, Bank Solid' was a direct outcome of spending a lot of time understanding that Americans have shifted their mindset or woken up from an adolescent spending binge and now saying it's time to get real about my money and being a bit more frugal about where they're spending their money," she says. "Not only do customers want a solid bank, they want somebody who is going to help them get to solid ground."
Considering banks' need to secure funding (SunTrust was the first bank to make a second TARP request), encouraging savings is a logical play, says Bob Meara, senior analyst at Boston-based consultancy Celent. The economy "does seem to be creating some tenor of back to basics," he says. "In today's climate, which is a very unusual and very interesting one for banks, it is an imperative for them to grow their deposit base and there's only a few ways to do that. One very interesting way is to coax folks into saving so that average account balances grow. Even a relatively small growth among a wide swath of account holders amounts to billions of dollars at mid-sized banks."
SunTrust's new branding initiative came at the end of the year, a time when people are more open to making habit changes, or resolutions. It's also the first campaign designed for SunTrust by Winston-Salem, NC-based advertising agency Mullen, which the bank hired in October. The campaign will run throughout the bank's footprint, which extends from Maryland down to Florida.
The beginning of the television spot rapidly scrolls through various pictures and footage of expensive items, glamorous-looking people and shopping malls. By the end of the spot it's of everyday Americans doing everyday activities. A narrator asks: "Remember the Joneses, and all their stuff? And how people were trying to keep up? Well some of us woke up, instead. We no longer want big and flashy. We want real, true and honest. We want to stand on solid ground and we want a bank that does the same; a bank that's here to help us prosper, whatever our definitions of prosper may be. Live solid. Bank solid. SunTrust."