BOCA RATON, FL: SunTrust, the banking group, believes finding a clear sense of purpose can help financial-services brands stand out in a category which frequently lacks meaningful differentiation.

Jeff Van De Velde, svp/director of client experience and loyalty and executive director/purpose integration at SunTrust, discussed this topic at The Market Research Event, a conference run by the Institute for International Research (IIR).

"There is a lot of this word 'purpose' in media these days," he conceded. (For more, including how the firm discovered its mission, read Warc's exclusive report: How SunTrust dug deep to mix purpose and profit.)

While this notion is a hot topic among marketers, Van De Velde suggested that banks had a particular incentive to foster emotional bonds with consumers.

"Banks are somewhat commoditised," he said. "Our products look a lot alike: they're named uniquely, but – pretty much – they are allowed to have the same things. So we needed to find something else to compete on."

In response, SunTrust has reconfigured its operations around a deeper set of motivations that could tangibly connect with both its own origins and current customer desires.

"We're going to try to transform our business from product-focused to client-focused, and figure out how to make money along the way," said Van De Velde.

"We believed that we could compete on a compelling 'why', if we could discover what that 'why' was."

Part of that process required reconnecting with the firm's long-term mission – with roots in the post-Civil War south to assisting companies like Coca-Cola and Walt Disney at important moments in their history.

"A lot of people that do this work say: 'The further you get from your start-up story, the less you are true and authentic to who you are.' So, we're 150 years away from our start-up story," said Van De Velde.

The organisation's fresh objectives are summed up with the aim to "Light the way to financial wellbeing", and was epitomised with the marketing tagline, "How can we help you shine today?"

Van De Velde said: "This is truly our purpose; this is what we now pursue ... If you were around at any time in the history of the company, they would say, 'Yeah, that's it.'"

Data sourced from Warc