State Bank and Trust Co. is having an identity crisis.
In a deal that became the talk of the industry, the tiny bank in Macon, Ga., bought six failures one fateful Friday last July, catapulting its asset size from $36 million to $2.5 billion overnight.
The challenge now is to pump up its name recognition to a level more befitting of its heft, and a new branding campaign aims to do just that.
"We're the fourth-largest bank based in Georgia, but as a practical matter we're only nine months old," says Joe Evans, who became the chairman and chief executive officer at State as part of its transformative deal.
Two of the four television spots in the campaign showcase employees. The spots, shot in black and white, depict a photographer snapping away in a studio, as the employees pose with their favorite things. One woman has an armful of shoes, another a box of chocolates. Others get their pictures taken with a pearl necklace, a fishing rod or a stack of books.
"You know that one special something you absolutely cannot imagine living without?" asks a male voice-over. "We want to be that bank." The spots close with the bank name and the tag line, "Absolutely."
Tim Pannell, the president and CEO of Financial Marketing Solutions in Franklin, Tenn., says creating a campaign for State presented unique challenges. Nearly all of its employees and customers went through a failure and came on board involuntarily. So getting them excited about being part of State is critical.
Pannell says the upbeat campaign aims to counter the negativity directed at the banking industry in general. One way the television spots help with this is by getting people to relate to State employees on a personal level.
"She loves chocolate; you love chocolate. He loves fishing; you love fishing," Pannell says. "We wanted to bring that human element so people would not see this as a bank to be angry with, but they would see people they know living real lives with the same values they have."
All the employees also have a "brand card" at their desks, displaying a picture of themselves with that one thing they can't live without.
Rick Chiorando, the chief creative officer at the ad agency Austin & Williams in Hauppauge, N.Y., says he likes the way State is positioning itself.
"While there are way too many banks playing the 'yes' card, State Bank took it to the next level with the one word tag line 'Absolutely.' It's a feel-good, positive word that many consumers are not hearing in this down economy," Chiorando says. "It dovetails well with the softer, more approachable, black-and-white photography that personalizes their bankers."
Georgia is among the states with the most bank failures, and Pannell says he wanted to convey the hopefulness and excitement at State, which is supercapitalized and actively lending.
State has three times as much capital as regulators require, even after buying two more failed banks in December. Its summer deal included a $300 million infusion led by Evans and the management team he brought with him.
Evans says State is eager to do more deals. He would consider failed, struggling or healthy institutions.
But he also expects strong organic growth, since so many competitors are hobbled and the bankers at State are veterans in the market area. His team previously worked together at the $1.8 billion-asset Flag Financial Corp. in Atlanta, which was sold to RBC Centura Banks Inc. for $456 million in 2006.
“We find ourselves in a unique set of circumstances where our bankers are much better known than our bank,” Evans says.
As the branding effort began, switching to a new bank name got little consideration. Some might call the name generic—and 31 others in Georgia have "State Bank" as part of their names too—but Evans is unfazed.
"We're not glitzy people and State Bank just sounded like an appropriately nonglitzy name for us," he says. "The more we thought about it, it just started to feel good like an old shoe."