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Big Branding

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  • | 2:26 p.m. December 9, 2011
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It took a photographer almost 3,000 miles of travel around Florida to capture Sabal Trust Co.'s new look. The St. Petersburg-headquartered firm's President and CEO Ward Curtis Jr. cites this attention to detail as key in the firm's growth over the last five years.

A new website, business cards and even a coffee table book promoting the bank are adorned with scenes of Florida's outdoors. The firm is confident that the investment, which Curtis says was well into six-figures, will pay off in the long run.

Sabal Trust Co., which specializes in fiduciary services for first-generation wealth holders, has been considering a rebranding effort since 2009. But, Curtis says he was hesitant to move forward with it. “You have to be big enough to make this kind of investment,” he explains. The firm, which has grown from $350 million in assets in 2004 to $1.3 billion this year, is finally large enough to launch a full marketing campaign, he says.

Smaller competitors that Sabal Trust battles for business in the boutique-trust sphere shirk large marketing packages because of the risk they present, Curtis says. But, Sabal is looking to stand against larger firms. “If you want to play with the big boys you have to look like them,” he says.

Curtis explains that the new campaign costs roughly 6% of Sabal Trust's annual revenues, and it brought in CAP Brand Marketing for the mission. CAP, a Sarasota-based marketing and public relations firm, has created advertisements for Wells Fargo and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida.

Roxanne Joffe, president of CAP, explains that the process behind Sabal Trust's marketing vision took four months to complete. CAP contacted Sabal Trust's clients for interviews to pinpoint why customers prefer the company. The firm's conservative approach to investment and customer service were highlights from the interview. “If you want to call here and get voice mail you have to ask,” Curtis says.

The next step was choosing a campaign that creates brand awareness and has staying power. “It's not about pushing the product,” Joffe explains. “It's about giving the viewer a good feeling.”

By featuring scenes from nature and the concept of conservation, CAP created commercials shown on Bloomberg TV, new business cards, a freshly remodeled website and a coffee table book.

Curtis says by direct mailing the book, which features glossy photographs of the Everglades and other Florida landmarks, the bank achieves brand awareness and staying power.

“We want it to end up in people's living rooms,” Curtis says. He says he hopes the piece, which was sent to roughly 700 business professionals, doesn't end up in the trash. Compliments have already started flowing in about the book, which costs $10 to produce. “I've gotten unsolicited emails from lawyers saying they love it,” he says.

As a firm with more $1 billion in assets, 41 employees and four offices, Curtis says there is no need to worry about the risk from the marketing investment. He says the plan was for long-term growth, not customers lining up around the block. He also points out an internal side effect: uniting its branches and agents under one vision.

The big changes will have little affect on Curtis, who is proud to sing the “same old song” to his employees and clients. Says Curtis: “They call me the chief executive in charge of musaque.”

This article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Roxanne Joffe's name.


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