Southern Bancorp was one of the first and strongest mission-driven development banks in the country — a very different bank on a very different mission.

In 25 years it had grown from a $10 million investment into a $1 billion community development financial institution. It has leveraged over $270 million in philanthropic community investments and demonstrated that a small mission-oriented institution could have a big impact on distressed communities.


Yet the bank found its identity and purpose fragmented — even within its own employee ranks. And it found that its reputation within the industry and its communities was not as cohesive, clear or compelling as it should be. It needed more if it were going to accomplish more.


Recognizing that some of the most successful development banks in the country had been served by strong, compelling brands, Southern turned to Thoma Thoma, the mid-South’s recognized expert in developing brand leadership.


Accepting the challenge to clarify and crystallize the bank’s brand strategy, Thoma completed its Brand Navigator consultation, with extensive research among all of Southern’s stakeholders. Led by disciplined and visionary CEO Darrin Williams, the bank focused brand activation work internally; Williams knew the first order of business was to unify the entire employee population behind the brand.


With Brand Leadership Frames in hand, Thoma and the bank’s marketing/communications leadership created a road show that management delivered to its 360 employees and 40+ branches. The brand launch established that henceforth, the three discrete Southern business entities would be unified and aligned under a “One Southern, One Mission” banner.


Thoma helped stand up and facilitate development of an effective employee brand council responsible for refining and propagating brand culture throughout the organization. The council informed development of the recognition and reward program R.A.I.S.E. (pegged to the company’s core values: Relationship, Accountability, Innovation, Sustainability, Empowerment). In its first year, R.A.I.S.E. was enthusiastically embraced by employees, who made over 1,000 nominations for core values recognition.


Thoma’s brand strategy and activation support helped get the entire Southern team on the same page and pulling in the same direction. In just one year, employee engagement and alignment jumped by 25 percentage points.


Now the bank is turning its attention outward, establishing 10-year objectives for helping 10,000 people attain affordable housing, supporting the creation and retainment of 100,000 jobs and empowering 1 million people to save. From frontline tellers to the CEO, Southern’s organization is unified behind a clear, compelling brand story that attracts customers, attracts capital and attracts top talent.