Guardian Bank Puts Strategic Back in Marketing

Barbara Kieker

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Over a three-month period about five years ago, Guardian Bank recorded everything that it and other banks were saying to customers. They clipped print ads, printed online ads, took photos of billboards and posted everything on the wall of a conference room. The bottom line?

"We were all saying the same things," said Ron Zaccari, head of Community and Regional Relations for Guardian Bank in Valdosta. "We took a step back and decided to look at what we could do to set Guardian Bank apart from its competitors and have a bigger impact."

Making a Bigger Impact
At the time, one program in particular stood out as representing what community banking was all about at Guardian Bank. That was the business plan competition that Guardian sponsored along with the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce.

"Over six years, we invested $90,000 in the business plan competition, which helped the winning entrepreneur with start-up and other related costs. It's a great program," Zaccari said.

"The strategic question was how can we invest $90,000 over the next six years and touch more people. We went to Valdosta State University's Small Business Development Center and asked if we give you $15,000 a year, what would be possible returns on our investment?"

The answer was a program that could be offered three times a year to educate a total of 75 participants on the concepts and tools related to finance, strategic planning, marketing and leadership. Guardian's investment enables VSU SBDC to offer discounted tuition to all participants.

"The participants are highly respected individuals in the community. It's a wonderful opportunity for them to build their expertise and it's a wonderful opportunity for Guardian to touch a larger number and greater variety of people in the community," Zaccari said.

Defining Community Banking
The new approach at Guardian Bank has had several positive outcomes. For Guardian, the program, which is now an official partnership between Guardian Bank and VSU SBDC, serves as a marketing tool to build their name in the community. It also reinforces the bank's culture, which is built on strong relationships with local businesses.

For the community, the program has extended support to small businesses in the region. According to Zaccari, the program has generated $24 million in VSU SBDC start-ups over the past two years.

"With this program, we've defined what we mean by community banking. We've defined what we mean by community engagement," Zaccari said.

Guardian Bank has expanded the program to its bank in Brunswick, South Coast Bank. The program there is in its second year of operation.

Earning Recognition
Guardian Bank's partnership with the VSU SBDC has earned recognition from the state-level SBDC organization. The program has also helped enhance the bank's reputation in the Valdosta community. In 2013, the U.S. Small Business Association named Guardian Bank the Financial Services Champion of the Year as part of its Georgia District Awards.

Zaccari, who retired as VSU president several years ago and now works part-time for Guardian Bank, believes the SBDC program and the people it touches are representative of a new way of working and thinking.

"It takes a different type of thinker to be successful in today's business world. We need people who have a spark for innovation," Zaccari said.

Zaccari, who is a practicing artist when he is not at work for Guardian Bank, is currently developing a course on how to incorporate a higher level of creativity into daily business operations.

More information on Guardian Bank is available online at More information on the VSU SBDC is available online at

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.