Absa’s first year as a standalone African brand
09 July 2019
On 11 July 2018, one of South Africa’s biggest brands was relaunched to the market after the separation from Barclays PLC. David Wingfield, Managing Executive Branding & Marketing, Absa Group Limited, discusses how, over the past 12 months, the Absa brand has grown into its bold and passionate personality to deliver true Africanacity.
The relaunch of the Absa brand last year was an opportunity to reshape a forward-looking, digitally-led and standalone African bank with global scalability. The challenge was in maintaining the gravitas of the Barclays brand on the continent while allowing Absa to create its own destiny as a proudly African bank. This was a complex process with its fair share of challenges.
When Absa launched its refreshed brand in South Africa on 11 July 2018, the reception was largely positive, with some negative feedback. It was a huge shift in the brand’s identity which asked that customers revisit their perceptions of an entity which had operated in South Africa for decades.
The rebrand saw multiple agencies collaborate to develop the brand’s new identity as a partner in financial services. It also taught us many lessons about what to do, but also what not to do when we move to rebrand our African business later this year.
When we started conceptualising the rebrand we spoke to more than 130 000 customers across the African continent. We had the Barclays brand in all our countries outside South Africa and Absa in South Africa and we had to understand our customers’ needs before we started our journey. Their feedback, together with the advice from top brand experts, helped us reach the conclusion that we would become one brand that speaks to Africa; and that brand would be Absa. But Absa needed to be an entirely reinvented brand.
Reflecting on the process, one of the biggest lessons was around how important it is to remain flexible and allow for the brand to lead the strategy.
This was a particularly valuable lesson in light of how quickly we had to pull the required elements together to ensure the new Absa was the relevant, Africa-powered, bold Absa that we have today. In a relatively short period, we got the right people in place, the right agencies on board and the right attitude in play. We launched an integrated above-the-line campaign, with more than 40 branches and 150 ATMs rebranded, and our internal digital channels converted. It is possible to achieve the impossible when you have commitment and passion.
The overall rebrand of Absa had to redefine both internal and external benchmarks, transforming legacy manual systems into market-leading, digital channels that were both relevant and scalable.
One of the biggest challenges we faced was conveying our new ideology and digital principles in our branding so customers could see how we had re-imagined their access to the digital world through our solutions, services and platforms. We had to re-think everything from the bulkheads of the Absa ATMs to the logo and brand identity. We have proved that it is possible to take a traditionally analogue brand, redesign it and transform it into a digital first, analogue second, entity.
Another lesson learnt was how the little things can actually become the biggest headache when it comes to a rebrand. We had around 48 000 touchpoints to rebrand which included around 23 million references to “old” Absa and Barclays - everything from branch signs to branding on contracts, to references in web copy and more – it all had to be replaced with new Absa branding. This entailed a complex web of coding, messaging, logo redesign, refitting and refurbishing. Taking an eight-letter word (Barclays) and replacing it with a four-letter word (Absa) also had implications in coding, and the process turned out to be far more complex than initially envisioned.
The rebrand also meant a complete refocus of the overall brand strategy as a business, and we created a new strategy appropriate for an African business. We learnt that it becomes easier to drive the business forward, both internally and externally, if you start by aligning your business strategy with your brand proposition.
Finally, we had to find a word or phrase that would define our journey, our company, our vision and our future. There was none suitable, so we invented our own – Africanacity. Africanacity is the distinctly African ability to always find a way to get things done. It is built on the tenacity, audacity and creativity of our people and our continent, as well as our commitment to walking alongside our customers as they navigate their potential and realise the possibilities of Africa.
Much has been said about Africanacity and our new-look brand and its 15 bold shades of red. Research gathered over the past year shows that while it has taken South Africans time to wrap their minds around the change, there is no doubt that the new, friendlier, digital-age, button-like logo is much more liked than the previous, austere look.
It has been a challenging, demanding but also educational year. We are now taking the lessons learnt into the continent as we start replacing Barclays with Absa in the countries where we have a presence. As we prepare to launch, we will use what we learnt locally to carry our bold and passionate vision into these markets.
It is sure to be another interesting year ahead.
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