Absa – the Evolution of a Brand (Anthony Swart)
‘Today, Tomorrow Together’ is Absa’s pay-off line and to most South Africans reflects a professional, approachable, friendly and accessible
financial services institution. It’s a brand that has a spontaneous recall of 97 percent1 and has achieved this remarkable feat in just ten years. However cast your minds back a decade or two, think of Volkskas, United Bank, Trust Bank and Allied, the connotations are very different! It’s hard to believe that they have now evolved into the brand we know as Absa. One has to ask how you change the perception of a brand from a conservative group of banks, to one consolidated bank that appeals to all South Africans; this was our brief.
Absa, a brief history
In 1991, a consolidated merger of numerous financial institutions saw the conception of one of South Africa’s biggest banking groups, Amalgamated Banks of South Africa (ABSA). Initially the four retail banks (Allied, Volkskas, United Bank and Trust Bank) traded independently within the Absa group. However, this resulted in a virtually zero top of mind recollection, so in 1998 a strategic decision was made to unify and reinvent the Absa brand. Our agency, The Brand Union was tasked and the analysis began. Understanding your past defines your future.
The initial audit of Absa’s holding company image revealed:
• A dated style.
• An undifferentiated offer.
• Little correlation between the segment lifestyle.
• An environmentally faceless image.
• The expense of having to service four different retail banking brands, as well as the Absa brand, did not make financial sense.
The solution was to create brand and operational synergy. The complexity of multiple brands with overlapping target markets made no sense so we recommended a strategic shift in focus. Absa became one brand providing financial services; a one-stop shop offering simple, uncomplicated banking relationships, value for money, stability, convenience and superior customer service.
The key challenge was for Absa to stay relevant to their customers, and for the group to become the brand. Our team then focussed on creatinga new corporate identity for the Absa Group that would unite retail banking services, (financial services, properties and securities, coupled with the brand merger of four individual retail banks) creating an Absa brand that would seamlessly and effectively be accepted by a broad spectrum of customers, as well as employees.
What comes before B?
Through the development of the new Absa visual identity, emphasis was conservative and hard, to a brand which is approachable, caring and trusted.
Logo development is crucial and is the most frequently used visual association of an organisation, an important consideration of this development is the colour choice. It is a crucial differentiating factor between the four main competitors and has important psychological relevance. The colour red is associated with excitement and energy, a great choice for the Absa brand. The vibrant red used gives Absa a modern feel that stands out from its competitive set. Colour establishes a brand quickly and easily in the eyes of consumers today.
The thinking behind it all The strategic focus of the design was the depiction of ‘union; fusion and wholeness’, attributes that the brand stands for today. Adding to this focus was the need to position Absa as a leading financial services institution with a contemporary feel, and differentiating the brand as being superior to those that came before. At the time consumer research showed that consumers choose banks on the basis of:
• Sound financial security.
• Good image.
• Ability to identify with the customer.
As a result of these findings, a focus on personalised customer service quality arose, with emphasis being that it needed to extend to every level in the bank.
A logo was just the beginning….
The pay-off line ‘Today, Tomorrow, Together’ is a reflection of the brand image and values, reinforcing the concept of ‘togetherness’ and the
formation of lasting relationships. It reflects the solidarity of the brand, as well as the commitment by Absa to its employees and other stake holders.
In engaging its employees with the new brand, both internal and external communications were vital to the brand engagement process. Through 2-Dimensional and 3-Dimensional rebranding activities, a face lift of the Absa inherited branches was ensured. These activities included signage, ATM rebranding, posters, information collateral and so on.
Corporate Identity controls were established to ensure the transition to the new Absa brand was not compromised in any of the multifaceted customer touch points. Look how far they’ve come…
Today Absa is a household name and is rated as one of the top 10 brands in South Africa. It is ranked as the top banking brand in SA2 with an identity that continues to remain relevant in a dynamic climate. As of 31 December 2007, Absa had assets of R641 billion, 892 points of presence, 9 million customers, 7 693 automated teller machines and 36 893 permanent employees.
Barclays’ acquisition of the Absa group called for the need for continuous evolution of the brand, which can be seen by the revised identity together with the Barclays endorsement that The Brand Union developed.
The brand is executed consistently across all applications, and through every employee, which ensures its continued positive perception in the
market. Absa is a true rebrand success story, thanks largely to the careful blend of art and science in the process of brand repositioning and identity creation.
The Brand Union, a multinational branding company that has a heritage of over 30 years in the South African market, was responsible for the rebranding of Absa. The agency operates in 18 different markets through a network of 21 offices. placed on the first letter, ‘A’ which is also synonymous with the first letter of the Roman alphabet, the ‘Alpha’, symbolising the ‘beginning’. The evolution of the design revolved around the positioning change which was required, moving Absa from imagery which was old, conservative and hard, to a brand which is approachable, caring and trusted.
Anthony Swart is the CEO of The Brand Union in Africa. A deeply rooted African, with decades of experience in branding and marketing, Anthony has a passion for developing this continent and its brands, and a vision to help grow indigenous African brands to achieve their full potential. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Psychology, and an MBA focusing on truth in brand promise.
1 Millward Brown: Market Tracker, 2007
2 The Encyclopaedia of Brands & Branding in South Africa, 2007: Affinity Publishing: South Africa