By Marie Jamieson, Head of Marketing and Corporate Relations for ARO (Absa Regional Operations)

In 2016, when Barclays PLC announced it was reducing its ownership of Barclays Africa Group Limited to a minority shareholding, the opportunity arose for an organisational re-set, allowing the Bank to take control of its own destiny and look to a whole new future in Africa, says Marie Jamieson, Head of Marketing and Corporate Relations for ARO (Absa Regional Operations).

Two years later in 2018 we launched our new identity for Absa Bank South Africa, and for the Absa Group overall. This marked the official start of a new era for us; an era characterised by even greater commitment to being an important part of the African growth story.

Our separation from Barclays gave us the opportunity to roll out a whole new brand; one which reflects our uniquely African identity, and unites all our entities across the continent behind a single brand and purpose.

Our rebranding was an extensive and consultative journey executed over the period of more than a year. We didn’t automatically start from a place that assumed we would simply roll out the Absa brand across all other countries in Africa. Instead we kept a very open mind. We undertook a substantial research and had more than 130 000 conversations with customers, shareholders and other stakeholders in all our markets. We also spoke to more than 4 400 colleagues across all our countries so that they actively played a role in the co-creation of our new brand. The result was that we elected to go with the Absa brand. But importantly it would be a refreshed, re energised, and a totally new Absa brand.

At the same time, this journey allowed us to redefine what we stand for. Our colleagues were also instrumental in defining our new organisational purpose ‘to bring possibility to life’; plus our new values. In the past, these had been decided by a small group of people in a board room in London.

Our new brand reflects our unique African identity. Our logo was inspired by rich insights from across our continent.  While our primary colour is a passion red, our brand embraces a full spectrum of colours, all reflective of the African land and skies, as we go through the day into sunset.

For our brand marketing campaign, we invented a new word, Africanacity. For us, this epitomises the uniquely African ability to always find a way to get things done, no matter what. We see this trait everywhere across the continent. We love it. It inspires us to always find a way to help people get things done; to realise their goals and ambitions, whatever they might be.

What was so fantastic was to see how each of our countries embraced our new brand and all its distinctive assets; but also how each market translated it in their own way, injected their own local insights, unique voice and flair into it. So yes, definite consistency, but so richly diverse and locally nuanced.  Which again is the epitome of our African continent.

Importantly, a brand change isn’t just about marketing campaigns. This was about changing every single touchpoint that makes up the brand… our new branch design, our new ATMs, our new uniforms, our news cards, everything is fresh and modern. Every step of the way we were looking for innovation. For example, our new cards are vertical, rather than the age-old horizontal format that was built for an era when a card was placed on a little gadget for a paper based imprint. Nowadays, you insert your card vertically into a POS machine or an ATM, yet that old convention of horizontal format persists. Another way we broke with convention was by embracing our spectrum of vibrant colours across our card estate, infusing some fresh personality rather than the conventional expected metallics.

But while we were all excited about what we were going to change into, one of the biggest marketing challenges we faced was how to transfer the equity from 100-years of the Barclays brand into this new Absa brand.

Strategically, even before we officially changed our name, we leveraged the Absa Group brand to allow the Barclays’ countries to become familiar with the Absa name and identity. We started linking the two brands in all campaigns from the end of 2018. We launched a campaign in every country, showcasing the credentials of the Absa Group, but which signed off by saying ‘Proudly serving you as Barclays’. At the same time, all our Barclays work carried an endorsement line ‘Part of the Absa family’. This way we were not only able to create awareness ahead of time, but also to reassure and instil confidence.

We knew we also had to build emotional connection, and so one by one, we converted all our big sponsorship properties to Absa even before we had officially launched in each country. The English Premier League, the Magical Kenya Open, the Zambian Cup, the Maputo Marathon, to name a few, they all helped us connect with people’s passion points and build  brand affinity ahead of launch.

I’m often asked what were the main factors contributing to the successful implementation of our Brand and name change programme. The biggest positive was that we had a new brand that everyone was proud of and passionate about,  and the biggest challenge was managing the level of complexity. We had 220 projects across 10 countries, so military-precision planning was the order of the day. With so many opportunities for things to go awry, relentless tracking across every single component, in every single project, across every single country was key. But the real killer app was the Absa teamwork. We called it Absa Africa United. The desire to get things done, and done right, meant that everyone was not only invested, but totally passionate about their delivery. This meant that people were always quick to respond, agile in their solutioning and absolutely always prepared to go the extra mile. Without this we could never have delivered as seamlessly as we did.

When the big launch day came we were ready. And we rolled out to customer support and market positivity that, three years before, we could only have dreamed of. We knew that this was just the beginning. That we still had a long journey ahead of us but we had a meticulous plan. Then, what felt like two minutes later (it was actually a few weeks later), Covid 19 hit.

As we all know, a brand lives in the now. It lives in the minds and hearts of people. It has to be agile, responsive and always relevant. In an environment where a roll of toilet paper suddenly costs more than a barrel of oil, where lives and livelihoods become a balancing act, the best laid plans fall by the wayside. Guided by our purpose, our one north star, we had to ask ourselves "what do people need us to be right now?" And then we had to adapt accordingly.

Our role in society is more important than just selling products and services. When a brand behaves well, the numbers will follow. We immediately set about focusing our efforts on being part of the prevention messaging; to help spread the word and empower people to protect themselves, their families and our communities. And as hygiene becomes a new differentiator; we quickly re-engineered our branch protocol to include all relevant safety measures, e.g. social distancing, regular cleaning, sanitising, masks, etc.

And of course, we have accelerated our digital agenda. It was always front and centre for us, but now it takes on even more importance because it’s not just for us, it’s for the safety of our societies.