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Rebranding lessons from Absa Kenya

Absa employees
Absa employees when the lender unveiled their new logo at its head office in Westlands, Nairobi last week. PHOTO | COURTESY  

Last week Barclays Bank Kenya completed its name change to Absa, accompanied with lots of hoopla and colour. As top executives gathered and gave their remarks, several words repeatedly rolled off their tongues.

‘Resilience’ and ‘heritage’ were the catchwords flying about, understandably so. The bank has been around alive and kicking for over 100 years. We were also reminded of the lender’s trailblasing legacy, having introduced ATM cash dispensers in Kenya while its Queensway branch being the earliest building in Nairobi to install an elevator.

The rebrand, beyond ownership transfer after Barclays Plc offloaded its stake to Absa, offered the company a golden opportunity to showcase its rich history. And this long-standing heritage was neatly tied to Kenyans’ spirit of resilience and entrepreneurship.

But Absa did not stop there. It conveniently used the ensuing razzmatazz to introduce new digital banking features, perhaps as a continuation of its ‘trailblazing legacy’ from the earliest days of prehistoric ATMs and lifts.

It’s clear the lender, like many others, is on a mission to expand its brand, its identity beyond traditional loan products amid digital disruptions, a discerning customer base and cutthroat competition. The rebrand, therefore, couldn’t come at a better time for Absa strategists.

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It’s not business as usual. More companies are learning that customers nowadays want more than just quality products. Today’s consumers want to feel a connection, they want convenience and memorable experience. More importantly, they want to associate themselves with responsible brands whose stories have a resonance and they can relate to. For this reason, brands are increasingly coming under pressure to evolve.

This is the story of our times – organisations facing the reality of having to extend their business propositions beyond the immediate and intrinsic benefits their products have to offer to survive.

It wasn’t a coincidence that Absa honchos’ remarks dwelled on the resilience of Kenyans; their ability to bounce back and turn challenges into opportunities. The testimonials beamed live on giant screens pinballed from sports grounds to colourful art exhibitions, from informal city neighborhoods to hedonistic upscale estates, from dusty sweatshops to upmarket offices, from hippie youths to old faces.

From an elitist Barclays whose model previously targeted top clients, Absa is now going the mass-market way, introducing new products friendly to small businesses and households alike. It wants to be seen as a lender for all, aping the model of several local banks which discovered earlier that the numbers are indeed in the masses. Besides diversifying its products portfolio and adding customer-centric digital features, Absa appears to be sharpening its marketing edge for a shift in public perception.

It’s actually not the only one in this quest. Brand expansion if done well could give a company an edge, elevating its stature in the society and making customers to perceive it as much bigger than the products it offers. Customer loyalty then becomes almost guaranteed.

But it takes time and resources and goodwill to achieve this.

Many more rebrands in corporate Kenya are in the pipeline, especially as more organisations seek visibility and longevity. Whatever the underlying reason, rebranding should focus not only on income goals, but on environmental and social impact too, to be considered sustainable.

Brands should endevour to inspire positive change in the society by practicing whatever sustainable behaviour they preach. They must also replace complexity with simplicity. The result being that people will get it, trust it, and want to be a part of it.

Equally important, rebrands should have millennials in mind, given that three-quarters of Kenya’s population is aged below 35 years.

Besides Absa’s chosen strategy, there are multiple ways in which organisations are expanding their identities. For some, it’s by attempting to sway customer perceptions around their brand through marketing campaigns.

Additionally, as the sustainability wave sweeps across the world and green behaviour takes centre stage, some businesses are seeking to spread their brands wider by adopting ecofriendly practices and reporting about it.

As you decide to rebrand, it is critical to ensure that your messaging is reaching your consumers and is showing them what your brand is doing to live the sustainability mission. Otherwise, consumers end up buying from your competitors. Brand perception of your company is key to show the customers what you stand for.

Individuals often expand their identities by learning new skills, developing new interests and seeking out new experiences, while organisations by continually innovating and now becoming more sustainable.

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