How does a bank deal with its major shareholder dramatically reducing its investment, and with the prospect of re-branding not just across a country – but across an entire continent? And all this, within just one year?

This is the challenge that faced Absa when, in March 2016, Barclays PLC reduced its shareholding in Barclays Africa Group Limited. A challenge that led Absa, a bank that was traditionally risk-averse, not to an expected safe evolution, but to a complete revolution. This challenge affected everything about the group going forward, re-defining the entire business from the ground up as part of the journey to create a new and iconic brand.

Absa began the journey by holding over 130 000 conversations with stakeholders, employees, customers and regulators. And with the voices of hundreds of thousands of people heard, it was unanimous: Absa should be the name of the organisation across the continent. It should be bolder, braver and more courageous – and move away from being the typical bank. The people wanted a bank that was new and different; something they could truly believe in. They wanted a bank that was digitally led, and that could just get things done.

A ground-breaking story of audacity, bravery and heart

With a presence in over 12 countries, Absa had the opportunity to reposition itself as an African bank, with a strategic imperative to enable growth on the continent. With this driving the business, the bank’s new positioning of “Bringing possibilities to life” was born. While many brands have a similar intent, for Absa this positioning had to recognise and reflect the unique nature of the countries the brand operates in, in order to be meaningful and relevant to their people, and to connect with their hearts and minds. To achieve this, Absa undertook to capture the commonality that connects the people of Africa, the way they do things, and their ability to see opportunity even in adversity. This spirit was captured in a new word coined by Absa called Africanacity: “A new word for an age-old attitude unique to our continent. A continent defined by its ingenuity, tenacity, creativity, audacity and positivity. It’s Africa’s ability to turn any adversity into a fresh opportunity. It’s about how we will get things done, inspired by Africa. It’s our promise to our customers, to bring their possibilities to life.”

A new word for a new bank – Africanacity /’afrik(a)nasrti/
Noun
The distinctly African ability to always find ways to get things done.

To bring Africanacity to life, Absa started with the brand’s identity. The capital letters of the amalgamated banks of yesteryear fell away and a fresh new identity was created, with the brand name no longer an acronym, but rather written as a lower-case word, with a contemporary and approachable feel.

The new logo incorporated the name into a circle, reflecting the connected communities of our continent, and always putting the customer at the centre of what Absa does. The spaces in the circle reflect the brand’s flexibility and openness to the continent’s endless possibilities.

Absa also recognised that, with such a variety of languages spoken in Africa, the identity needed to ‘speak’ to people, without using words. And so the ‘gestures’ were created; a universal visual language that would unite us – bringing meaning in new ways.

The colour red has always been an identifier of the brand, so the new identity built on this, with Passion Red as a primary colour that had equity with customers, now expanding into a full spectrum of beautiful hues inspired by the colours of Africa.

The biggest brand launch in Africa

On 11 July 2018, Barclays Africa Group (BAGL) changed to Absa Group Limited (AGL) and the repositioning came to life.

With the big idea of Africanacity, Absa went equally big with their launch, introducing the new brand to Mzansi with over 180 outdoor pieces celebrating the new dawn of the brand, sharing the bank’s new identity and vision in 55 print ads, inspiring the nation through 2 TV ads, and immersing South Africa in Africanacity with over 400 pieces of digital and social content, not to mention putting Africanacity on everyone’s lips with radio ads that explained how to pronounce the word.

Absa also rebranded thousands of ATMs and hundreds of branches, transformed 9 offices and sent 300 drones into the night sky for one exceptional launch.

Creating THOUSANDS OF brand ambassadors, from the word go

Absa realised that the most important market they would speak to pre-launch, was their own team. The new brand was introduced to the “A-Team” through a comprehensive pre-launch internal marketing campaign, ‘Absa Africa United’, aligning them to the new values of the organisation and mobilising them as ambassadors for the brand. Three new brand values were shared: Brave, Passionate and Ready, creating a real sense of excitement and drive in the team to get behind their brand. Post-launch, 95% of staff fed back that they felt part of a new team “with wide-ranging commitments to new behaviours that would support the evolution of a new culture”.

A giant leap in the right direction

Within three weeks post-launch, a total of 18 million people had seen Absa ad campaigns across social media, and the ad recall rate was 20% higher than any competitor bank. The biggest concentration of ad viewers was in the 25-34 age category, followed by the 18-24-year-olds.

Across the continent, more than 371 million people were exposed to the new brand across all media platforms. And while it is way too early to measure return on investment on what is an ongoing, rolling campaign, early indications suggest brand equity attributes – such as public perception of Absa, attributes such as innovation, ease of doing business, trustworthiness, and pricing – are trending upwards.

Changing the game

Absa has already continued with this impressive trajectory launching ChatBanking for WhatsApp on 11 July this year, having signed up 10 000 customers by the end of the month.

The bank’s challenge continues as the group moves towards converting more than 400 Barclays branches in Africa to Absa, while retaining the goodwill that Barclays brand built up over the last century.

One thing is certain. Absa will take on this challenge with Africanacity, a determination to do things in a new way, and a commitment to bringing our continent’s possibilities to life, now, and in the future.