UP Department of Marketing Management participates in Absa webinar

Posted on December 14, 2020

In 2016, Barclays PLC announced the sell-down of its African assets. This had far-reaching implications for the Absa brand – both in South Africa and across the continent. Absa’s marketing team needed to tackle the risky task of separating the Absa brand from the entrenched Barclays PLC brand. This led to an epic brand journey that resulted in the continent-wide launch of the re-imagined, revitalised Absa brand in 2018.
 
On 28 October 2020, Absa and the University of Pretoria collaborated on presenting a webinar on ‘the business of branding – navigating a brand refresh across 12 African markets’. This was the last of a four-part webinar series, themed ‘Navigating Change’. This session was preceded by three webinars that presented the managerial and legal, IT and cybersecurity aspects of the separation.
 
Prof Tania Maree, Associate Professor in the Department of Marketing Management, hosted the final session, which featured five of the major navigators of the Absa-Barclays brand separation journey, who shared their experience, insights and wisdom gained.
 
The webinar was kicked off with a presentation by the Absa Group Head of Marketing, David Wingfield. He provided an overview of some challenges and successes Absa encountered during the separation process. His presentation showed footage of various elements that went into recreating the Absa brand. He concluded that the journey galvanised people into making the brand happen, as opposed to it being a largely academic exercise. 
 
A panel discussion followed, in which various aspects of strategy, design, and advertising was discussed. The panel included Prof Tania Maree, David Wingfield, Jenny Moore (Head of Brand and Design, Absa Group), David Blyth (former CEO of Yellowwood, now founder and CEO of Delta Victor Bravo Business Consultancy), Yatish Narsi (Chief Experience Officer at Grid Worldwide), and Head of Marketing, Africa Regional Operations, Rick de Kock.
 
Prof Maree pointed out that the brand separation was so much more than a logo change project. Moore, the Project Lead, agreed and stated that the process was about using a brand as a catalyst for changing an entire organisation. The separation was about leaving Barclays and adopting a true African identity, and in the process redefining the meaning thereof in a modern manner. Absa as a brand was well-known in South Africa, but to a lesser extent in the other African markets due to its sponsorships. The brand refresh also involved presenting a local brand as world-class, yet still relevant to the African continent.
 
Moore shared that crafting the new Absa brand was not focused on throwing out the old that was good, but on reinventing a new destiny for the brand. This entailed putting Africa into the Absa brand rather than just bringing Absa to Africa. Prof Maree pointed out that Absa now reflects several shades of red as opposed to the previous one-shade of red. Moore expanded upon that by indicating that Absa decided to reclaim the colour red in different hues to represent the new Absa brand. A practical consideration that influenced this decision was that physical colours – and in the case of Absa, red – will fade when exposed to the African sun. Using this novel approach of several hues of red from pale pink to vibrant red allows Absa to cover the physical as well as the digital aspects with a colourful, Africa-inspired design.
 
Prof Maree, referring to strategic growth, asked what role developing a winning brand plays in this regard. Blythe asserted that a brand needs to be both the glue and the grease of an organisation, by both pulling people together and harnessing their energy, as well as moving the organisation forward, creating momentum and showing measured results. The brand thus transcends being a department, but rather becomes what everybody in the organisation does. He further pointed out that it is critical for a brand to be purpose-led, which means not just stating purpose, but entrenching purpose into the culture of the organisation.
 
The challenge of replacing a 100+ year-old brand in 12 markets across Africa presented a mammoth, multi-layered brand strategy task. This task was tackled by asking 42 000 people to co-create the solutions. Sentiments expressed by Absa colleagues in the numerous workshops held across the continent were “brave, passionate and ready”. By involving important stakeholders such as colleagues and business customers, conducting numerous interviews, and brand tracking (among other initiatives), proper change management was achieved. This allowed Absa to develop a new narrative, which made people feel that they were part of something organic. Blythe pointed out that it was important for Absa to put people at the heart of it all. He summated that the change process was more about fundamental culture change and executing the strategic initiative than only branding, per se.
 
From a design perspective, Narsi shared that part of the journey meant starting with the iconic, keeping it simple and doing the unexpected. The latter included the design innovation of the brand owning a spectrum of the colour red rather than only one shade. Many innovative ideas enabled the recreation of the brand, and the eventual launch thereof. He shared an anecdote where the design team organised – against the odds – a spectacular brand launch featuring 350 drones in the Johannesburg air space. This required obtaining permission from JMPD to build a temporary air field to enable the launch of the Intel drones, which to the design team’s surprise, was approved. Narsi concluded that he believes this refreshed brand will stand the test of time. The perceived simplicity of the design – which has been a source of much comment on social media – allows it to be reproducible, memorable and timeless.
 
De Kock (joining online from Cape Town) shared how the brand change was navigated across Absa’s African markets. In those markets, the Absa brand was not already embedded as was the case in South Africa. The heavily regulated bank industry in Africa also presented a big challenge to overcome. He noted that Absa needed to be very respectful in reference to the existing loyalty to the Barclays brand in the African markets, give due consideration to the regulatory requirements, and avoid confusion in the market. Further, there was the commitment to Barclays to maintain that brand’s equity, while preparing the ground for the new Absa brand.
 
To achieve this delicate balance, the following approach was used: building association between Barclays and Absa, building confidence in the new brand, and thus creating an emotional connection to the new brand. This groundwork led to a very successful launch, which elicited positive feedback from customers and staff. Prof Maree enquired about bringing the new word “Africanacity” to an African market. De Kock explained that a dictionary word was created, and a manifesto advert was used at the launch to break down what the word means and to demonstrate how it actually manifests in everyday life in Africa.
 
If the word Africanacity has become familiar to you, you are experiencing one fruit of the labours of a team of passionate, brave, and bold people who harnessed their unique African ability to find innovative solutions to challenges. The University of Pretoria was pleased to have hosted this unique knowledge-sharing event series in collaboration with Absa.
 
On screen: Rick de Kock (Head of Marketing, Africa Regional Operations).
From left to right: Yatish Narsi (Chief Experience Officer at Grid Worldwide), David Blyth (CEO of Delta Victor Bravo Business Consultancy), Prof Tania Maree (Associate Professor, Department of Marketing Management, UP), Jenny Moore (Head of Brand and Design, Absa Group), and David Wingfield (Absa Group Head of Marketing)
- Author Department of Marketing Management
Published by Nonkululeko Kubeka Moyo

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