Standard Bank. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Standard Bank. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

If you banked with the blue bank 53 years ago, the advertising payoff line was "You can bank on the Standard". In 1982 that changed to "There’s a bank that understands".

Then, recognising political change was in the air and just three years before the advent of democracy, the institution was "Looking ahead so you’re not left behind". Two years later customers were told "With us you can go so much further". Seven years later Standard Bank changed the line to one that became part of the country’s lexicon: "Simpler. Better. Faster."

But four years later, with a new marketing team, the organisation was "Inspired. Motivated. Involved." And five years after that it was "Moving Forward".

And so, 11 years later, it’s probably time for the old lady, born in Port Elizabeth in 1862 and doing business from a tent in Joburg four years later, to get a makeover. Answering a question clients might have about their dreams and aspirations, the bank now tells them: "It Can Be".

A move like this is always risky. Ask Audi after it told clients about the virtues of "Truth in Engineering", only to be caught up in the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Or adidas, which sent customers into an existential spiral with a line that said "Impossible is Nothing".

Thulani Sibeko. Picture: Supplied
Thulani Sibeko. Picture: Supplied

The man responsible for the Standard Bank change is Thulani Sibeko, group head of marketing & communication. He tells the FM: "‘Moving Forward’ has served us well. Through that period, the Standard Bank strategy and organisation have changed significantly. Customer expectations, consumer psyche and the competitive landscape have also evolved. It was in this context that we realised the brand positioning and payoff line needed to refresh and modernise."

Sibeko says any successful brand repositioning would, out of necessity, be anchored in its purpose statement: "Africa is our home; we drive her growth." Also, he says the organisation wanted to inspire employees to drive the growth of customers and communities. The journey to three simple words is not easy.

"We started by asking ourselves some difficult but necessary questions. First, do we have a trusted brand? The answer was a resounding ‘yes’. Then we asked ourselves, will this brand make us win?" The bank embarked on research — in SA, Kenya, Nigeria and Mozambique — to understand what form the proposed repositioning could take.

"What we found was that in Africa there are many dreamers, believers and doers. However, they are not always able to achieve their dreams and goals. We looked at client expectations and found that they want us to get the basics right and all the other things one would normally expect to hear," Sibeko says.

"But we also uncovered the higher-order need: people want us to believe in them, and see them not for what they are, but for what they could be."

Once that process was complete, Standard Bank had to consider the dilemma of introducing a new slogan during the Covid-19 pandemic. "We had always planned to launch in Q1 this year, but Covid-19 was not part of the plan. Our customers and communities were anxious, and some were in distress. We asked ourselves whether the time was right. Would we be seen to be dismissing the context and the reality of those around us?"

And what of the cost?

Sibeko says: "A brand repositioning, when done for the right reasons and implemented well, is an investment that can enhance future revenues. A repositioning without a rebranding or change in the brand identity results in increased investment levels, but for the most part it is a redeployment of existing brand investments, against a changed message and new customer experiences."

It’s a diplomatic answer. One brand expert says more bluntly that the probable cost is about R10m. Sibeko will be watching the return on investment closely. "The measures of success will include brand consideration among existing and prospective customers, and the customer net promoter score. These simple measures, in many ways, are a composite reflection of perceptions and experiences with Standard Bank."

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