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Any major brand repositioning comes with inherent risk, and the bigger the brand the more open it is to criticism.

When Absa rebranded in 2018, many customers took to social media asking whether the money would not be better spent on reducing bank charges. Questions were also raised about what exactly its positioning line, "Africanacity", meant and how the word was pronounced. MTN’s substantial change this week has solicited similar questions about costs to the consumer.

Besides changes to its logo, MTN has replaced its old payoff line "Everywhere you go" with "Y’ello", a phrase that has been used before in its marketing communications.

Across all facets the rebrand is being driven by the Omnicom agency group, including the ad agency TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris.

At the heart of the change is an attempt to move the company’s positioning away from being just a mobile communications business to a digital and financial services player.

In response to questions from the FM, MTN says: "We have changed the way we see ourselves. We are refreshing our brand identity to align with our intent to provide digital solutions to support Africa’s progress … MTN wants to play its part in harnessing [the continent’s] potential and progress through driving digital and financial inclusion."

The brand says its new approach is also aimed at an entirely new target market. "Africa’s youth are at the core of this potential and progress, and our brand refresh centres on them, as they are our future." It points out that the median age of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is 19.7. "That means that about 750-million people are 19 or younger."

It adds: "MTN was born in the analogue era and our corporate identity was fit for purpose for that era. Today our customers live in the digital and social worlds. We are responding to this shift."

Brand experts tell the FM there are several reasons for a brand to need repositioning. It could include that the operating sector is losing relevance, the brand no longer has a recognisable purpose and the target market is changing.

MTN says: "It’s not so much that we are solving a specific problem. Rather, it is about positioning ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities that the adoption of and transition to a digital world present on the African continent."

MTN acknowledges that there has been a change in its competitive landscape. "The digital world is seamless and cloud based. Consumers have access to any number of offerings and services beyond the confines of their countries’ borders. We want to be front of mind and the first brand they think of in their repertoire of choice."

Managing risk when it comes to a brand relaunch is critical. The biggest risks are that existing customers may be alienated or that the refreshed look is not consistent across all external facing platforms — everything from business cards to billboards.

The question of what it costs to reposition a brand is complex. It involves among other things physically removing and changing display collateral, but it is also about making sure the brand voice cascades to every aspect of the business and that the look, feel, and tone are consistent.

It is a big and expensive job. MTN will not put a number to it, saying: "It is being rolled out in a phased approach over the top and terrestrially, with many of the branded elements being refreshed on a normal business replenishment cycle basis."

One leading local brand expert says it’s a difficult number to quantify, but he would not be surprised at a figure of about R300m, given that the company operates in 19 markets across Africa and the Middle East.

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