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the new brand heavies
Global monoliths such as Santander and Aviva are bringing local brands under the banner. But at what cost to goodwill? By GeorGina Wilson-PoWell
“is it a bus company?”
“Do they make feminine hygiene health products?” These were the responses given to a recent Guardian newspaper journalist who asked the great British public who Aviva are. This is despite a six-month advertising campaign costing £20m featuring a whole raft of famous actors, that was supposed to promote the insurance giant as a household name in the UK. Fair to say, then, not the most successful rebrand of recent times. As with most things this year, people are questioning the cost, the commercial (and common) sense of a change and, annoyingly for the financial institutions, rebranding has become a flashpoint for media-flogging. But rebrands continue apace. Next year, Abbey, Alliance & Lester and Bradford & Bingley become Santander; there are tough times ahead and rebranding can be a risky move, so how do you make it a success? 2009 has seen the financial market become more concentrated in general, not just through global insurers ensuring all their ducks are wearing the same colour suit in a row, but within the UK, major banks have ‘rescued’ slightly smaller and much worse-off banks, like some giant game of Pacman, except the recession ghosts keep on coming and it’s not 50p of the taxpayer’s money every time someone wants a go. “Banks have to work bloody hard to win back the hearts and minds of their customers and do everything they can to restore some faith,” says Neil Svenson, CEO of Rufus Leonard, the agency which has acted as brand guardians for Lloyds TSB since the two banks merged 12 years ago. “Banks have to move from a product sell into trying to build relationships with their customers and offering them a service. You are looking for someone to manage your money, they know more than you do and should be looking after your interests. These are hard promises to keep at the moment but that’s where they have to go. Is that rebranding, or repositioning or reevaluating?” There is some agreement that financial services shouldn’t rebrand just because the economy is in recession. It is not the quick fix of a sharp U-turn, but a long term reassessment, a new route plotted and planned out and once the course is set, it is unstoppable. “It’s only the right time to undertake a rebrand when it’s the right time to do it. Not because the economy has gone tits up but because the organisation has culturally changed,” continues Svenson. David Airey agrees. Airey’s a graphic designer responsible for the book Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, and he runs a popular design blog of the same name. “Banks shouldn’t be changing logos or identities because confidence is low. Knee-jerk brand spending is not a good remedy. If you take the visual identity of a bank in isolation and it gives the impression of a solid, trustworthy brand then toplevel management should focus on more important business decisions.” “There are other factors besides design and communications,” says Stephen Cheliotis, chairman of the Superbrands Council. His organisation compiles an annual list of the top 500 ‘superbrands’ that the public then rates and ranks. It uses existing market data, expert and media opinion, as well as commissioning fresh research each year. “Other factors include how compelling its offering is, its ability to deliver promises, its profile and heritage and there are outside factors depending on the context. For instance the trust and security of a financial brand is more vital today than it was.” Heritage is a drum that has been banged pretty loudly lately. Abbey will lose a name 130 years old, while Bradford & Bingley has 60 years’ worth of trading, but heritage is only worth something when the brand performs well. And with Santander’s case it is a case of swapping British heritage for Spanish – the banking group has been trading since 1857. But rebrands, as the result of acquisitions or mergers, are not new. Today’s financial institutions facing a potential backlash, should remember that change might not be appreciated but is soon forgotten. Remember Midland Bank? It was only ten years ago that perceived ‘outsider’ brand HSBC acquired it, modernised it and shoved it out into the wide world with a shiny new name and logo, and it has remained a suitable success story. Think back to The Woolwich (with 160 years’ trading and 3.8 million customers), which was bought by Barclays in 2000. It saw nearly 200 branches close in what was a slight PR disaster for the larger bank nine years ago, but now, how often does this keep you awake at night? Do you even remember The Woolwich, despite Barclays promising “Woolwich will be to Barclays what iPod is to Apple”? High-street bank Lloyds TSB will be looking at these precedents (and its own merger of blue and green in 1998) with hope. The above move by Barclays cost ▶
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●● it’s only the right time to undertake a rebrand when it’s the right time to do it

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▶ over 1,000 jobs, but in these uncertain times, redundancies are even less appreciated. The HBOS buyout has cost the brand 13,000 jobs and a raft of bad press it had so far avoided. High street banks have made 42,000 staff redundant in the past 12 months, 33,000 of those have between Lloyds TSB and RBS. That means there is a lot more to moan over rebranding now, than whether we like the new ad campaign or not. Rebranding costs jobs as well as money. Lloyds TSB, previously of course, had been a successful rebranding story, much like HSBC. The famous Lloyds black horse was replaced with a world of quirky, informal animation and concept advertising, ‘For the journey,’ taglines and a soundtrack that became a No1 selling single. “What more could you want from an ad campaign?” says Svenson. “A whole family of advertising has followed Lloyds TSB’s lead. The communication since the merger has been that the bank is there for life and all your ups and downs, something they’ve achieved very successfully.” However, the bank’s acquisition of HBOS has been different. It’s happened far more quickly and not much trace of the HBOS identity remains. Svenson admits, “Mergers can take a generation of people to fully take effect. It was only four or five years ago that Lloyds TSB started to think and act like one company.” Alongside this warning, banks, like any other brand, meddle with their existing communications at their peril, says Cheliotis. Even the perception of a bad rebrand can spell disaster. “A strong brand shifts the demand curve, increasing either the volume of the value of products and services sold, while also reducing risk, for example, through encouraging brand loyalty. If the brand is damaged in any way, then that has the potential to serious affect its business reputation and its bottom line. “I’d advocate rebranding only when it’s vital, such as when a brand has lost all its equity or when using a monolithic global brand outweighs perceptual and financial benefits of local brands.” An example of this is Santander, which has 90 million customers globally; most of

●● i’d advocate rebranding only when it’s vital, such as when a brand has lost all its equity

whom will never have heard of Bradford & Bingley. If it is looking to cut overheads, bringing all its regional brands under one umbrella makes good business sense. “Santander is clearly a brand on the move and it’s created some very high awareness and goodwill in a short space of time. It will, however, need to continue to invest considerable sums in its marketing and sure that it delivers great products and services to its customer base if it is to establish long-term credentials in the UK,” says Cheliotis. ▶
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how to...
Six StepS to SucceSSfully branding a bank from SuperbrandS’ Stephen cheliotiS

• Deliver on your promises • Be honest, open and fair • Offer exceptional customer service and treat your customers as people not numbers • Stand out without being wacky • Communicate with the customers in a way they understand • Continue to innovate in terms of product, service and delivery

▶ Part of its success can be down to a clear marketing strategy and a long term game plan. Santander has invested in British sport by sponsoring Formula 1 circuits and Lewis Hamilton (a British sports person who actually wins occasionally), making itself, at least in the UK, synonymous with something visible. It’s only next year, six years after buying Abbey and two after it bought A&L and B&B that everything will come under the Santander banner, with 1,300 Santander branches to be open by the end of 2010, serving 25 million customers. It has been advertising Abbey as ‘part of the Santander Group’ for the past couple of years, and the Abbey logo was recreated in Santander’s house style in 2005. “Bradford & Bingley or Alliance & Leicester are not particularly wellregarded brands, though I’m sure they had close connection with some customers,” says Cheliotis. “And while Abbey is a brand that has improved in our ranking considerably over the last year, it remains well behind, say, Barclays and HSBC. These brands had some heritage and goodwill but I’m sure they won’t be too sorely missed in the medium term.”

Aviva, the world’s fifth largest insurer, was Aviva in 20 of the 27 of the countries it operates in (60 per cent of its business is non-UK). But the rebrand has not been an unmitigated success. Part of this might be down to timing, costs (said to be up to £80m) and there are reports of the insurer cutting the value of about-to-mature policies, which isn’t going to endear it to anyone, let alone its customers. One of the problems here is that, Norwich Union became Aviva overnight (1 June 2009) and no amount of airtime featuring Bruce Willis can gloss over the fact that the brand and logo are meaningless to the average consumer.

●● these brands had some goodwill but they won’t be too sorely missed…

Aviva means ‘spring’ in Hebrew – obviously of great relevance to someone who has had insured their Volvo with Norwich Union since 1994. “In an economic downturn, a wellregarded, well known and trusted name can be extremely important. A strong brand is a guarantee of a certain level of service or product quality. Often in a downturn there is a flight to quality and people feel more secure turning to those organisations that are well respected and that have previously lived up to their promises,” explains Cheliotis. “It has also been proven that those organisations that continue to invest in their brand and marketing suffer less in an economic downturn and recover faster than those that do not invest in their brand, or who have a weaker brand.” Aviva can be accused of misjudging the current market, not necessarily through undertaking a name change but by not backing it up (so far) with anything that feels confident enough to replace the Norwich Union identity. Santander has stuck to its original 150-year-old-name, with regional acquisitions being required to fall into line as policy, while Aviva has imposed a rather grey and dull, ‘thought up in a focus group’ style of moniker, almost as an afterthought. It makes global marketing a damn sight easier. The trouble is, the public and the media are going to be slow to love them. ■

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