This Day (Lagos)

28 December 2012

Nigeria: Banks Repositioning Ahead of Competition

In the last three months, players in the financial sector have adopted innovative campaigns and other strategies to ensure greater consumer patronage. Raheem Akingbolu takes a look at some banks and the tone of their campaigns

The time to fully understand the import of the age-long aphorism that 'Customers are kings', is now in the Nigerian market, following recent development in the financial sector, where banks are coming out with consumer-centric innovations and campaigns that would enable them win more patrons.

As at the last count, not less than 10 banks have come out with one strategy or the other in the last few months to make their positioning statements. Some of them are; Union Bank, First City Monument Bank, Eco Bank, Diamond Bank and Access Bank. Meanwhile, banks like First Bank, GTBank and Zenith that seem to have weathered the storm are also divesting into the local areas, moving closer to consumers.

Union Bank

For many decades, Union Bank maintained an exciting profile as a brand, with millions of patrons willing to associate with it. However, following the consolidation in the nation's financial sector and a post-consolidation exercise which indicted some top management staff of the company and a number of its promoters, things turned sour for the once-celebrated brand and the rising profile suddenly dropped.

Since then, the story has not been the same. As a result of this development, the bank lost many customers, who thought their once-cherished bank could not catch up with the modern day banking operations. In an interview with THISDAY, some of the customers, who still operate their accounts, said they are doing so because of their unbridled loyalty.

One of such customers, Kabir Bolanle, a lawyer who operates a current account in its Agege Branch said he decided amidst criticism from friends to retain the account because of his fervent belief that the bank still has the integrity of keeping his money; poor customer approach notwithstanding. Bolanle however believed that it would bounce back fast if it changes its old ways and move in the same speed with modern technology and strategy.

"I don't know where Union Bank got it wrong but I did know that I grew up to know it as one of the three most reliable banks. In recent time, I observed that things are no more the same and there are pressures to abandon the account but something keep telling me my money is save in the bank despite the lull approach to issues. Let me however add that the decision to rebrand will go a long way in repositioning the company if the management can make it a total overhauling that will include both the internal and external operations" Bolanle said.

An old customer of the bank and a business woman, Mrs. Comfort Aigbe, said she closed her account because of its inability to do away with its old ways of doing things.

Today, Union bank is rewriting its own story, as a visit to the bank's branches in Lagos and some other part of the country showed something new and refreshing. One of the few branches that has worn a new look is the one at the Oba Akran Avenue in Lagos. When this reporter visited the branch recently, the once blurred colour, which had given way to a brighter one and the landscaping of the unfenced environment, with beautiful flowers, spoke volumes concerning the readiness of the company to attract more customers in future.

Meanwhile, at a media briefing two months ago, a team of experts, including a creative agency and top management staff of the bank, who have been working on the process to reposition the bank, came out with the master plan on how they wanted to rebrand the bank. At the parley, the experts did not only spell out various things that would go into the process, they proved, through many ways, that they knew what they were doing and were ready to follow it to the letter.

While the plan will see to the total overhauling of its process, they disclosed that they were not willing to do away with some old attributes, which had, in the past kept the brand flying. One of such attribute is the corporate pay off; 'Big, Strong and Reliable', which they admitted have since been a wake-up call on its staff and a cherished patriotic message to customers.

To better propel its ideals and the new vision for better banking services, the bank has refreshed its logo, came out with attractive signages and more appealing blue and white corporate colour.

FCMB

Barely a month after the First City Monument Bank (FCMB) concluded its merger process with Finbank, the bank rolled out a fresh campaign, with which it intended to communicate the new status to the banking audience.

Toward the end of 2008, the FCMB re-launched the phase 2 of its 'My Bank and I, campaign, which was meant to communicate the passion of the brand to serve its patrons.

At the launching, the organisation explained that phase II of the campaign was conceptualised to disclose an unfailing determination to build a stronger relationship with the bank's customers. It was also stated that the bank anticipated customers' needs and would always strive to meet the needs at the right moment.

Its Group Managing Director, Mr. Ladi Balogun, said the bank would use the phase II platform to partner the government in order to build the societal gap between the community and the citizens, thereby empowering people in different aspect of the sectors of the economy.

Five years after, FCMB in an attempt to refresh the campaign and to extend its frontier has unveiled 'Better for You', which seems to be communicating the new status of the bank to the public.

The campaign, which, like 'My Bank and I' is also in phases, came with an introductory part that is presented in a letter writing style, where Balogun assured customers and other stakeholders on the renewal of his organisation's commitment to Nigerians.

Through the letter, the GMD went down memory lane to 25 years ago when FCMB started operation. He spoke about the bank's exploits over the years and painted the picture of better years ahead. In a way, the introductory part gives the background of the new campaign and galvanises the public to expect a more robust operation.

The beauty of the campaign, which was conceptualised by DDB, a leading advertising agency, is that it primarily uses staff of the banks to pass the message across. With this technique, the organisation demonstrated that it was ready to carry along both the staff and customers on the operation of the bank was handled by the head of Contact Centre, who gave the perspective of customer service that is now operative in FCMB.

Also a branch manager from the North was successfully used to prove that the bank can boast of a diverse background as he speaks passionately about the ease of transaction in the bank's hall.

Another one is the voice of a customer service person from the East, who, as an operation person, speaks about the operation of the bank and the improvement in the customer service of the bank.

However, the second phase is on the bank's milestone and its accomplishment over the years. Like Balogun's letter, the milestone ad is both historical and celebratory. With the Milestone approach, one can conclude that the bank is indirectly celebrating its newest achievement, which is the acquisition of Finbank.

In another one, the bank points out that it has grown its network, customer base, ATM, mobile banking, balance sheet and other operations with the recent acquisition. In one of the press ads, where a tree is used as an illustration, FCMB showcased the multiplication of its branches, following the new status.

In a jingle done by Cobhams, a music producer, Joke Silva, a consummate artist and Naeto C, a successful Nigerian musician were used as paradox to tell the story that life is in phases.

According to the head of Corporate Communication in the bank, Ikechukwu Kalu, the two artists were used because of their accomplishments in the entertainment industry to better illustrate what the 'Better for You' campaign is all about.

Diamond Bank

As part of overall strategy to sustain its growth momentum, Diamond Bank recently refreshed its corporate identity from a silver colour to a more appealing colour as if to say; "we are closer to you than before" in recognition of the ever dynamic public. Not a few people have commended the wisdom in the refreshed logo which has retained its type face. This initiative has been commended by industry analysts.

If the view of a financial analyst with Financial Hedge in New York, Joe Brown, that "modern banking is in the mind and public perception is very important on how a bank wants to be perceived" should be taken seriously, then Diamond Bank is on the right track.

Against this background, it is therefore not surprising that the bank recently sought a reputable PR agency through a pitch that included some of the leading lights in PR practice in Nigeria to reshape its public perception. At the end of the painstaking selection process, which took some agencies into the second round, TPT International was announced winner and agency of record.

The agency emerged from a highly competitive pitch process that involved four of the leading PR agencies selected for the pitch. Other companies include The Quadrant Company Nigeria, Mediacraft Associates, and C&F Portal Novelli.

According to a source in the bank, TPT however emerged the preferred agency based on its creative direction during the pitch and its clear interpretation of the brief. Indeed it was a very keen contest according to sources, as all the agencies gave a good account of themselves.

After 21 years of operation, Diamond Bank, perhaps with deep consumer insights, is strongly strategising to consolidate on its achievements in the retail market with a new identity and promotional campaign.

The new corporate identity, which has four colours - green, blue, red and orange - but retains the same shape with the old logo, is, according to the bank's management, a plan to be more visible in the marketplace.

"Our new identity would equally help us consolidate on our current market leadership in the retail banking segment. Going by the nature of this market segment, there is need to remain visible both in the local and global marketplace," the bank's CEO, Alex Otti, said while unveiling the logo in Lagos.

He further said that the new logo reflects the bright and optimistic colours of the Diamond spectrum representing vibrancy, prosperity and growth. "Our look has changed, but our commitment to innovation, excellence and to customers remains as strong as ever."

Otti added that the rebranding was the bank's unfolding strategy to be the best bank in the next five years, saying: "Managers of the brand believe that as the bank moves from a quasi-conservative bank to a more active player in the banking industry, the rebranding exercise would provide an added momentum for the upward trajectory that the bank had embarked upon and enhance its performance."

According to the head, Corporate Communications, Ayona Aguele-Trimnell, the bank, which already has 230 branches, also plans to increase its brand network by 30 in the New Year, adding that in the next 2-3 years, it wants to hit over 300 branches.

Ecobank

As a pan-African bank, the Ecobank brand has used its international clout to enhance reputation. A new chapter was however opened recently with its acquisition of Oceanic Bank, which led to the launch of its first, fully integrated advertising campaign, designed to promote a new brand positioning.

The campaign, which was first launched at its headquarters in Lome, Togo and later in Nigeria, positions Ecobank as the pan-African bank capable of creating the best banking experience for consumers. The new campaign also positions the bank as being able of creating positive change across the continent for individuals and businesses.

The campaign was prepared to be launched in eight Ecobank affiliate countries with a 60-second television commercial. The advertising will, according to the bank, be progressively rolled out across all of the African countries where Ecobank has a retail presence.

Created by Ecobank's full service agency; Brand Communications, the campaign also includes radio, print, digital and outdoor media as well as below-the-line advertising. The activity will be supported by a social media campaign, driving traffic to engage with the brand.

Commenting on the new campaign, Group Chief Executive Officer of Ecobank, Arnold Ekpe, said: "Undoubtedly, Ecobank has been a leader in its field, embracing the cultural diversity of its people and adopting international best practice and leading to create a world-class, pan-African institution.

"As a consequence, we are seeing other organisations, not just in the banking sector, trying to do the same. This can only be good for Africa because, ultimately, its future lies in being able to create larger, efficient markets that are attractive to trade and institutional investors alike."

Group Chief Executive Officer Designate of Ecobank, Mr. Thierry Tanoh, added: Our new campaign demonstrates how our reach across Africa and our knowledge of its people are creating a better future for this dynamic continent. Our ultimate vision is for the Ecobank brand to be a beacon of reliability for African businesses and households alike. The activating light which features in all advertising represents Ecobank lighting the way forward for Africa."

Experts' Views

Reacting to the various strategies, a brand management expert, Mr. Akonte Ekine, said it was in line with the global trend, whereby brand owners are striving hard to give more satisfaction to consumers.

According to him; "Consumers are becoming more discerning in their relationship with brand owners and this has prompted handlers of various brands to rise up to the occasion and live up to the expectation. Meanwhile, the fact that our technology has so much improved, has impacted positively on how to go about the retooling process, which we are witnessing now.

Another expert and Lead Consultant, Commstrat PR, Mr. Ganiyu Olowu, who foresees a boom in the sector in 2013, interpreted the new happenings as direct response to the need for the banks to extend their frontiers after some turbulent economic moments.

"In brand management, after getting everything right about a product, the next thing is to stand out. Nigerian banks have faced a lot of challenges and turbulent moments but now the operational environment and the economy is friendly, which will definitely open up new competitive market,"

Speaking further, the consultant said it was important for top players in the industry to put in all elements of marketing communication, which must not be limited to advertising to enhance appreciative brand equity.

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