News Analysis: Banks Suffer Identity Crisis

Article excerpt

Banks have been lining up to rebrand in a bid to connect with customers. But there are risks, says Alexandra Jardine

Major UK bank undertakes multimillion-pound brand overhaul to make it more appealing to consumers. Sound familiar? Following a quiet period for corporate identity projects, due to the tough economic climate and the spectre of foul-ups such as the Post Office's rebirth as Consignia, banks have emerged at the forefront of a renewed flurry of rebranding.

Barclays' decision to update its identity (Marketing, 28 April) follows similar revamps at NatWest and Abbey National last year, the latter with a radical relaunch that has attracted criticism.

The Barclays overhaul includes a softening of the 'eagle' icon and lettering of the bank's name. According to brand strategy director Sara Deeks, the work is intended to create a more consistent image internationally. 'We wanted the look and feel of a global player,' she says.

Barclays' brief to brand consultancy Williams Murray Hamm also included reinforcing the bank's positioning as a financial expert. 'Our rebrand isn't about being friendly,' says Deeks. 'The question we ask is whether people would entrust their salary to a mate or to an expert in the field.'

Though Barclays sees the work as key to the evolution of the brand, more important is whether it will make any difference to customers, or whether it is just a case of cosmetic surgery.

Putting customers first

NatWest provides evidence of how a revamp can attend to the needs of consumers. While it has redesigned its fascias, it is also in the middle of a four-year revamp of its branch interiors that aims to improve customers' access to services - creating more interview space and introducing lower-level service desks.

Abbey, however, has come under fire for its activity. Its claim to be 'turning banking on its head' was followed by an admission that it missed first-quarter profit targets. At its AGM a fortnight ago, small shareholders derided the rebranding as a 'waste of money'.

Banks are huge beasts, and overhauling them is no small feat. Barclays will not disclose a figure for its rebrand (it is thought to have spent pounds 400,000 on hiring brand consultancy Williams Murray Hamm), but Abbey spent pounds 11m rebadging branches and revamping interiors.

Shortly after revealing a pounds 1bn loss, Abbey dropped National from its name, unveiled a lower-case, pastel-coloured logo and promised to revolutionise the personal banking industry.

Abbey's customer propositions director, Angus Porter, is adamant that the rebrand was essential to a wider three-year business repositioning, with the aim of making communication clearer to customers. …