Standard Bank CMO Thulani Sibeko explains new brand promise


Marketers Community Conversation hears how the new 'It can be' slogan came about.

The Marketers Community Conversation returned last week and was led by Standard Bank chief marketing officer Thulani Sibeko in a discussion about how purpose and brand promise should guide organisations in a time of crisis, anxiety and working from home.

Standard Bank recently changed its slogan from ‘Moving forward’ to “It can be” and Thulani was invited to sit in conversation with other marketers from the CFO SA and CHRO SA community about the process and rationale for changing a tagline that had remained within the company for over 10 years. 

“We looked into the future and asked ourselves whether we have a trusted brand and were certain we did. However, when we asked whether our brand will make us win, it was evident we had an opportunity to enhance our brand positioning,”” said Thulani.

The decision also to re-evaluate also came about because, in the ten years that Standard Bank had 'Moving forward' as its slogan, the organisation's strategy and business had also changed. Beyond the internal organizational changes, external banking landscape had changed in the sense that there were new competitors and, over time, digitisation meant customer expectations had also changed. What remained as an anchor was Standard Bank’s purpose: “Africa is our home. We drive her growth”.

“We started with research and because we are not strictly a South African bank but rather a pan-African financial services company, we conducted our research across Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique and South Africa. Not only did we talk to customers, we also spoke to employees. One thing that emerged from our conversations with individual, business and corporate customers, was that Africa is full of dreamers, believers and doers,” said Thulani, adding their research made them realise how people preferred to be connected to brands that can help them realise their dreams and aspirations. 

He added: “We also discovered that the things our customers pursue and achieve are things that drive the growth of individuals, communities, organisations and countries. We latched onto that common thread and took the view that dreams matter in the sense that they fuel growth. That's how we landed on our new brand promise finding new ways to make dreams possible and have decided to articulate that in three simple words - 'it can be.'”

People are the core

Thulani said the objective was to convey the message that dreams and goals, no matter how big or small they are, can be made real with Standard Bank. 

“It's a signifier of hope and an antidote against despair. More than a message, we believe 'it can be' is an attitude that we bring into our customers and communities.”

Changing the brand message for an organisation like Standard Bank is no small feat as the bank serves many different types of people and organisations. That is why the project could not be the baby of marketing alone. Thulani said that, while it was led by marketers, the project team included colleagues from every business unit with human capital colleagues, in particular,  playing a very important role

“That is because a great customer experience significantly depends on great employee experiences and our Human Capital colleagues were also in the process of developing a People Promise. Also, you must bring the people within the organisation with you along the journey. It was not a case of marketing developing the strategy on their own and then bringing it to the business for approval and implementation. The strategy was co-created across business units.” 

Launching during Covid

One of the things that Standard Bank grappled with was that, because brand repositionings are usually very celebratory in their nature, the Covid-19 pandemic may have been an inopportune time to launch. Thulani said the company contemplated whether it would have been justifiable to announce this brand refresh at a time when there was heightened anxiety and distress in the surrounding environment. However, after many deliberations, they decided to proceed because, at its very core, the 'it can be' tagline is about bringing hope and belief in the context of despair and worry.  

That meant that the message would not only carry Standard Bank long into the future but also that it was relevant in the immediate context of Covid-19. 

“Furthermore, we also had to be cognisant of the fact that the pandemic had changed the circumstances and needs of our customers. In some cases, this was a temporary reality but in many cases, our client's needs may remain different for the foreseeable future, in which case we saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate how we would show up for them,” said Thulani. 

"For example, with the national lockdown, every small shop that ceased trading was given access to our service called SimplyBlu, which is an e-commerce solution that enables smaller businesses to start trading online. We had other customers whose international routes to trade had been significantly disrupted by the closing of national borders. To them, we provided access to pre-vetted suppliers to enable them to continue sourcing stock during that difficult period."

Following Thulani’s address, he joined 15 marketers from some of the country’s leading organisations in discussing their approach to brand messaging. Fellow marketers shared advice and experience around how their organisations aligned their people with the brand promise. They also discussed the elements of their brand promises which were difficult to live up to, particularly in times of crisis.

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