“We have to be many things for many people,” says Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairman of State Bank of India (SBI) as she lays out the details of how the country’s largest bank is getting ready to put its best face forward at home and for the world. With a new look, fresh global positioning and a more aggressive approach towards service, SBI is hoping to put the brand above the bank’s association with bad loans and poor attitude.
Post the merger of five banks unto itself, SBI is now part of a hallowed club of global suits. With a balance sheet size of Rs 41 lakh crore, or roughly $635 billion, SBI will now rank at 45, rising seven rungs above its rank 52 in 2015 (Bloomberg). SBI has lost no time leveraging its new found position; on April 1, its first day as the newly merged behemoth, everyone was greeted with a personal welcome. “Congratulations. We are now among the top 50,” a beaming employee repeated as he handed over a box of laddoos.testing.. we are here....
In its new position, SBI will be taking on Chinese banks that have come to dominate the banking tables in the past few years and established American and European lenders. And that calls for a revamp of the way the bank presents itself at home and to a global audience. Even though SBI is one of the country’s oldest banks, it is a newbie on the international block and the brand has to strike the right balance. It must be young and flexible but keep the familiarity quotient intact for older loyal customers, ensuring that the brand does not split apart in the ensuing tug and pull.
An old look in a new logo
“We have a very loyal clientele that is older and we want to do everything possible for them. But we also have a younger clientele which is currently looking at us and liking what they are seeing. I would like to be very much with them as well. We will position ourselves accordingly,” said Bhattacharya.
The bank has retained its old logo but tweaked its presentation and colour scheme. The new signage according to Dinesh Menon, SBI’s chief marketing officer, is cleaner, clutter-free and simple. Menon, who is driving the new look at SBI, says that the new branding is in tune with SBI’s global thrust. Earlier, the SBI logo read ‘State Bank of India — Banker to every Indian’ in the domestic market and ‘State Bank of India — With you all the way’, in the international market. The slate was busy with a logo, lots of words in English and in Hindi. This needed fixing says Menon. The new sign now just reads ‘SBI’.
“Some people may have problem associating with a bank that represents a particular country, by using an abbreviation we get around that,” said Menon. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation used a similar strategy when it dropped the obvious reference to a location and adopted HSBC as its brand identity.
How will that impact local identity? According to Menon, the brand is so widely recognised in the domestic market that “even if we drop the words, and just put the logo and the colour, people will instantly recognise SBI.” The bank definitely does not want to part with the home advantage, which explains why it has stuck with the familiar logo.
Keep it simple and crisp
The ongoing campaign is the first one undertaken by the bank since 1970. The bank says that it did not really see the need for advertising all these years. But things are different now; the merged entity has to assure customers at home that business will continue to be as personal as it was while appealing to a younger global clientele. The new campaign, with a vibrant shade of blue, is aimed sharply at the young.
Menon tapped Mumbai-based Design Stack to define the bank’s “brand strategy, brand identity and guidelines across all touch points.” Design Stack says that the monogram, combined with abbreviated SBI word mark is pivotal to the new identity. The new look is meant to convey that the bank retains its old values while being approachable to new consumers.
“Worldwide logos and signage are becoming crisper, simpler. Take for example, HSBC, or Apple,” said N Chandramouli, CEO of TRA Research. He believes that the aim should be to generate trust in the international community. “SBI should project itself to the outside world as a modern bank with top-notch service quality,” Chandramouli said, adding this should be done without compromising on the bank’s quality to be as approachable as a post office in all corners of the country.
According to Bhattacharya, the bank is consciously ensuring that eventually, a sizeable chunk of the international business should come from serving international clients, not just Indian clients abroad. The bank has localised its books and workforce in the international market. “We have done this through partnerships with the best banks in these countries,” she said. With its allies in place, SBI is gearing up for battle, at home and abroad.