Accounting for taste

Mention National Savings and images of pensioners shuffling down to the Post Office to check on their Premium Bonds come to mind. In today’s world of highly marketed, specifically branded financial services, National Savings seem to be of another era.

“We know we have a staid, old-fashioned image,” admits brand strategy manager Sue Simpson. The Government agency, which offers at least ten other financial products as well as Premium Bonds, has been going through a massive self-examination under the command of commercial director Chris Moxey, and plans to reinvent itself for today’s customer. This examination covers product offer and internal structure as well as branding, and from 6 April, National Savings will be offering one of the new much trumpeted ISAs (individual savings accounts).

National Savings chief executive and director Peter Bareau wrote in the latest annual report (pictured): “We shall continue the drive to improve and modernise National Savings and to instil a more commercial culture to the benefit of all our stakeholders.”

“We want to try to come up with imagery which is true to the brand and relevant to today’s customer,” Simpson adds. Lloyd Northover Citigate, it was felt, was a group which would understand the whole branding issue. Indeed LNC vice-chairman Jim Northover acknowledges: “This is not a classic rebranding job.”

More than 40 expressions of interest were made to National Savings, following an ad in the Official Journal of the European Community. LNC beat shortlisted groups Fishburn Hedges and Holmes & Marchant to the job.

LNC has been appointed to handle identity and design. Northover expects form re-design to be a major part of the project, as National Savings issues literally thousands of different forms and documents.

The consultancy plans to improve the language used in such material. “Communication through forms and documents is a way of life for financial institutions and it’s important to get it right,” Northover says.

LNC has handled a number of projects in the financial services sector, including the naming and branding of the Financial Services Authority. And it is familiar with National Savings through its annual report design for the agency for the past two years.

Northover says it is impossible to put a price tag on the job, as “We don’t know what it will be worth by the end of the [five-year] contract.” He concedes that it’s “a significant win for us, and we expect National Savings to be one of our biggest clients”.

LNC will be working alongside and on a similar timescale to ad agency BMP/ DDB and direct marketing company Evans Hunt Scott – hence the five-year contracts. The three will be encouraged to liaise to achieve brand consistency.

Unlike banks or building societies, National Savings does not have its own high street outlets, but relies on Post Offices as a third party to disseminate products. Therefore it’s key that the three agencies spread the same brand message through ads, mailings and in the Post Office environments “without slavishly matching each other”, says Simpson. Financial services are not products which people buy regularly, making a consistent brand message even more important.

She describes any change in image as evolution rather than revolution, and Northover expects it to lead to a new brand identity in the long run.

More than half the UK population are National Savings customers, so any changes will have far-reaching effects. And maybe in five years’ time shuffling pensioners won’t be the first thing which springs to mind.

The facts

National Savings was set up in 1861 as the Post Office Savings Bank – a savings scheme run through the country’s 2300 post offices, to encourage thrift among ordinary wage-earners

Low unit savings stamps appeared, and Savings Certificates were introduced during World War I to help finance the war effort. Premium Bonds were launched in 195- In 1969 National

Savings became responsible to Treasury Ministers, with the Post Office Savings Bank being renamed the National Savings Bank

In the 1990s innovative new products were introduced

In 1996 National Savings became an Executive Agency of the Chancellor of the Exchequer

The figures for 1997-1998

12.5bn – gross sales of all National Savings products

3.2bn – Premium Bond sales – a record year

1.5bn – net contribution to Government funding

63.3bn – total invested by customers in National Savings

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