It’s not a very old global brand. The company itself was a regional building society and is 150 years old, but it’s really only in the last 15 years that Santander has become a major player in banking. There has been a very deliberate, aggressive acquisition programme.
Santander always had a plan to expand and organically grow in the UK but that would have taken time. The credit crunch came along, there were a few failed businesses and the opportunity presented itself in 2008 with the acquisition of Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley. With all recessions, some brands come out as winners and Santander is one of them because it was in a position to take action.
Before the recession, it had a very low profile. It wasn’t exposed to the kind of debt that some of the other big banks were involved in. It managed to maintain the ability to buy businesses. The UK has been a significant growth opportunity for Santander but it has taken opportunities elsewhere too – it bought Sovereign in the US, for example.
In our case, brand consistency has been key. The temptation to change Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley more quickly was there, but we needed to take our customers on a journey. Santander was gradually introduced to them. It was successful because people weren’t surprised at what we were doing – it made sense to them. They’ve got access to more branches so it works for them.
Although we have a global brand policy, we also reflect local attitudes, behaviours and nuances. We allow our businesses to have local strategies, which are reflective of the customer, rather than having a monolithic policy.
New global brands are unencumbered by rigidity and process and formality and structure. They’re not overly trapped by it, but at the same time we have our own growing pains. We’re aggressive, full of ideas, we want to get things done now, we’re impatient and that brings with it a level of enthusiasm and energy. With that comes the need to take stock sometimes and think about how we grow as a business globally. Growth all the time is fantastic but you have to ensure you’re not leaving your customers behind.
We have a very clear global brand strategy that’s executed at a local level. To maximise more value, we capitalise on global things like brand consistency, brand identity and global sponsorship. If a product or a proposition works in one market, we’ll work out if it’s right for consumers in another market.
The attitude towards us being a global brand has been a massive benefit. When consumers saw the company in the UK was backed by this big business, that made people feel safe and secure.