Behind the scenes of Kiwibank’s new brand identity

Locally owned Kiwibank is going through a significant business transformation. Twenty years after its inception, it has set out to develop a new brand identity that’s true to its role as a progressive and inclusive bank for all New Zealanders.

When Kiwibank launched in 2002, it was seen as a local foil to the four large, Australian-owned trading banks. In the 20 years since, it has grown into one of the most loved, trusted and recognised brands in Aotearoa. That brand is a precious asset; as Kiwibank Chief Executive Steve Jurkovich says, “It lets people know who we are, what we stand for and what we care about.” 

But a brand identity is never static. It needs to evolve to reflect the company’s future direction. With this in mind, the Kiwibank Brand & Marketing team, headed up by General Manager of Brand & Marketing Simon Hofmann, tackled the challenge of redefining the brand for a more ambitious future, and to reflect the overall transformation the bank is undertaking.

“We took a step back,” says Simon. “We asked ourselves: Where is the Kiwibank brand, what’s the business strategy, what’s the ambition for the bank, where are we going? All good brands start by defining who you are, where you’ve come from and why you exist.”

A thorough review was undertaken that included both quantitative and qualitative consumer research to identify how the bank was perceived, what gaps needed to be closed and what strengths could be advanced. A good deal of time was spent defining the brand strategy.

“It started with that strategy and really nailing that down,” says Simon. “We landed the strategy and the promise around enabling Kiwis to thrive.”

One of the key pieces around getting that strategy down was ensuring internal alignment. The brand had to be aligned from a customer-experience perspective and how it was reflected through the bank’s products and services. Kiwibank already had a strong story built around a strong purpose, and the desire was to retain the warmth and value of the genuine service and care the bank has for Kiwis, but also reflect a more modern and progressive New Zealand. Customer-insights testing validated the brand strategy that puts the customer at the centre.

There was a lot of internal focus at the start of the process. This was to ensure best practice while maintaining a competitive market differentiation, and an alignment with Kiwibank’s culture, purpose, and deep understanding of current and potential customers. 

With the brand strategy in place, Simon looked to assemble a collaborative team of partners. Special Group had recently been appointed as Kiwibank’s new lead creative partner and had responded to the brief around shifting the brand forward. Alongside this initial thinking, Kiwibank commenced a programme of work to review its visual identity, and pulled together a broader design community alongside their internal teams that included brand and creative strategy. The multidisciplinary group was led by Jodi Williams (ex-Air NZ) and ThoughtFull Design alongside Special Group; DNA, digital and web; Ira Aotearoa, tikanga-led strategy and creative; and Retail Dimensions, spatial design. 

Simon Hofmann.

ThoughtFull’s creative director and founder Geoff Suvalko was a driving force, working closely with Ira’s Johnson McKay, whose experience with cultural transformation has been utilised in many government and business projects. Geoff takes up the story. “The bank instigated the need for change and defined what they wanted to change toward, but they equally realised that to make the change, they were going to have to do more than a logo change or an identity design. It would have to change the culture or at least influence the culture, and it would have to change and influence products and services — the customer experience. So it was that realm of disciplines within the business that needed to shift.” 

ThoughtFull works at the intersection of brand customer experience and culture, trying to bridge different parts of an organisation where culture isn’t aligned with the brand. “The bank knew that they needed to connect those different dimensions to help enable the shift and positioning sustainably,” says Geoff. 

ThoughtFull’s role was to lead the design process across the group of internal and external teams, with Johnson providing the strategic and creative tikanga expertise. The question posed was how to symbolise the brand’s identity and what metaphors could be used and drawn from. 

The key to arriving at a good result lay in the collaboration of all parties involved. Between them, Simon, Jodi and Geoff managed to create an environment in which all of the project partners were enabled to contribute in a meaningful way. This was achieved through having weekly or biweekly working sessions that meant all work was able to be accessed. A digital platform was used to put up the work and facilitate conversations around it: what was working, what wasn’t working, and what opportunities could be explored further in encouraging everyone to be heard and have a voice. 

Initially, the team collaborated face to face in the studio, but then Covid hit, and the conversations were forced to become virtual. Happily, this worked really well, particularly because the team and agencies are based in both Auckland and Wellington. 

“It’s a really good way to bring people together to map progress — to show what we’re struggling with, show what we’re feeling good about, leverage the broader group’s perspective on solutions, and keep them running and empowered,” says Geoff. “It’s funny, if you think about the brand promise, this notion of thriving and enabling Kiwis to thrive — we were almost applying that thinking to the broader team, and that’s a good environment for people to contribute in to make a difference. If the brand could thrive, then the brand refresh could thrive. We had a road map, we had a method of collaboration and sharing, and we had a cadence that was regular and fast.” 

The team went about creatively exploring the notion of thriving through the metaphor of a healthy community. The key was determining how to symbolise that, and the kind of design system needed. They explored what it means to thrive from a te ao Māori perspective. Geoff says the team “landed on the idea of a harakeke leaf wrapping around the Kiwibank wordmark as a dynamic frame representing the idea of the
harakeke’s interlocking fibres to create strength and durability. Could the frame weave, or could it fold? It kind of came out by doing design visuals, and having a lot of conversations.” 

The result is an identity and logo inspired by the concept of a thriving Aotearoa, designed around the te ao Māori metaphor for a thriving whānau and community, which is symbolised in pā harakeke, the tall, green, sword-like flax leaves that grow throughout New Zealand. A pā harakeke is a planting of selected varieties of harakeke that provide high-quality material for weaving.

“We wanted an identity that could change, evolve and have life in it to really represent the idea of thriving,” says Geoff. “We wanted the frame to be able to be dynamic, animated, able to fold into different shapes and different forms. The two colours of green — the dark green and the bright green — reflect the light and the dark side of the harakeke leaf when hit by the sun.” 

For this project, the team also brought in Tristan Marler (Manawa Tapu), a multi-disciplinary artist of Te Rarawa descent from the Hokianga in the Far North. “The harakeke plant has these inner shoots called the rito,” he says. “Metaphorically, the centre shoots are our children, our future generations, and the supporting, strong, outer leaves are our parents and grandparents, or the supportive community.”

Tristan also created three tohu, which were used to inform the broader design system and reflect the brand values: One was ‘Kia Māia’ — to be brave, to show leadership and to think about how we benefit future generations. Another was ‘Kia Manaaki’, which means to have care and open heartedness towards others. And the final tohu was ‘Kia Mārama’ — to constantly seek to grow, to learn, to advance,
to innovate. 

Kiwibank’s new identity was built from a digitally led direction, with the colours chosen to work well on digital platforms first, and other channels like spatial and print the secondary consideration, reflecting the bank’s direction.

Simon’s very proud of the result. “We know the importance of the role our brand plays for all of us at Kiwibank, and it’s so exciting to be able to share this new identity and a refreshed approach, and really look ahead to how we deliver on our purpose of making Kiwis better off and deliver on our strategy.”

The feedback has been incredibly positive from both customers and internal teams alike, who’ve noted the balance between the power of the story and the actual visual expression of that. “They seem to love the clarity and the single-minded nature of the narrative and the story, and they love how it looks,” says Simon. “When they see the two together, it makes sense. 

“There’s a real sense of pride in seeing the best of Kiwibank’s legacy woven together with a rich cultural foundation that’s modern, future-focused and clearly steps Kiwibank forward to reflect the bank it is today,” he continues. “It’s a benchmark that all of us internally need to rise to, ensuring we deliver what we say we do.”  

This article was first published in the March/April 2022 issue of NZ Marketing magazine.

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