Startup Mzansi Guide: Branding Basics for Startups

Your branding highlights how your business is different from your competitors. You should consider what your values are and how you can communicate them to customers and staff.

1. Overview

Branding is about discovering and communicating the essence of your business and what it delivers to your customers. Your brand creates your business' reputation and its 'personality'. A strong brand can make your business stand out from the crowd, particularly in competitive markets.

This guide explains how branding works and how you can use it to help improve your business. It shows you how to create a brand, how to budget for it and the different techniques of managing a brand. You will also find out what the key elements of branding are, how branding applies to different business sectors and the impact design can have on branding.

2. What is branding?

Branding is a way of clearly highlighting what makes your product or service different to, and more attractive than, your competitors'.

A brand goes much deeper than just your company logo. You could define a brand as a set of associations that an existing or potential customer has of a company, product, service or individual. Branding also reflects your customers' experiences of your business and affects every interaction you have with your customers and suppliers.

Your use of design, advertising, marketing, service proposition, and corporate culture can all help to generate associations in people's minds that will benefit your business.

Successful branding is about promoting your strengths, or 'brand values'. You can start by thinking about what your business is good at and what you believe in. For example:

  • the particular skills your business has
  • your high-quality customer service
  • the best value for money you provide in your marketplace
  • your innovative approach

3. Why you need branding

Effective branding can help your business stand out from your competitors in competitive markets. Customers generally expect to pay more for a branded product than for unbranded products.

You can apply your brand to a whole range of your other products or services. This will allow consumers to associate each product in your range with a consistent set of values which they know.

Also, if you want to extend your product range, consumers' perception of the new offering will be enhanced by your existing brand. By consistently applying your brand attributes your business can move into new market sectors without changing your core brand identity.

As branding is one way to increase public recognition of your business or product, it can help you engage with customers and create a connection.

4. Branding: the key ingredients

Customers generally expect to pay more for a branded product than for unbranded products. By consistently applying your brand attributes your business can move into new market sectors without changing your core brand identity.

There are four key elements in a successful branding project:

The big idea

The big idea is the starting point for any branding project. It is a summary of your business' or product's 'personality', and what makes it different. You need to ask yourself:

  • What are we offering?
  • What makes us different?
  • How can our business stand out?
  • What do our consumers want or need?
  • Where is there a gap in the market?


Your company vision is an understanding of where your business is going, or where you want it to go, so you can plan your journey. Your vision may be large scale - such as switching the emphasis of your business from one core area to another - or simple, such as offering an existing product in a completely new way.


Values summarise what you believe in as a business, and clarify what your business stands for. It is vital that any values you portray are genuine and evident in the way your business operates.


Your brand personality is about how you want your business or product to come across, so these personality traits should be appropriate to your type of product or service.

You can convey your company's personality through:

  • graphic design
  • the tone of voice and the language you use
  • your dialogue with customers and how they can contribute ideas and get involved
  • customer service and how staff are trained to communicate with customers

If you want to extend your product range, consumers' perception of the new offering will be enhanced by your existing brand.

5. Brand management techniques

Once you have established what your brand identity will be, you have to decide how to get your message across. You can do this through advertising, events and staff training. However, the following techniques are also worth considering:

  • Storytelling - telling your business' story through corporate identity, packaging, stationery, marketing materials etc.
  • Credibility - your brand's claims must be credible and appropriate to your values.
  • Differentiation - presenting a point of differentiation from your competitors.
  • Engaging with customers - if you stand out from the crowd for positive reasons and your tone of voice and communications are credible, customers will look at what you have to offer.
  • Focusing your product portfolio - shifting your focus onto a smaller number of key products or services may make your offer easier for your consumers to understand.
  • Multiple brands and brand 'stretch' - if your company operates in more than one sector you need to consider how you present the business in each area. You could apply a single brand identity to other products or services for the areas you operate in - this is called 'brand stretch'.
  • Endorsed brands - you can create a new brand in its own right but use the 'parent' brand of your main company to endorse the new brand. An example would be Playstation, a powerful brand in its own right but endorsed as Sony Playstation to build on the established reputation of Sony.
  • Reinvigorating your brand - keeping your communications fresh is essential.
  • Naming - brand names are important in setting the tone and personality of your brand. You need to check that names aren't already in use and protected by law.
  • Consistency - you should build the same attributes and characteristics into all areas of your business' operations.
  • Hire a designer - you can hire a designer to look at the current state of your company and explore possibilities for developing it.

6. Communicate your brand to customers and staff

Communicate to customers

You need to know what drives your customers, and what makes them buy.

Once you have defined your brand values and your customers' needs, you can start to build your brand by consistently communicating your brand values.

Remember that every possible contact you have with a customer or potential customer needs to reinforce your brand values, including your logo, business name and product packaging.

It is helpful to ask:

  • existing customers what they like about doing business with you
  • satisfied customers for regular feedback
  • potential customers what they are looking for
  • dissatisfied customers or former customers for feedback to gain valuable, and sometimes more honest, information about how your brand is perceived.

Communicate to staff

Your employees can affect what customers and colleagues think of your business, so you should ensure that they understand your brand and believe in what it stands for.

It is useful to create a document setting out your core company values and benchmarks for how you want to operate. It should summarise the purpose of your business and why you think you are different from your competitors. You should communicate this to your employees to ensure you are all working towards the same aims, and review it regularly.

It is useful to:

  • set up an employee suggestion scheme or discuss your brand with your employees regularly
  • continually reinforce the message that what your employees do is important and explain why
  • make sure they know that breaking the promises your brand makes to customers - even just once - can damage the brand and your business.

7. Budgeting for a brand

Your brand should encompass most areas of your business, from stationery to how you deliver your product or service to customers, so defining a budget can be difficult.

The key areas you could budget for are:

  • design needs, such as a logo, signage, business stationery or product packaging
  • changes to your premises
  • your advertising
  • time you'll need to spend training employees
  • any resources you'll have to provide for employees to enable them to carry out what the brand promises, eg customer service costs
  • keeping your company website updated

You can create stationery, logos, packaging and advertising quite cheaply if the budget is tight. However, it is a good idea to think about your future growth when devising your image, as changing it later can prove costly. You may also find that customers and employees will have already built up a relationship with your brand, which can then make it harder to later change.

Sandile Shabangu

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