Seminar asserts that proper branding remains a beacon of hope for sustainable and successful businesses

By: Themba Nyovane – 15 September 2023

Recently, the Vaal University of Technology (VUT)’s Department of Marketing, Retail Business and Sport Management held a seminar to discuss the importance of branding in creating and maintaining a sustainable and successful business.

Themed: ‘Branding for Sustainable Business’, the seminar was held at the VUT’s Centre for Academic Development (CAD) auditorium.

Giving the purpose and setting the tone for the event, Mr Thebe Magapa, a marketing lecturer, said universities play a crucial role in every community they serve. He further added that a strong university brand can attract potential students and funding, benefiting both the university and the local community.  “Today we have gathered here, to explore the evolution in the history of branding and its importance. We are here to learn, understand and engage in a variety of topics from higher institutions experts, from different companies, personal branding, and trends. Branding is about perceptions or is it a reality?” said Mr Magapa.

During the seminar speakers provided valuable insights and perspectives on branding, drawing from their industry experiences.  The gathering also tapped into the role of rebranding within the higher education institutions and the impact on the universities as well as communities.

It also provided a platform for students, mainly those in the Marketing discipline, to gain insights into the world of branding, with a particular focus on its relevance to sustainable business practices and its role within higher education institutions. Another key takeaway from the seminar was the unpacking of the challenges and opportunities associated with rebranding efforts at universities and the significant impact on the image and reputation of educational institutions in South Africa.

One of the key speakers, Mrs Tisch Farrel, the Brand and Marketing Manager at VUT, said rebranding of higher education institutions (HEIs), such as universities and colleges, is a strategic process aimed at revitalizing the image, improving reputation, and enhancing appeal to students, faculty, donors, and other stakeholders. A brand custodian and staunch advocate of adherence to the VUT Brand and Corporate Identity (CI) Manual across all levels of the University, she also highlights that branding is more than just a logo and slogan. She emphasized that it can be driven by various factors, including changes in leadership, shifts in educational offerings, mergers or affiliations, or the need to adapt to evolving market demands relevance.

“Branding is not just a logo, a website, or your business card but its an experience, a promise, a voice. It’s how you make people feel, the story you tell, and the trust you build… your brand is the heart and soul of your business,” said Tisch. She further said: “Meaningful brands often have a strong sense of social responsibility – t hey can contribute to the community by providing resources, support, or even transforming their operations to help address societal challenges. This can include charitable donations, volunteering, or repurposing manufacturing facilities to produce essential items.”

Another speaker, Carel Scheepers who is the Head of Strategy- Africa at Havas Media South Africa, introduced the role of meaningful brands in difficult times. Carel supports that meaningful brands play a significant role in difficult times by providing stability, trust, and support to both customers and society. These brands, he said, have established strong connections with their audience beyond just selling products or services; they have a deeper purpose and a set of values that resonate with people.

“The agony of Africa, a hope to its continent. Reclaiming identity through branding, reclaiming culture, and ideas in Africa through storytelling” advocates Mr Thebe Ikalafeng, the founder of Brand Leadership. He added that we need a significant shift away from traditional Western-centric branding strategies and towards a more culturally sensitive and regionally relevant approach to branding on the African continent. Ikalafeng also highlighted the importance of diversity and uniqueness of the African continent and its people. “Brands that invest in understanding and connecting with African consumers on a deep level can build strong and enduring relationships that benefit both the brand and the local communities they serve,” he said.

In relation to the sustainable development goals (SDGs), Thebe strongly believes that as Africa is home to thousands of languages and dialects, brands should aim to resonate with the values and identity of African consumers. This, he says, may involve market research, consumer behavior analysis, and collaboration with local experts to gain a distinction understanding of the target audience. “Effective branding in Africa involves a deep understanding of local cultures and customs.”.

Taking the audience through his personal perspective, Mr Selepe Madisha, an alumnus of VUT who is a Speaker and a Life Coach, took to the podium to highlight the importance of identity as a form of branding.  ”Personal branding isn’t just about how others perceive you; it also involves self-awareness and self-improvement. Building and maintaining a personal brand requires you to reflect on your values, strengths, weaknesses, and goals,” he said. He further encouraged the participants to continue to brand themselves in every aspect they operate or assigned to.

Other speakers of the day included Mrs Mosele Maloka from PEPSICO and Tshepiso Dumasi from Bidvest Automotive – both are VUT alumni.