Why is it important to brand?

Now is an excellent time for South African products to enter global markets, according to
Prof Melville Saayman, director of Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society at
North-West University. He explains why the branding of our agricultural products is so important.

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In 2015, the Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society research unit at North-West University determined the economic value of biltong sales in South Africa. The study recommended that biltong be registered as a trademark and branded. Since then, the research unit has been inundated with questions and comments on copyright and branding, a sign of the relevance of the topic in the agricultural sector.

From questions raised by people in this sector, it is clear that many farmers and managers are not well-informed about the importance of branding and that products that should be branded were not. Reasons for this may include:

  • Ignorance;
  • Regarding branding as unnecessary or too cumbersome a process;
  • Regarding a product as not worth the effort. 

Some people seem to be under the impression that once a product has been produced, it is legally protected. This is not the case.

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What is branding?
Branding can be described as a person’s experience of a place (a farm or company, for example), a product or a service (consultation and training) associated with a certain name.

In layman’s terms, branding is establishing a brand in the market place. A brand, as defined by the American Marketing Association, is a name, term, sign, symbol, words, design or a combination of these, to differentiate one seller or a group of sellers from other sellers in competition.

The bedrock of branding lies in the trademark. Trademarking is essential for various reasons:

  • It legally protects your product (brand) – This means that no one can use or copy the name of your service, business or product if it is registered. This is important because, when you market a product, which could be anything from cheese to a game farm, you are at the same time distinguishing your product from those competing in the same market space. This is applicable to both commercial and game farmers and those farmers selling products such as jams, rusks and cheese. Branding thus makes it easier for consumers to recall your product and support your marketing efforts.
  • Establishing a brand in the market place takes time and money – For these reasons alone, it makes sense to register it. 
  • Trademark represents quality – Quality determines price and value for money. 
  • The time is right for SA products to enter international markets and for the country’s products to become globally competitive.

Trademarking helps to position SA products in the global environment and protect and help promote our brands. Examples of successful locally branded agricultural products include Mrs Ball’s Chutney, Amarula and Ouma Rusks. There are also many in the game and wine industries, such as Van Loveren, KWV, Spier, Constantia and farming operations such as Karan Beef, ZZ2, Montagu Dried Fruits & Nuts, KOO and Wildeklawer, among others.


The success behind these brands lies in their quality, availability, accessibility and the fact that they are addressing the needs of specific markets and consumers. Then there is also their marketing, which is based on their trademark. Essentially, your trademark or brand becomes the face of your offering.

A brand can also be used to expand a product range, which most of these brands have done, thereby creating greater market share.

The process in a nutshell

If you have a potentially successful product that you want to protect legally, how do you go about it? The process of branding involves four steps:

  • Define and describe the product you wish to register;
  • Develop your logo and/or slogan. Any good marketer or creative designer will be able to assist you; 
  • Contact a copyrights/trademark lawyer who will administer the process on your behalf.

I advise that you contact a law firm that specialises in trademark and copyright issues. A trademark can be protected forever, but has to be renewed every ten years. These lawyers will remind you of this when the time comes.

Certain words remain in the public domain despite being part of your trademark – ‘farm’, ‘cheese’, and ‘South Africa’, for example – and these lawyers will inform you of which words in the name or slogan that you are registering can be copyrighted.
Market and use your logo/slogan in all your marketing material.

Regional and cultural products are more difficult to register than most. This is because they cannot be registered in the name of an individual and must be registered (as a geographic indicator, for example) by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The DTI deals with such products because they require international protection. Alternatively, if a regional or national organisation exists, this can take the process forward.

South Africa’s most successful cultural product that has been branded is Rooibos tea, with companies such as Starbucks and international supermarkets selling it. The product has been marketed internationally and demand for it is growing, which has had a positive economic impact on the local agricultural sector.

Cultural and regional products
Several South African cultural products, such as biltong and koeksisters, should be considered for branding. This would mean that anyone buying biltong, for example, would know it was produced in South Africa, just as consumers know that Champagne is from France or Port is from Portugal.

It would mean an increase in the number of proudly South African products being exported and earning foreign exchange. It could lead to greater quality assurance, greater innovation and job creation.

More importantly, it will lead to and ensure the sustainable production of these products. If such cultural products are not protected, we could lose the right to something that is distinctly South African. Other countries could register these products, robbing us of our heritage, potential foreign exchange and employment opportunities.

The same applies to regional products, such as Karoo lamb, for example. Although a consumer can currently buy Karoo lamb, there is no guarantee that it actually comes from the Karoo.

We need to do more to protect what it ours, not only for the sake of the producer, but also for the sake of the consumer.
– Annelie Coleman

Email Prof Melville Saayman at [email protected].

Annelie Coleman represents Farmer’s Weekly in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape. Agriculture is in her blood. She grew up on a maize farm in the Wesselsbron district where her brother is still continuing with the family business. Annelie is passionate about the area she works in and calls it ‘God’s own country’. She’s particularly interested in beef cattle farming, especially with the indigenous African breeds. She’s an avid reader and owns a comprehensive collection of Africana covering hunting in colonial Africa, missionary history of same period, as well as Rhodesian literature.