Breathing Souls into Brands

By Wangeci Kanyeki


Benson Nyagu is Brand Strategy Consultant, passionate about breathing souls into ideas. ​He has worked with start-up companies and SMEs to turn around their brand image and positively grow their brand equity. He strongly believes in brands that have a cultural connection with their target audience. Wangeci Kanyeki interviewed him on how he translated the SNDBX brand architecture and how he brought it to life.


1. You have almost 2 decades of local and international experience in the creative and communication industry. How did you end up as a Branding expert?

I would say it was by chance not by plan. I started out in the advertising space at Casper’s Studios in 2002, working on the very first issues of Marketing Africa the Magazine and Safaricom gigs. I soon needed more challenges and found myself at Kul Graphics where I filled three positions at the same time, a designer, pre-press and output and DTP (Desktop publishing) Operator, I gained a wealth of experience working on publications and packaging from conception to print. My big break came when I joined BrandVantage in 2005, and was shortly poached by Interbrand Sampson, a brand strategy agency that integrated strategy and design. I was hooked! I worked for 5 years at various positions in the Brand Design space and developed many brands that remain strong to date. I have also served as an art director in various advertising agencies. In 2016, I eventually set up my brand consultancy service, Nyagu Brand Consultant, where we breathe souls to actualise ideas that solve market place challenges.


2. What was the brief given for SNDBX brand creation?

In 2019, we were commissioned by WYLDE International to develop an indigenous solution that would provide a holistic solution to African SMEs. The brief was to create an Africanised brand strategy that used the power of collaboration from various experts to scale up SMEs despite the challenges. The brand needed to be relevant, credible and differentiated, and be scalable enough to expand. The promise and positioning needed to connect and identify with Africa, while at the same time setting out a world class bespoke solution with a global influence. The concept also required to have clear segmentation of product pillars to provide various professional solutions to businesses.

The SNDBX was launched early 2020 as the first of its kind in the world, to bring together a permanent residency of more than 20 professional disciplines under the same roof who would work collaboratively side by side with entrepreneurs. Through SNDBX, we continue to provide services to further deliver on the brand promise.


3. How did you translate the Brand Architecture into the physical SNDBX office space?

So, architecture here refers to the house structure of the brand in a figurative sense. The brand experience sense is derived from the brand positioning which is purely African in context. “The African Village formula” our brand essence has an authenticity of Africa expressed through colour, shape and texture. Earthen colours have been used which include black, burnt clay and burnt ocher. This is why we use a lot of African fabric and the triangular icon which is a visual element base that is authentically African. The brand architecture provides a versatile express of the brand while retaining it within a certain parameter.


4. Why the name SNDBX, what does it mean and how is it pronounced, and why on earth does it not have vowels?


The name is derived from the idea of a sand play pen and the sand offers many learning experiences to the children. Our analogy at the SNDBX is “It takes the village to raise a child”…the sand is both the Village (as in the BOX) and also the teaching or learning tool through play. The entrepreneur can step into the child’s shoes and explore learning experiences with the careful guidance of the experts until they succeed.


5. Tell me about the multiple art pieces at SNDBX. How do they connect to the Brand?

The art pieces connect to the brand positioning and not the concept. The art pieces were commissioned to a local artist Martin Kioko, to bring to life depictions of authentic and pure African village life, free of the western influence. The artwork brings to life the African perspective to beauty and as a result expresses the African genius.

The Mansa Musa mural was done by a mural specialist fine artist, Chris Kibera who introduced me to fine art painting as a young man (he taught me how to compute what objects you see and decode how to decode them through colour and a paint brush) ...so yes am also a fine artist but chose to be in the brand creative space..I enjoy the dreaming it offers…and the impact it generates. We placed Egyptian hieroglyphs on the beams leading to the SNDBX coaching booths and training halls to show an African form of writing to depict the geniusness of Ancient African scripting.


Which is your favourite place in the SNDBX interiors?

That is an unfair question…I like the whole place but I feel at home walking through the hall way where we have high fashion in its original organic taste; Traditional African costume. We did prints of various peoples from diverse corners of Africa. I always like to see how people react to them….in awe and sometimes in disgust deepening on how in-tune they are with us Africans…and it always sparks great conversations. We put them there to do just that…make you appreciate the depths of the African genius. I also love the Himba boy on the pillar as you walk to the kitchen. He makes a statement of what it is to be African and proud of it….which we truly are at the SNDBX.


What is your closing remark for SMEs regarding the importance of branding?

Ignore it to your peril! Engage it in the right way and soon you will grow in previously unimaginable ways and levels. I would say make brand strategy and application the backbone to your marketing and sales policies; you will have found the holy grail in business.