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Turning a Service into a Brand

The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) is an independent non-profit organization, and one of the leaders in the discipline of blood transfusion. The challenge the company is facing is how to build a greater level of brand affinity and turn itself into an organisation which generates advocacy of its cause across all South Africans.

SANBS operates in eight out of nine provinces in South Africa (with the exception of The Western Cape which is serviced by the Western Province Blood Transfusion Service). It also provides crucial support to countries in the SADC region.

SANBS supplies over one million blood products annually and is rated among the top blood services in the world.  This pedigree comes as a result of world-class testing and collection protocols which ensure that the blood which is transfused is always of top quality.

Blood is only collected from voluntary non-remunerated blood donors who lead safe lifestyles and meet the minimum criteria for donating blood however this criterion limits the potential donor pool. 
Tests are done by using Individual Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (ID NAT) which detects the presence of HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Syphilis.

The blood is processed into its constituent components; red blood cells, plasma and platelets therefore in principle a single blood donation can save up to three lives.


SANBS is under constant pressure to deliver blood, other blood products and essential services for the likes of cancer patients, general surgery, women during childbirth and trauma patients.

The SANBS also provides the medical industry with specialised products and services which sets it apart from many other blood services around the world.

Challenges from a donor perspective:

There is a belief that the need for blood is seasonal, due to the high accident rates over holiday periods. However, the reality is that the greatest demand for blood is for general medical treatment.

About 30 to 40 percent of the national blood supply is donated from people under the age of 26 in schools and universities. 

Public apathy and fear coupled with the perception that blood donation is time consuming and a general inconvenience, limits potential donors from donating.

Finding the target

The target audience stretches across the entire South African spectrum, with donors’ perceiving the organisation as a service brand, while the medical fraternity views it as a product supplying brand. The challenge is to balance these two spectrums as one cannot exist without the other.

In order for the service to grow its donor panel, it must appeal across a wider population dynamic, specifically to the burgeoning youth market. 
To be able to communicate the brand effectively, SANBS has decided to focus its marketing communications efforts on attracting and retaining new donors from the large and growing pool in the youth market.

Brand objectives

SANBS campaigns are based on three pillars; awareness, education, and building a brand affinity. 

The overall long-term objective of SANBS is to maintain blood stocks at a healthy five-day reserve, or at the least to not let this drop below two-day crisis levels. Underpinning these objectives is the urgent need to increase general awareness of the service and the important role it plays in South African society throughout the year. This will be done via strong brand education campaigns. 

Importantly, the brand is gradually moving from a ‘crisis mentality’ (communicating only when there is a blood shortage) to a proactive approach, where the message is spread throughout the year. This will prevent blood shortages before they occur, and helping ensure that blood donation remains high on the national agenda.