What is a Brand anyway?

By Agent47one

In this 3-part series on Branding, we will look into the what (what is a brand?), the why (why is it necessary?), and the how (how can we build a brand that people will love?). 

Gone are the days where having a good (to great) product was enough to ensure long-term business success. As you will see in this series, building a brand is crucial for your business’ longevity. 

We can no longer rely on the “If I build it, they will come” philosophy. You won’t get very far. Trust me. Even longstanding corporations know the value of building their brand for long-term success.

But what exactly is a brand, and how will it benefit you and your business? Well, to answer that question, which is not as easy as you think, allow me the very good fortune of (hopefully!) not boring you to tears as we look into Branding’s humble beginnings. 

A very brief history.

The concept of a brand, or Branding, is quite old. In ancient Norse, the term “brandr” meant “to burn.” Eventually, it became known as a block of burning wood and then a torch. Around 1500, the practice of burning a mark on cattle became common as it helped to distinguish ownership unique to each ranch. Thanks to the mark, if livestock was stolen or lost, they were readily identifiable. This practice was done worldwide and is still in use today, albeit more humanely.

But it’s not just livestock. Branding included pottery markings, engravings on metal wares by the artisan who created them to help with identification. If you have ever watched the Antique Roadshow, you have no doubt noticed how historians can determine the legitimacy of an item based on their knowledge of the marks left by the old masters.

Street vendors distinguished themselves through markings, drawings, and colours in countries such as ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. And vendors would shout out to gain shoppers’ attention with what we would describe today as taglines. In essence, they were pitching to the masses in the hopes of attracting as many as they could. Remember, not everybody knew how to read in ancient times, so vendors knew the importance of being vocal to gain attention. 

While there are many historical instances related to Branding, one that is quite significant is the Gutenburg Printing Press, which paved the way to making mass-produced printing materials to an ever-growing literate population. It would not take long for adverts to pop up in flyers, posters, and eventually newspapers.

But what about mass-produced goods? Yep, Branding has got your back there too. 

The industrial revolution gave way to producing goods on a massive scale. Companies selling their products included distinctive typography, colours, shapes, and designs to differentiate themselves from their competitors as consumers had more choices than ever before. Even as far back as the late 1880s, consumers reaching for that Coca-Cola knew they were buying the real thing over a generic brand. 

I could go on and on with the history lesson since there are many more instances and examples, such as graphic design’s influence, the development of colour psychology, and typography. Still, I’ll end the memory lane ride now. 

After all, I want to keep my promise of not boring you.


So, after all of this, have we come up with a definitive answer? 

If you base your answer on the above history lesson, you may be inclined to define a brand as a logo, colour, specific product, or even your identity. However, a brand is none of these things.

David Ogilvy, the father of modern advertising, defined a brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.”

However, as time went on, marketers became savvier. They began to catch on that identity went beyond a mere description of ownership; they discovered the power of influencing emotion and perception.

Suddenly, Branding became subjective.

Marty Neumeier defines a brand as “a gut feeling towards your product, service, or company.” 

He’s right!

While social media is an excellent example of why Branding has evolved today, we’ll save this topic for future discussions.

While many brand strategists, present company included, often use big brands such as Apple, NIKE, and GOOGLE as examples when defining branding tactics or philosophy, it isn’t only for large corporations. Indeed, if we take Marty’s definition to heart, Branding can have a profound impact on your business whether you’re a start-up, a small or medium business, even a mom & pop store. 

Think of why you love Apple over HP, NIKE over ADDIDAS, your local butcher over a supermarket chain, and you will begin to see why different brands mean different things to different people.

In part 2, we’ll delve a little deeper into why branding matters by going over some numbers. Surprisingly, it’s a lot easier to explain what Branding can do for you than defining the term.