February 5, 2023

What is a brand?

Gone are the days when having a good (to great) product was enough to ensure longevity. 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, “brandr” meant “to burn.” Eventually, it became known as a block of burning wood and a torch. Around 1500, burning a mark on cattle became common as it helped distinguish ownership unique to each ranch. Thanks to the mark, the animals were readily identifiable if livestock was stolen or lost. This practice was done worldwide and is still in use today, albeit more humanely.

But it’s not just livestock. Branding included pottery markings and 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 ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. And vendors would shout out to gain shoppers’ attention with what we would know today as taglines. In essence, they were pitching to the masses. Remember, not everybody knew how to read in ancient times, so vendors knew the importance of being vocal to attract attention. 

While there are many historical instances related to branding, the Gutenberg Printing Press stands as one of the most prominent as it paved the way for making mass-produced printing materials for an ever-growing literate population. Soon adverts popped up in flyers, posters, and eventually newspapers.

But what about mass-produced goods? 

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, but we will end the lesson here.


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, these are only components whose role is to develop your visual identity, but they alone do not define what a brand is.

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!

Social media is an excellent example of why branding has evolved today, but we’ll save these for future discussions.

Brand strategy can be used by all businesses, not just corporations. Indeed, if we take Marty’s definition to heart, branding can profoundly impact your business, whether you’re a start-up, a small or medium business, or even a mom & pop store. 

Think of why you love Apple over HP, NIKE over ADDIDAS, and your local butcher over a supermarket chain, and you will begin to get the idea.

Until next time.

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