There is some conjecture on the exact origin of branding; Ancient Egyptian tombs portray the branding of oxen and cattle which would date it BC, and the word brand itself is derived from an ancient Norse word, “brandr”, meaning fire or to burn. This meaning has remained constant throughout the centuries, with the literal definition of branding expressed as the use of a hot iron or metal rod to burn a distinctive mark or symbol into livestock, so that ownership could be easily determined (a practice still used today).
In more recent times, Kings, Queens and noblemen would use a distinctive seal to authorise and legitimise important documents, with this emblem pressed into hot wax. One of the most famous of such documents, The Magna Carta, bears the distinctive seal of King John of England.
The 1800s saw the rise of mass production and shipment of trade goods, with products such as wine and ale being produced in larger batches with wider distribution. Producers began burning their mark into crates and barrels to distinguish themselves from competitors. Over time, the brand evolved into a symbol of quality more so than ownership. Products perceived to have a greater and consistent quality attracted a higher price compared to their undistinguished alternatives, and by the late 1800s it was possible to register your trademark to prevent competitors from creating similar products and causing confusion in the market place.
Whilst the market place, the tools and environment have undergone massive changes over the last 25 years, the very essence of branding hasn’t changed and still ties back to its roots and origin. Today the term branding is often misused, yet its original definition still rings true of a simple mark or symbol that distinguishes your product or service from others.
We have been fortunate over the years to create and develop brands for many organisations, and I am pleased to say that most of these have withstood the test of time. Back in the mid 90s we developed a new brand “Organic 2000” for a range or organic fertilisers; at the time there was discussion on what impact reaching the year 2000 would have on the brand, but as that was some 6 years away, the discussion was relatively low key. I am pleased to say that after ownership changes and the sale of the business last year, in 2017 the brand and mark are still very much alive and true to the original symbol developed back in the 90s. This longevity is a testament to the value of building a brand, and reflects upon how a good brand is one that can withstand the test of time.
One of the many keys to success is being consistent. In drawing upon more famous brands like Coca Cola and Ford, each of these global icons have maintained a consistent, visual representation of who they are and what their brand stands for, despite having had some very minor visual refinements over the years.
In today’s digital age the greatest challenge to a company’s brand is their reputation. Social channels such as Facebook create easily accessible avenues for people to comment on, post and potentially tarnish a brand (sometimes unjustifiably). Your brand has become much more than a mark or symbol, it is the culture, essence and reputation of an organisation. Internally it unites the organisation; externally it differentiates it from others. It’s important to protect your brand reputation with a good risk strategy, online and offline.
Good branding is about inspiring your customers with confidence, desire and respect. It’s also about expectation, and the story and emotion that lives within the brand long after its conception. Back when mankind first used the brand to mark and distinguish goods, little did they know that this sentiment would continue on thousands of years later, creating a tradition that we’re sure will too, last the thousands of years to come.