Nowadays one of the most accepted definitions of a brand is provided by Marty Neumeier. He says: “a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.” But how did we end up with this abstract concept? Why can’t we say that a brand is just a logo?
To better understand what brands are today let’s take a look at how it all started, and how it began to evolve until the concept we have today.
The earliest form of brands comes from Egypt, around 2000 BC. They started to use a hot iron to identify the ownership of livestock. In the Middle Age, branding was also used for noble causes such as identifying the fabric where pottery was from, but also for cruel purposes such as torture. In this early context, a brand was a long-lasting symbol used to indicate ownership or origin.
The word “brand” comes from the Scandanavian “brandr” which means “to burn”. Branding cattle was the most common type of brand that has existed throughout history. But in the 18th century with The Industrial Revolution, this word started to be filled with different connotations.
Since the 1750’s factories started making available to the market a high amount of product choices. The competition was tough. Companies needed to find ways to stand out and be perceived as the best option. Is in this context where words, phrases, symbols, design, shapes, and colors started to be used consistently to generate familiarity and distinction in the minds of the consumers. At this point, a brand was much more than just a symbol. Trademarks were born and protected by the U.S. government as intellectual property.
As technology progressed companies started advertising their products and services first in newspapers and magazines, on the radio, and then on the TV. This allowed consumers to perceive new dimensions of the brands. Brands could be identified with different images and sounds.
But soon enough all those innovative ways of advertising started to become noise. Competitors were advertising pretty much the same products. Companies needed new ways to stand out as the best option for consumers. That’s when marketers started to study deeper their audiences and found a new way of selling: creating an emotional connection between the brand and the audience through images and messages. In this context, a new dimension was added: brands became more human, more relatable, more emotional.
And this is how we arrive at Neumeier’s brand definition: “a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.” Brands went from being printed with fire on different things to being printed with emotions on the mind of people.
If you want to have a powerful and modern brand, you need to get to know your audience, their needs and wants, and find ways to connect emotionally with them. A logo is just the tip of the iceberg.
Michael Ray, “Branding, property marking.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, britannica.com
Aviva M. Cantor, “A brief history of branding”, 99designs.com.