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Branding. A Brief History

What the hell does it mean and why is it so goddam important?

If you’re running a business you will have no doubt heard the term ‘branding’ being chucked about, what’s your brand ethos, have you defined your brand personality, how will your customers know to choose you over your competitors?  But where the hell does it come from and why is it so goddam important.

The word ‘brand’ originates from the Norse word ‘brandr’ which roughly translated means to burn, or to brand in this case. Back in the day before the crazy world of pitchmen took over, the practice of branding was to show ownership of things which had value, kinda like saying “This belongs to me, so hands off”.

Of course, branding has evolved over time, from the farmers in the Indus Valley over 4,000 years ago branding their livestock, to artisans claiming their work, to factories claiming their products, to companies claiming their products were better than others. The purpose of a brand has evolved into selling, recognition and trust, “This belongs to me” has become “This was made by me, so buy it”.

As marketers and creatives, we talk a lot about branding (and I mean a lot)—brand statements, brand personality, brand values, brand identity, brand tone of voice and how that plays out in printed material, websites, social content, events and pretty much in every aspect of your business.

What we brand, how we brand it and why we brand it has changed forever. Branding in the twenty-first century is still about taking ownership, but these days it’s not just about property and products, it’s also about owning what your company values and represents, earning customer trust and loyalty through your words, your actions and your stories.

These days, consumers have more information and more choices than ever and unless you can offer superior products or lower prices, it’s almost impossible to stand out from the crowd. Success is no longer determined by who has the biggest advertising budget or the most recognizable logo, it’s determined by who makes the greatest emotional connection. Those are the winners when it comes to branding - they win everything, the recognition, the appeal, the loyalty and ultimately the customer.

So how do you create an emotional connection with your customer? Well number one, you have to know your product or service and what kind of customer it’s going to attract. Once you’ve identified them you need to get to know them, really get under their skin. What are their goals, their dreams, how do they live their life, what do they value and what do they want. Only then can you start to craft your brand, to tell your story and create an authentic, lasting relationship.

Whilst I’m here, I’d like to give a shout out to a few of my favs. Brands like Apple and BMW have created beautiful aspirational brands for years and have been the benchmark for how to build and maintain a brand. But in recent years I’ve witnessed the emergence of smaller niche brands which exhibit real human traits, like humor, empathy and what I like the most - attitude. Brands like Karmacola, Reek Perfume and GFDA are embodying real human qualities and it seems to me at least, this is the next evolution in branding and I gotta say I kinda like it.