How the Term Branding Has Evolved

Today, we may associate branding with businesses and the image they portray to customers and the public, but branding has been around for centuries. However, the concept has evolved a great deal over the years.

History of Branding

The word “brand” is derived from an Old Norse term “brandr”, which means literally “to burn”.  Cattle ranchers would burn marks into their livestock to signify ownership. Each brand mark was unique so that ranchers could identify their animals from other livestock if they were lost or stolen. In the same sense, a cattle rancher’s mark is similar to the logo of businesses today, it’s unique, recognizable and communicates ownership.

The practice of branding transferred to other businesses, but not in the literal meaning of the word. During the 18th century, when the Industrial Revolution gave way to assembly lines and mass produced goods, branding logos into products became the norm.

The next big evolution for branding came with the advancements in mass media. Advertising and marketing became the primary vehicle for businesses to share their stories with customers and build their brand.

In fact, the consumer goods corporation Procter and Gamble (P&G) played a significant part in shaping the way that brands are managed today. In the 1930s, a junior executive at the time, Neil McElroy wrote a memo that would lay the groundwork for brand management. His idea was that each branded product within a larger consumer company should have its own dedicated team and marketing to promote it. It was run as if it was almost a separate business.

This reasoning is why it may not be at first obvious that Band-Aids are a product of Johnson & Johnson. The sports drink Gatorade is actually a product of PepsiCo, and Cheerios are manufactured by General Mills, the same company that produces Lucky Charms as well as Yoplait yogurt.

Because of their branding efforts, they sparked some of the first examples of products that were called by their brand name instead of their function. For example, we call facial tissue “Kleenex”. Some may say “Clorox” instead of bleach; “Crisco” instead of shortening; “Crock-Pot” instead of slow cooker; “Band-Aid” instead of bandage; or “Post-its” instead of sticky notes. We associate the product with the brand so much that the two have become easily interchangeable.

Branding has gone through multiple transitions since then, but perhaps one of the greatest influences on branding today is technology. The digital age has greatly changed the definition of branding, and all that it encompasses. To be successful today, you need to be aware of those changes and how they affect your business.

1. It’s more than possessions and objects.

Brands were once heavily product-focused. Consumers cared more about: What are the features? What can it do? Now, it’s also, if not more, about: How does this product reflect on me? What does it say about me?

For instance, part of the reason that organic and vegan food has gotten so popular in the last few years is that it perpetuates a certain lifestyle. Most of the people that buy this feel like that by doing so, they are also showing that they care about their health and the environment.

You can’t just sell someone on the cool features that your product offers. There has to be more.

What does this product say about the buyer? How can it help someone achieve their goals?

Through your branding, you also have to show that your business is doing more than offering quality products. You are trying to solve a problem that affects a lot of people. It may be that you donate a portion of profits to the poor. You might produce your products to be environmentally-friendly and have a mission for green living. Find what matters to your customers and your mission and develop that into your branding.

2. Branding has shifted toward experiences and beliefs.

Especially with younger generations, consumers aren’t just buying a product, they are buying an experience. If you want to get them to buy a product, the experience not only has to be exceptional, but it has to say something about them.

According to a recent survey conducted by Harris Group, 72 percent of millennials prefer to spend more money on experiences than on material possessions. The growing trend is causing retail stores like Macy’s to host events like yoga and live concerts to attract consumers and build their brand.

Tap into their beliefs. Figure out their goals and how you can help them. It’s not just the product that matters to consumers. It’s the entire experience, which starts before they ever go through the purchasing process. In fact, it can start as as early as when they browse the web for products, to when they check out your website, interact with you on social media and after they complete a purchase. Multiple aspects of the customer journey from the web design to customer service experience should be considered in branding.

3. Consumers play an active role in branding.

Before the rise of the Internet and social media, TV, radio and other mass media outlets had gatekeepers. It was a pay-to-play market. You aired commercials and paid for advertisements that sent out the specific messages that you crafted for your branding purposes. Now, there is much less control. Consumers post images on Instagram, review your business on Yelp and share their opinions on Facebook, and complain or praise you publicly on Twitter. What does this mean for brands?

Thanks to advances in technology and social media, brands have become very customer-focused. In fact, customers are part of the brand-building process. The conversations that they have on social media reflect your company. They shape how others see your products and your business.

Therefore, businesses lose some control of the messages that are being sent out, but there are some methods that can help to shape those conversations. To increase the likelihood that the online conversations surrounding your brand are positive, you need to create consistently exceptional customer experiences. You need to form strong relationships and a community around your brand that make it more likely that they will share the types of messages that you want.

Otherwise, if you are not providing the quality of products or level of service that people expect, they will share negative stories of your business instead. These negative stories will tarnish your brand reputation and make it more difficult to develop effective branding strategies. Another way to guide the conversations is to team up with customers and influencers. User-generated content and influencer marketing are digital forms of word of mouth that can not only improve your branding but boost your revenue.

Branding has changed dramatically over the years and will continue to evolve as new technologies are developed. The most successful companies know how to strike a balance between keeping their brand consistent and keeping up with the times. Part of that means that you have to know how the branding environment is changing and how it will affect your business in the future. To get professional advice on how to further your branding efforts and grow your business, contact the experts at 10twelve today.