Branding: A Timeline

April 18, 2016

Have you ever wondered where the term “branding” came from? Believe it or not, it began as a simple solution for a person to differentiate his cattle from his neighbors’. Each ranch needed their own unique mark so ownership could be determined if their cattle somehow got mixed up with the cattle from the ranch next door. The branding mark needed to be simple, unique, and easy to identify—all of which are traits commonly used today when developing brand identities and logos.

When goods were traded and shipped, the shipping crates needed identifying marks so the transporters (and recipients) knew what was inside. Over time, those marks became a symbol of quality, not necessarily ownership. In the late 1800’s a company could register a trademark to prevent others from creating “confusingly similar” trademarks. Confusingly similar is a term used in trademark law to determine if there is infringement on a product or service that looks, sounds, or feels too similar to another; thereby confusing the consumer into thinking it is related to the other brand in question. As a result, “brands” became valuable.

For a while, all it took to be successful in business was to make a product of good quality. If you offered good coffee, whiskey or beer, people would come to you and purchase it. So as long as you made sure that your product quality was superior to your competitions, you were pretty much set as your brand took very little to maintain.

After the end of the Second World War there was a manufacturing boom as many factories which were set up in order to produce military equipment could now be used to make products. With the facility for mass production now in place coupled with access to markets, production for brands could now reach and produce for almost anyone. This meant there was a lot of competition, so brands needed a means to separate themselves from their competitors, which led them to develop the concept of the unique selling position (or value proposition).  These statements were then communicated outwardly using various marketing initiatives to targeted audiences.

Fast forward to the 80s where the whole idea of brands became something more than just a product, now products and services were marketed to not only have functional value but emotional value.  Due to the standardization of quality products companies were simply forced to find new ways to distinguish their brands. Think Kraft and Campbell Soup (comfort food), Johnson & Johnson (baby bath and lotion), General Mills (kid’s breakfast cereals) even Levi’s Jeans.

In the late-80s and early 90s, society started to question the “truth” of brands finding many that were misleading their customers. Many brands had to re-define themselves to re-build the trust of their consumers such as Nike (clothes found to be made in sweat shops) and Calvin Klein (treatment of their models).  Thousands of brands took huge hits to their bottom line before re-bounding with their re-branded selves.

Today, logos and taglines are literally plastered and posted everywhere and companies with products, services or a combination of both provide us with an overwhelming number of options.   The challenge for companies now is that with our 24/7 technology driven world, our senses are constantly barraged and our attention spans have consequently suffered and are incredibly short. We have become impatient and demanding so many brands live and die by the sheer will of the consumer; we look immediately elsewhere if we view a brand as falling into a sea of the same.  If you are not solving problems, you are just creating noise and a noisy, disruptive brand is sadly no longer effective.

So what does that mean for us? Well, we have a unique opportunity to not only adopt the “branded” way of the world, but look at it through a different lens. One of disruption. One of experience. Disruption in the sense that your brand is different than anyone else in your space. Experience in that when you provide your solution, you become known for the experience first and foremost; which, following proof of concept (that it, in fact, does what you claim) leads to social proof (everyone – and their brother talking about it!). Brands and branding aren’t going anywhere, so find your place where you can compete in a very unique way.