A comprehensive look at the origin and function of “branding.” by Mark Gallagher and Laura Savard
Many people frequently misuse the term “brand” by interchanging it with advertising, marketing, naming and design. These improper applications have caused much confusion as to what branding is and how it works. Business consultancies, marketing companies, advertising agencies, public relations firms and graphic/web design studios each define brand within their own frame of reference and expertise. As such, “branding” has become a bit of a buzz word. But, what does it really mean and how does it work? Where did all start and how can it create value? To benefit from the ef-
Let’s begin with the etymology of the word “brand.”
According to the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase
“brands/trademarks. The practice of branding animals for
the purpose of identification is so old that its exact origins are unknown. We do know, however, that brands were
first used on humans—criminals and slaves. According
to the Oxford Dictionary, the practice of branding animals
to indicate ownership was well established in England
before Shakespeare’s time and the term trademark for
the word or symbol chosen by a manufacturer to identify
and distinguish his product was in use before 1838. Official registration of trademarks by the U.S. Patent Office did not begin, however, until 1870.”
W hat is Branding
Academics and marketers unanimously agree that the
origin and evolution of branding moved from a commodity-driven model to a value-driven model. Rice, sugar, cotton and steel were all strictly commodities at
one point. Consumers used the identification system,
designed to show ownership, as a tool to navigate their
way through vast offerings of these common goods.
This allowed them not only to identify the best products
available in their market, but empowered them to repeat
a favorable purchase.
Economists credit an English artisan by the name of
Josiah Wedgewood [1730-1795] with creating the first
modern brand. Born into a family of potters, Wedge-
A c omprehensive look at the origin and function of “branding.”
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fects of branding, a common understanding of “brand” must first be established.
wood was a pioneer in industrialization who greatly
improved the quality of the crockery of his day. Christened
‘Queen’s Ware’ after Queen Charlotte, his goods were
of such superior quality, they stimulated demand and
commanded a premium price—“Wedgewood” became
synonymous with “Quality.”
• The proposition itself must be unique. It must express
a specific benefit that competitors do not, will not, or
In 1924, General Motors’ newly named president, Alfred
P. Sloan, began developing different automobile models
around customer segmentation. The price and quality of
each car was based on what each consumer segment
could afford. While this marks a huge shift in marketing,
it wasn’t until May 13, 1931 that Procter & Gamble’s Neil McElroy proposed the modern concept of “branding.”
Through an internal memorandum, he proposed a new
business strategy called “brand management” and the
age of product and brand differentiation was born.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, the concept of “brand” began to take on new meaning, including the larger concept of image and values. Al Ries and Jack Trout captured this evolution in their Harvard Business Review article
and later authored a book by the same title: POSITIONING: The battle for your mind. Their concept stated that it was not product superiority that mattered, but rather consumers’ perception of a given brand that paved the road to success. This concept was dubbed “brand positioning” and to this day it remains the standard for developing successful brands.
Brand management focused attention on product specialization...