To Brand or Not To Brand: From Symbols and Stories to Systems
The marketing industry is in the midst of a period of change that is both absolutely terrifying and very exciting.
Faster, more intuitive technology is creating increasingly high expectations. People demand more control and transactional power from their personal data, which changes their notion of being a consumer.
Today there are more channels, more choice, more speed, more confusion, more noise — and less signal. In this fractured, fast-as-the-speed-of-an-algorithm environment, it’s fair to ask:
To Brand or Not To Brand?
Here’s a truth: many in our industry don’t quite understand brands. Some think that “brand” and “product” are different. Or that brand is a layer of communications. But that is the stuff of blowhard manifestos or “anthem” films. Too high-minded to sell anything, too lofty to be useful. To make brands more valuable to people and people more valuable to brands, we need to know how the concept of branding evolved and what role in the modern marketplace it holds.
Marketers forget that their trade stems from the practice of livestock branding, the act of marking an animal to signify ownership. But how did we come to adopt this method in the commercial world?
Simply put, the need for branding is a matter of choice and consistency. As many objects of the same ilk emerge, the only way to distinguish between alternatives is by adding a distinct mark. When cattle look the same, we add burn-marks, tattoos, or tags. When wine glasses at a holiday party look the same, we (rather unfortunately) add tacky stem charms depicting Frosty the Snowman, or worse. Whatever the added ‘brand’ may be, it serves as a shortcut. It communicates a wealth of information in a single glance. So it goes with commercial products and services too; brands help consumers navigate the paradox of choice.
The evolution of branding is a by-product of the intersection of culture and commerce. As the marketplace evolves, so must brands evolve to satisfy ever-changing consumer needs and wants. As much as brands and companies may wish it to be otherwise, brand is a reaction to consumer culture – not the reverse. Not convinced? In this paper, we will explore the evolution of branding as it follows a socio-economic timeline. This will demonstrate how major historical events and technological advancements demanded that brands continuously alter, adapt, and modify the way they interact with consumers.