manage change

Brand(ing), you say?

Business Week Sept 20, 1982

Homing In on the Range - Or Factory. A group of tanners seeking an alternate method of identifying cattle which would not damage the hide as branding does...

Business Week June 9, 1986

Branding micro-organisms on the biotech range. ...coding micro-organisms...

Some recent articles on branding allude to the original meaning of the word. In both following examples the news is about car manufacturers. Note the use of the word identity in the first example.

Business Week Sept 23, 1996

GM warms up the branding iron: once and for all, it aims to give each car a clear identity.

The New York Times Dec 9, 2001

Ford tries to get some sizzle from a famous branding iron.

Other recent news stories on the subject of branding:

The New York Times July 5, 2001

Companies are developing brand messages as a way to inspire loyalty among employees.

The New York Times Sept 11, 2001

Marshall Field's decides it's time for a big branding effort.

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Brand, strictly speaking

to brand: ...to mark indelibly, as proof of ownership, or sign of quality, or for any other purpose; to impress (a word, letter, or device) by way of brand. Oxford English Dictionary

A brand is an identifying symbol, words, or mark that distinguishes a product or company from its competitors. investorwords.com

With roots in farming and cattle ranching, the word brand has come a long way indeed. In the world of advertising the meaning of the word brand was first expanded in the late 1950s when David Ogilvy of Ogilvy, Benson & Mather, created “brand-image” advertising.

Strictly speaking, the word brand connotes ownership and associated rights. Just as the branding of a herd of calves identified its owner and set the herd apart from the herds of other farmers, so does the brand (name, logo, colors) of this can of beef soup identify the producer and distinguish it from that other can of beef soup. The original use of the word brand in marketing and advertising was limited to the name and/or mark given to a product or service and used almost always in the meaning synomymous with the term trademark, the legal term that indicates certain rights of ownership.

Today, the word brand is bandied around with abandon and used to describe companies, investments, business leaders, celebrities, generations (“x”), and lifestyles. Over the past 20 years the use of the word brand in news stories and magazines has risen tenfold. Source: Gale Group Business Resource Center, News and Magazines

Along the way, new brand-related words have been created, such as “brand personality” and “brand stretch”, and the frequency of brand-something and something-brand words has increased dramatically as the chart below illustrates. )

Brand Words on the Rise

Branding while the iron is hot

Concurrently, the term branding has gained popularity, while the term corporate identity is all but forgotten. It is often substituted for by corporate brand and about to be eclipsed in use by brand identity, as illustrated in the chart below.

Branding Takes Off

The all and nothing word

The words brand, brand-anything, and branding are so ubiquitous as to defy definition. This elusiveness may explain, at least in part, the increasing number of experts in the branding field (one other contributor being the “digital brands”of the dot.com world).

Watch for more bark than bite!

Branding is serious business. Waxing eloquently about brand values, brand vision, and brand personality is no substitute for knowledge, experience and skills. Begin establishing the credentials by asking your branding consultant some questions, such as:

  • “how do you move from brand strategy into action and tangible results?”
  • “can you show me examples of how your branding expertise has helped other companies?”
  • “what are the relative merits of a logotype and a symbol?”
  • “ how should we best communicate to our employees why we are changing our name? ”
  • “why should I renew the registration of a trademark we no longer use,”
  • “what does that S.A. mean in the name of our French subsidiary,”
  • “why do we have to throw away all existing packaging?”

So, next time a branding expert wants to find out your company’s brand personality by asking you what kind of dog your company would be if it were a dog, you may want to tighten the leash!

Gerhard N. Ade