“Brand” is an ambiguous term despite its widespread use. So what does “brand” really mean and how has the word’s application changed over time?
The original definition of “brand” is the name given to a product or service from a specific source. Essentially from this perspective its usage is similar to the current meaning of the word “trademark.”
More than a century ago, cattle ranchers used branding irons to indicate which animals were theirs, hence the name brand. Then with the rise of packaged goods in the 19th century, producers started putting their mark on an increasing number of products – such as with flour, sugar and beer – to indicate their source.
In the late 1880s, for example, as Coca-Cola was getting started, there were many soda producers around. Before Coca-Cola could get a customer to buy a Coke, it needed to be sure the customer could distinguish a Coke from all the other fizzy dark-coloured drinks out there.
In the first sense of the word, then, a brand is simply the non-generic name for a product that tells us the source of the product. Coke, therefore, is a fizzy dark-coloured soda invented by its founders from Atlanta.
In previous times, we referred to these non-generic names as “brand names”. The problem today is the suggestion that there is no difference between a brand name and a brand. But, in modern day marketing, there is.
In the later part of the 20th century, people started to realise that there was more to the perception of distinctive products and services than just their names. Marketers woke up to the reality that they could create a specific image in customers’ minds concerning the qualities of each non-generic product or service. This perception became known as “the brand”.
In simple terms your “brand” is what people think of when they hear your brand name. It includes everything people think they know about your name brand that include both factual and emotional (it’s romantic, for example) elements. Your brand name exists objectively and is fixed while your brand exists only in someone’s mind; it is the perception. And this is what is really important.