The Evolution of Branding

by Brad VanAuken, BrandForward, Inc.

People have branded their livestock to indicate ownership since ancient times. Artisans and other merchants put their marks on their wares to indicate source, and with that, a level of quality assurance. After that, consumer packaged goods companies such as Proctor & Gamble (P&G), Kraft Foods and Unilever developed and refined the brand management discipline and job function.

In the 1990s, companies began to grasp the value of brands as assets and started managing corporate brands at senior levels in their organizations. Then the concept of brands and brand management migrated from products and companies to virtually everything – universities, museums, hospitals, musical groups, restaurants, trade associations, governmental agencies, municipalities, geographic regions, countries, religions, individual churches and even individuals.

At first, brands were more aligned with things (products and organizations). Then they were applied to services and experiences. After that, they were more about concepts, ideas and images. Increasingly, they focus on values and access.

Brands have expanded from their focus on products to organizations to virtually everything (as noted above) leading to a completely branded culture. With the increased flux in social institutions from religions and political parties to nation states, it is up to the individual to craft his own identity. He is increasingly using brands to reinforce and signal his social values, lifestyle, culture and identity. So now brands are helping to create communities based on shared values.

At the least effective level, brands claim unique attributes, functions or features. Taking it up a notch, brands claim unique benefits. They may claim functional benefits, or better yet, emotional, experiential or self-expressive benefits. However, more and more, brands are standing for something. They share a set of values with their customers. So today, the most powerful brands create communities with their customers based on shared values, culture and sense of identity.

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