Back-to-Basics Branding: "Burning" Your Image in Your Customer's Mind

Marking things, people or animals by burning identifying marks onto them is not new. So why do marketers make branding so complicated? Why do companies spend millions of dollars researching, launching and re-launching their respective brands?

The answer, my friends, is 400 years in the past.

So let’s travel back to the mid-17th century, when livestock owners visibly (and, one must assume, painfully) displayed ownership of their most valuable revenue source by applying a hot-iron "brand" with a unique design.

Fast forward to the 19th century and we become familiar with branding in its modern sense. From the early 1800s, brands (in the form of crude trademarks and logos) were imprinted on casks of wine, timber and other goods (except textile fabrics). Incidentally, for all you beer and trivia lovers, the first registered brand was the red triangle registered by Bass beer.

During the 19th century (primarily in the United States), when cattle farmers marked their livestock with hot irons, the beasts were referred to as brands.

These days, the reverse is true: Brands are beasts. For many companies, the beast is in the branding, and it’s a voracious beast indeed.

While it is difficult to get an overall picture of brand spending—since branding is broken out into so many categories—PQ Media recently released new research reporting that spending on branded entertainment, including event sponsorship and marketing, paid product placement, advergaming and webisodes, grew 14.7 percent to an all-time high of $22.3 billion in 2007.

PQ Media said branded entertainment grew at a compound annual rate of 13.4 percent from 2002 to 2007 and is projected to expand another 13.9 percent to $25.41 billion in 2008, despite slowing overall economic growth and traditional advertising growth rates in the low single digits.

The modern concept of a brand image was introduced in 1955 in the Harvard Business Review by Burleigh B. Gardner and Sidney J. Levy. Gardner and Levy said a brand is developed by attributing a "personality" to or associating an "image" with a product or service, whereby the personality or image is "branded" (or "burned") into consumer consciousness.

Within the huge brand galaxy rotate the planets brand "equity," brand "extension," brand "attitude," brand "monopoly," brand "orientation" and others. But the basic challenge to companies remains as it was some 400 years ago: How does a company successfully "burn" ownership of its most valuable and visible revenue source in the minds of consumers?

First Published on Human Resources IQ.