Evolution of Branding Over the Decades
The term “branding” sounds like a new-age jargon, something that competitive businesses started using only a few years ago. However, truth is that it has existed ever since the beginning of the human evolution. Pre-historic cavemen would use different “brands” of weapons to hunt or build accommodations. That said, it was the 16th century when modern branding emerged on the surface that led to the rise of the kind of brands we see today.
French fashion designer Rose Bertin and French fashion English ceramist Josiah Wedgwood were some of the pioneers of the modern branding during the 17th and 18th century. In fact, the concept of branding was largely picked up by France and England during the 18th century and many new theories and procedures were developed during this period.
Branding Before the 70s
The idea of branding itself faced strong opposition during the pre-70s when competitive businesses tried to sell their products under different brands.
For instance, in 1936, Robinson-Patman Act a.k.a. Clayton Act was passed in the US that prevented the businesses to sell the same product at different prices. Since the businesses couldn’t sell branded products at higher prices, it disincentivized them to spend money on “branding”. It didn’t help that, the consumers themselves opposed the use of brands.
For a long time, companies didn’t know how much they should care about branding when there was no major advantage, and the consumers didn’t care either. However, when Marquardt et al. (1965) investigated the matter and did a survey, they found that customers did want products a from a well-known brand and only 25% of them didn’t really care for the same.
Soon, new and powerful theories for branding were being formed. For instance, Smith (1956) came up with the concept of segmentation in the 1950s which was a major breakthrough and also became the inspiration for many future theories.
According to him and his theory, a heterogeneous market consists of a variety of consumers with varying demands and requirements. Thus, the market can be divided into many smaller segments using multiple variables. This became the foundation of the branding concept.
Branding in the 70s
As already explained, branding was more of a non-mainstream subject for a long time. However, in the 70s it was finally organized and established in a somewhat concrete form. It was finally an important concept that was explored by some of the top marketers around the world.
Before the 70s, branding was considered on a mass scale, i.e. how a certain line of products could be made better in quality and functionality. However, now that micromarketing became a thing, businesses started communicating to their customers how their products offer a unique, immaterial quality in comparison to their competitors. They started adding a social element to their brands by learning how their products affected the society.
In 1972, one of the most influential branding concepts was promoted by Al Ries and Jack Trout in the article series “The Positioning Era” published in Advertising Age (a popular business magazine). It was the concept behind positioning.
Ries and Jack argued that positioning is something that you do for the target group and not the product itself. Since marketers try to put the put the product into the minds of the consumers, the strategy is not to work on the product itself but rather the other elements surrounding it.
The positioning concept soon began to gain popularity and had a major impact on the commercials and other marketing tools. Companies starting using the terms “best”, “first”, “most stylish” etc. more often to represent an elite class or how they were better than the others.
Branding in the 80s
Branding in the 80s was very much linked to “relationship marketing” which was itself a new buzzword for the era. It was centered around establishing, maintaining, and enhancing the customer-business relationships through mutual exchange and fulfillment of promises.
Another concept that has a big impact on branding emerged in the early 80s as “brand equity”. Unlike most other concepts, it addressed one of the most critical aspects of marketing and branding that are relevant even today, which is measuring the value of a brand.
Brand equity was particularly used by American PR businesses to show the CEOs and CFOs of top companies how investing in branding can increase the financial value of the company (i.e. the brand).
Branding in the 90s
By the 90s, brand equity had taken a full-fledged form and was paving a way for modern branding. In 1993, Simon and Sullivan became two of the first to find a mathematical method for brand equity calculation, i.e. the financial measure of a brand.
Their findings can be put into three main points:
- Brand equity should be treated as an asset of a company and separated from other assets.
- Forward-looking perspective is important for the calculation of brand equity.
- As new company information reaches the market, its (company’s) value changes as well.
Another notable breakthrough observed in the 90s was the association of brand equity with consumers rather than the finances (something that was the norm until now).
Keller (1993) and Shocker, Srivastava, & Ruekert (1994), and a few others shed light on the consumer-based perspective of brand equity which could be summed up as a measure of how the consumers react to a brand (instead of a financial measure of a brand itself). This bolstered the idea that a strong brand is the one that a consumer finds positive, strong and unique.
The consumer-based perspective comprised of five types of considerations, which are:
- Brand equity is based on how a consumer perceives a brand, rather than its objective aspects
- Brand value equals its global value
- A brand’s global value is derived from the brand name and not merely the physical/material aspects
- Brand equity is always relative to the competition in the market and thus not absolute
- Brand Equity has a direct influence on the brand’s financial performance
Branding in 21st Century
Today, branding has evolved greatly and become an indispensable tool for every business irrespective of its scale (big or small). A large number of companies have associated their brands with a certain lifestyle (Think Nike’s, Levi’s, Apple, etc.) and their products reflect the lifestyle of their consumers. In other words- brands are built to suit the personalities of their customers.
Another key concept that is prevalent in the branding industry today is Corporate Social Responsibility, i.e. CSR. This is because a company’s reputation isn’t reflected in its planned communication alone but also in its activities. So, if the customers see that their brand cares for the society, it affects the brand identity and the brand value. This is the reason why the majority of competitive companies opt for a business approach that helps in the sustainable development by the way of social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders.
It Matters Now More than Ever
“No one cares about your brand. It is not loved. It is not important. It is not invited anywhere but to your company picnic. That is, unless you can make the brand relevant to people’s lives. To the way they understand things…No one cares about your brand unless you find a way to speak to why you care about it.”
-Scott Goodson, Author of Uprising and Forbes Columnist
The majority of top marketers and branding experts agree that today branding is key to a successful business.
This is the age of social media and mass-level connectivity where customers are aware of what’s going around the world. They connect with their favorite brands online, find out new products online, and even communicate with them online. Since it’s also an age of start-up boom, competition is cut-throat, to say the least. So, without a strong branding, it’s extremely difficult for a business to stand out.
Other than the significance and prevalence of branding, the way it’s implemented has also evolved greatly today. For instance, we have new-age branding platforms like Tailor Brands that uses Artificial Intelligence for entrepreneurs to design their own company logos, watermarks, social media banners, etc. in a matter of minutes.
So, while it’s true that we are trying to enhance branding by learning to combine neuroscience and design for audience engagement, we are also moving towards using modern technology like AI, machine learning, big data, etc. in the branding methods and their implementations.
In the closing remarks, it’s safe to say that branding is here to stay. We live and fight for our identities. Thus, there is no reason why businesses, which are of course, run by humans, will stop feeling the same way.