The Vineyard Brand Consultancy

A Look at the Origin of Brand

by: Leonard Grape
Insights   Ellipse 12  
A Look at the Origin of Brand

Brand as a Word 

Etymologically, the word ‘brand’ is from Germanic origins which means “to burn.” It dates back to the late middle English where the word literally means ‘to mark with a hot iron.’ 

During this time, brand is a term that was mostly used by cattle owners where they mark their herds through a hot iron to signify ownership. It served as a visual proof of who really owns the cattle especially in cases of escape or theft. 

From this context, it gives us an idea on the original concept of the word brand that is to own something, to have a visual mark, an identifier, a differentiator from somebody else’s. 

At present, there is barely anyone who thinks of a cattle when they hear the word ‘brand.’ We can easily agree that this concept has evolved into myriads of concepts with varying definitions and has mainly been used on and by businesses.

Defining Brand 

One of the most widely used and accepted definition of brand is by Marty Neumeier. He defines brand as a person’s gut-feel towards a product, service, or company. He argues that a brand isn’t what you say it is, but what people say about it.  

This is more of an individual idea where a person or the customer builds up his own beliefs, perceptions, and intuition about what a product is really about. According to Neumeier, you only truly have a brand if people already have a collection of perceptions about your business.  

I also accept this definition though I opt to challenge it some more for the benefit of better clarity. If brand is a gut-feel, what is a gut-feel then? How do you understand something that is intuitive? If it’s individual perception, how can you have control over that? Isn’t that passive? Isn’t it a gut-feel is often associated with something that you are not totally sure of?  

It may be just a matter of context or interpretation. Either way, I thought it better to break down the key elements within it. This leads me to my own interpretation of what a brand is – the perceptions and emotions that a specific set of audience has towards a product or service

Understanding Branding

With this definition focusing on perceptions and emotions, we can also arrive at a better understanding of what branding is. In its simplest and most direct terms, branding is the process of building a brand.  

But contextualizing it with the recent definition, branding becomes the process of understanding a set of audience that allows businesses to intentionally build beneficial perceptions and emotions towards their business.  

What do I mean by this? Let me better explain by sharing with you the two main functions of branding as a business discipline –  

  1. Perception Management – influencing what people think about a product or service
  2. Emotional Registry – intentionally triggering desired emotions from people  

If you look at this way, we can deduce that branding is creating and building desired customer biases and feelings towards a product or service.  

It is how you move people to act relative to your business by making them perceive a certain value towards what you are offering. It is ultimately the effort that seeks to build loyalty from customers by committing to a promise that makes them feel something bigger and deeper about themselves, something that goes beyond the surface.  

The Takeaway 

Branding is a complex discipline. It is an intricate process that is at the core of successful businesses, of many global powerhouses with a loyal following, of growing businesses that has its sets of tribes.  

At the base of it is the understanding of brand – the literal word for marking with a hot iron, the original concept of signifying ownership, which has now crossed over into being the idea that influences people’s perceptions and emotions towards a product, service, or company.  

It will take several more conversations and questions to probe deeper on what brand and branding really is.  

For now, I leave you with these ideas and maybe a question – what is a brand to you?  

Leonard is the founder and CEO of The Vineyard, a brand development company that looks at branding as a discipline for perception management and emotional registry. Follow him at LinkedIn and Instagram @leonardgrape for more of his thoughts on branding.  

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