however millions of farm animals over the centuries would attest to its effectiveness. The original of the word “brand” is in old Norse—the language of ancient Scandinavia. It means “to burn.” It was a good idea in Scandinavia to burn an identifying mark into the rump of your livestock, because the cattle had to roam about to find enough food, and anyhow, building fences was a lot of work.
The Purpose of Brands
Brands were originally a way to identify property and to distinguish it from everyone else’s property. They still identify property, but not always in the way they used to. The old way was like nametags on your clothes.
When I went to school, it was a requirement that my uniform (yes, we wore uniforms) was labeled. That was like a brand in the original sense. It told people whose clothes were left lying around in the locker room.
And there was another sign on some of my school clothes: a badge. The school badge was also a brand, because it identified me as belonging to that particular school. In fact, it did something else: it also identified my school and differentiated it from other schools. So from the age of about six, I was branded. Marked, you might say.
The American Marketing Association has a definition of a brand. It goes like this:
A brand is a ‘name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of the competition.’
What are some examples of brands according to this definition? The McDonalds arches. The ‘Intel Inside’ logo. The Coca-Cola logotype. We all know many of these names, terms, signs, symbols and designs, and we use them to help us understand the differences between products, services and experiences.
And there is another important use of the ‘brand’ word. We talk about brands not only in terms of the external identification—such as the logo or slogan—but also in terms of the content or perceptions that go with those identifiers. If I ask you to tell me about the Volvo brand, what comes to mind? Safe cars. Swedish cars. The logo and the external symbols do not have intrinsic meaning. They may help build associations, and indeed they should. However, brands without positive intrinsic meaning are of little value. The Volvo logo, or Volvo cars, remind us of the intrinsic values of safety.
This all means that as brand-builders, our job is to create perceptions of value through symbols.
Next we’ll talk about the power of symbols – rationally and emotionally.