Branding – then and now

Branding started as a basic mark to indicate the maker of a product and therefore its provenance and associations. Picture stamped olive oil jars and cows’ rumps.

Early 20th Century advertising marketed product brands like never before. During the second half of the century, with the rise of the superstore came a trend of fewer, larger, sellers with many product choices. Brand and product were inseparable in articulating and communicating the comparison points of price, features and quality to consumers.

Corporate identity was born when the notion of brand was harnessed by service industries. Ultimately an exercise in control, delivered via visual consistency, companies offering invisible (or less ‘physical’) products could define their image. Customers knew who they were buying from and what to expect. Nice and simple.

Globalisation and the advent of the internet revolutionised how we do business, buy things and connect. A new generation of bedroom entrepreneurs and trading estate opportunists started businesses, of all types and varieties, as access to wholesale goods and markets opened up. Result – infinite sellers offering infinite choices. The typical comparison points of price, features and quality were somewhat blurred. At the same time, social media was successfully cultivating a world captivated by self-obsession and definition. On a planet increasingly materially not so different, differentiation could no longer be established by visual identity alone, we needed an emotional identity too. Corporate identity morphed into branding and everyone had a story to sell.

The latest layer is experience. We want to be immersed in something richer. Ads don’t push product (calm down Alan Sugar) instead they focus on the end benefit – mental stimulation, satisfaction and well being. Just like the Center Parcs commerical that no longer shows us the woodland lodge, luxury treehouse or water-play centre. It’s about how the family feel, their personal story and what they made of it.

So, there we have the essential elements of branding – visual identity, storytelling and experience. Tick those off and you’re done.

Let’s make it happen.