Everyone has some idea of what a “brand” is — and 99.9% of those people would be able to give at least one correct definition of the word — but we’re not raising this subject just to say what’s commonly understood.
Quite the opposite: we’re raising the subject of Brand to restore some of the term’s original concrete meaning, which has faded over time even though it remains super-useful for understanding Branding as a discipline.
This’ll be fairly breezy:
1️⃣ The word brand comes from a Germanic root meaning ‘fire’ — because, as you may recall, the literal meaning of (the verb) ‘brand’ is to permanently give something a unique mark using a hot branding iron. The noun ‘brand’ refers specifically to the symbol or mark which is left by the iron. Anyhow, brutalities aside, this practice started because…
2️⃣ Once something has been branded (in the literal sense), there can be no confusion about its ownership. This is true whether you’re talking about a cow (many of which look alike) or a wooden crate (many of which look alike).
3️⃣ In ye olden days, “your brand” was the permanent symbol marking stuff as yours — kinda like your luggage tags on your identical bag rolling through Baggage Claim at the airport. (And if you thought people smelled bad in the airport… hoo boy. Try walking around a crowded naval port 400 years ago.)
4️⃣ The main difference between classical branding and modern branding is that the consumer is now a direct participant. In our time, a ‘brand’ isn’t just a unique mark on a piece of property; it’s a symbol, an idea, an identity almost like a person. Consumers pay attention to brands now—which sounds so obvious we want to slap ourselves—but you have to remember that this really was NOT true for the longest time. It’s pretty recent in the grand scheme.
TL;DR — The essential definition of Brand is a unique identity, something that clearly distinguishes you from everyone else. And whatever you think your brand is truly all about, here’s the mental stress test: would you be willing to make that identity permanent through iron and fire?
(Think of how many companies would re-brand if that were the standard.)