One way to get a good sense of what building a brand really is, is to take a look at its origins. The concept of having a brand originates from the practice of individually branding livestock, which is thought to have begun in Egypt around early 2700 B.C. This style of branding was used to differentiate one person’s cattle from another’s by means of a distinctive symbol burned into the animal’s skin with a hot branding iron.
Not only did this practice tell people who the animals have belonged to and help to deter thieves, but over time purchasers realised that the brand provided information about the origin and ownership and could be used as a guide to quality.
The symbol that had been burnt into the animals skin did more than identify the owner. If a rancher was know for not taking care of his livestock buyers knew to avoid animals with his brand. If a rancher had a great reputation, buyers would assume animals with his brand were top notch and often search them out.
Brand development expanded from there. Different types of pottery developed their own brands, not just from symbols painted on them but also from other key elements ranging from style to the type of materials used. To this day, Ming Vases are revered for their milky white and cobalt blue porcelain perfection (although not all Ming Vases are blue and white). Ming Vases are so synonymous with perfection that many automatically assume when they see a vase that they believe is perfect that it must be a Ming Vase, which has lead to many fakes and counterfeit Ming Vases being sold for amounts that surpass their true value.
*Side note…when I first mentioned different types of pottery developing their own brands, did you start thinking about Ming Vases before I even mentioned them? That’s another example of how powerful that brand is. It’s not a logo, Ming itself isn’t a company or specific shape or size of vase. Ming actually refers to porcelain Vases made during the Ming dynasty and when the words vases and perfection are used together, many people will automatically starting thinking Ming.
In both cases, whether it’s identifying livestock or making perfect porcelain vases, the brand is what distinguishes the product from other products. If the Triple X ranch was known for taking care of it’s livestock, when you saw the Triple X brand burnt into the hide of a cow, you know you’d be purchasing well taken care of livestock. If a vase is made of sub-par porcelain, that easily crashes or feels rough chances are you won’t assume it’s a Ming.
Creating a strong brand isn’t about designing the best logo, having a modern looking webpage or even how you position yourself within the market. Your brand is what makes you different, the impression you leave in the minds of your target audience. You can try and tell people what your brand is, but in the end they’ll end up drawing their own conclusions about your brand, your product, your company, who you are.
So how do you build a brand?
Start with listening. What interaction has your target audience had with you or your product and what did they take away from that experience?
Examine the market. What is currently happening in the market and what do you do that is different or that makes you different from what is already available in said market.
What are the gaps? What is happening in the target market, what do you envision yourself or your brand to be and what are the hole between the two. Can you fill those holes?
Know the difference between a brand and branding. A common mistake is when people mix up the terms brand and branding. A brand is a collection of perceptions in the mind of the customer, the sum total from the customer’s experience. Branding is the tools you use to introduce the brand message to your customers. Logos, webpage, and other ways to build awareness, create preferences amongst your target market and invite that audience to create a consistently positive customer experience with your brand.
Accept that it won’t happen over night. A brand can be a continually evolving identity, with some elements staying true throughout the evolution and other adjusting to changes in the market.
Seek help. Whether it’s from your target audience, close family and friends or a professional branding expert, they will have a perception of your brand. Listen to what they say and do what you can to connect the dots.