History of Branding

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Branding is essential for businesses today to connect with consumers and stand out in crowded markets.

By exploring branding origins and key developments, you can gain valuable perspective for creating an impactful brand strategy.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the history of branding so you can leverage these lessons when establishing and growing your own business brand.

The Early Origins of Branding

Branding emerges from basic human identity needs. Dating back over 10,000 years ago, our ancient ancestors used symbolic markings and early writing to denote beliefs, ownership and belonging.

The concept of branding is thought to have begun with ancient farmers who used unique markings to identify their cattle so that they could be differentiated from other animals in the herd. If a cow escaped and was found by another farmer, her owner could easily identify her by the branding. The farmers began to use brands as a way of differentiating their own products from those of their competitors.

While livestock owners branded animals to identify ownership, pottery and artwork were also signed or marked to note its creator. 

As civilizations developed specialized craftspeople and trade, these signatures signified reputation and skill. These signatures represent a brand name. 

Branding was already building value.

In ancient Egypt, brickmakers branded bricks to show who made them. Greek pottery displayed the potter’s trademark stamp. Early branding indicated uniqueness, quality and expertise.

Branding in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, guilds developed strict rules and branding practices. Skilled tradesmen and craftsmen formed guilds in industries like stonemasonry, leatherworking, and silk production.

Guilds trained apprentices and set standards to control quality. Their trademarks communicated skill, expertise and reputation to final consumers. 

Consumer goods like wine, wool, leather, and bread were branded to mark the source, and give an added layer of confidence to the customer.

Regions became famous for mastery in certain goods, like champagne from the Champagne region of France or shoemaking in Cordwainers Town in London. 

In this era, branding was already seen as a sign denoting quality regional products.

The Rise of Corporate Branding

The Industrial Revolution completely transformed branding and consumerism. 

As mass production techniques emerged in the eighteenth century, companies needed strong brands to stand out from competitors producing similar goods.

New machinery like Elias Howe’s sewing machine allowed garments to be manufactured faster than skilled hand-sewing. 

Standardized parts meant anyone could assemble products, and not just specialized craftsmen. 

Mass production was booming and advancements in transportation enabled brands to reach wider audiences across countries and continents. Previously localized products could now be shipped farther at lower costs.

In line with this, a new middle class consumer sector emerged with more disposable income that now had also more choices. 

Department stores opened to meet rising consumer demand. Shelves were stocked with branded foods, beverages, medicines and household goods.

Branding became crucial for customer recognition and familiarity. Companies created memorable names, logos and packaging. 

Brands started creating mythical origin stories to connect emotionally with consumers.

By the nineteenth century companies were investing heavily in advertising and branding to stand out. 

Slogans and jingles helped brands stick in consumers’ minds.

Keep in mind that in this era, most products looked similar, so branding created a form of differentiation. Customers developed loyalty to brands that felt familiar. 

Branding tapped into emotions and psychology. Aunt Jemima pancake mix featured a fictional smiling cook, which personalized the brand. Mascots became very popular because they gave brands a friendly face.

When customers moved or traveled, branding maintained connections. Familiar brands felt comforting in unfamiliar places. Corporate branding was taking over.

Modern Branding Strategies Emerge

In the 20th century, branding expanded far beyond just recognizable logos and names. 

Marketers developed sophisticated psychological tactics to connect brands with consumers’ emotions and lifestyles.

In the early 1900s, Coca-Cola invented the fictional John Pemberton character as its founder to give its recipe a backstory.

Mascots like Aunt Jemima, the Quaker Oats man, and the Gerber baby gave brands friendly, familiar faces. Celebrities endorsed products to transfer their star power to brands.

Jingles and slogans evoked personality and emotion. ‘Melts in your mouth, not in your hands’ conjured taste sensations. 

Ads associated brands like Marlboro with rugged cowboys on the open plains, tapping into fantasies. 

Marketers connected brands to desirable feelings and aspirations.

Globalization allowed brands to gain worldwide recognition. With its consistent Spencerian logo and red and white color scheme, Coca-Cola built familiarity across cultures.

McDonald’s golden arches symbolized Americana and affordability around the world. Branding created comfort and familiarity far from home.

Brands developed holistic strategies across touchpoints. Logos, packaging, retail displays, print and TV ads are all part of the global and local branding strategy that are aligned. Every element reinforced brand identity. 

In recent years, brands have become increasingly important as companies compete in global markets. In many cases, a company’s brand is its most valuable asset. For example, the brands of Coca-Cola and Apple are worth more than the value of the companies’ physical assets.

Throughout the years brands have shaped lifestyles and culture. And the strong emotional connections that some of these brands created, kept customers loyal for years.

Branding in the Digital Age

The internet revolutionized branding yet again as it entered the digital mainstream in the 21st century. 

A brand’s identity and reputation now exists across various platforms and channels online.

Websites, social media, online ads, and user-generated content created exponentially more touchpoints between brands and consumers. 

Digital tools enabled more personalized, interactive relationships between brands and customers. Chatbots, predictive recommendations, and location-based offers delivered focused value.

But consumers also expect engagement and participation, not just one-way promotion. Social media cultivated conversations, not just push advertising. 

Transparency and authenticity became more important than ever and are demanded and expected by customers today.

Online word-of-mouth can make or break brands overnight. Positive customer service stories go viral, but PR crises also amplify. 

United Airlines brand reputation struggled significantly after a video showing how staff forcefully removed a passenger, was shared globally, and went viral.

Review sites like Yelp and Reddit give everyone a megaphone to evaluate brands. 

Businesses must therefore constantly monitor online reputation and build trust by delivering consistent experiences and address any negative sentiments immediately.

Digital branding remains fast-paced and flexible. Tactics like memes and hashtag campaigns capture attention on social media in the moment. 

Ongoing innovation in digital tech continues to shape branding. As virtual reality advances, brands create immersive worlds.

The digital age provides limitless opportunities to connect with customers in meaningful ways, but it also requires adapting to constant change while remaining authentic.

Grassroots Branding and Social Change

Today’s consumers demand that brands reflect their values and align with social causes. Activist movements have skillfully embraced branding tactics for greater mainstream impact.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) co-founders created a visual identity system to unite the movement. The hashtag logo symbolically depicts collective action. This branding extended its reach on social media.

BLM demonstrates sophisticated branding principles. These include, memorable hashtag, consistent visuals, and emotional appeal.

Its messaging ignites passion in supporters. 

In today’s world, people expect brands to address these pressing social justice issues.

Environmental brand Patagonia, for example, attracts conscious consumers through its activism. 

Efforts like suing Trump for reducing national monument lands reinforce its brand purpose. By taking clear stances this brand attracts customers who share its beliefs.

Brands that ‘walk the talk’ motivate deeper loyalty and advocacy. They connect customers to their values and are not just about the transaction. 

By connecting to their values, consumers spread awareness about causes they care about and mention the brands that align with these causes.

Passionate grassroots branding also sparks change through scrutiny. A good example is the boycott and anti-brand movements like #GrabYourWallet campaign against Trump-related brands. 

Keep in mind that with social media these critiques of unethical practices are magnified and shared worldwide.

Today’s conscious consumers demand meaning and integrity from the brands they support. 

This means that brands must communicate, and live their values and purpose. 

In the end, brand loyalty stems from shared beliefs.

Branding Lessons from History

The history of branding reveals invaluable perspectives for today’s entrepreneurs looking to connect with customers and stand out. By studying branding origins and evolution, we can extract key lessons.

Here are some of the top branding lessons we should keep in mind.

Promote meaningful values, beliefs and purpose: Since ancient times, branding communicated identity and ideals. Ensure your brand’s purpose shines through.

Forge emotional connections with your audience: Use storytelling and experiences to make your brand relatable. Tap into aspirations and lifestyles.

Ensure consistency across touchpoints and platforms: Align visuals, messaging, customer interactions to reinforce your brand.

Align with social change and issues your customers care about: Reflect shared values and purpose. Activism and integrity attract conscious consumers.

Deliver tangible value beyond a transactional relationship: Offer engaging experiences that enrich customers’ lives and build loyalty.

By exploring branding’s past lessons, you gain priceless perspective on present strategies you should follow. 

Keep these timeless lessons in mind as you shape your business’s brand story and evolve with the future.

Your branding journey does not stop here. Check out our branding hub for more guides and tutorials.


I am a branding and naming consultant with 16 years of experience. I believe in building a strong brand name that identifies your visions and that of your business. A brand identity motivates you and your team to achieve success.