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  • brucemckinnon

The birth of brand

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

On a trip to your local supermarket, you’ll find as many as 45,000[1] products in store, and a visit to will provide you with 12 million[2] products to choose from.

Not every product is a separate brand, but it’s true to say that brands are part of our everyday life, and part of how the world does commerce. At its simplest, they allow companies to communicate with us, and provide the means of making a choice – even if in reality there is little tangible difference between brands in the same category.

So, in my last blog before the summer, I wanted to chart how the role of brands has evolved to become such a vital part of how we make choices about everything from the shoes we wear to where to put our savings.

We know that the Egyptians as far back as 2700 BC1 used fire-heated implements to mark their cattle to signify ownership – something that continued for centuries; even today some livestock are swabbed with a colour for identification purposes.

The branding of products had to wait of course until there were products to brand.

At the time of the Romans, with goods spread across the empire, the name and provenance of the producers were displayed via a stamp on the pottery vessels or painted onto ceramics, for example. In China, back in 960 AD, one of the first recorded brands was called White Rabbit Needles and came complete with a logo and a very cool slogan – ‘ready to use at home in no time’.

In the UK, makers’ marks on bread became compulsory in the 13th century and branding silver (through hallmarks) was required in the 14th century, but the biggest change came in the 18th century with the advent of the industrial revolution.

Broadly up to this point, things were made by local people, quite often by hand, and sold to local people. Production reflected what the maker could produce and what the locals could consume. With the advent of the industrial revolution came the capacity to manufacture vast numbers of items, all of which needed to find vast numbers of customers to sell to – and very often these customers were a great distance from where the products were made.

So you could no longer pop round to Bob’s if you found a weevil in the bag of flour he sold you. Products made in Birmingham were being consumed all over the world and its provenance needed to be communicated, and as the market grew, the products needed to be distinguished from one another.

This ushered in what we now think of as modern brands, with products from all kinds of producers and countries using names, imagery, slogans, packaging, and publicity to communicate their quality credentials and their distinctiveness from other brands.

The role of the brand, in turn, moved from a guarantee that a product is safe and can be trusted (this bag of flour has no weevils), to one that captures why the brand believes it’s better or distinct from other similar brands (our flour is the purest/most refined/cheapest, etc.).

And that reflected a society that moved from seeking its needs to be met, to seeking choice. And choice is of course, what a brand delivers to its customers.

In September we are going to look at choice from another perspective, namely, as a brand owner you are uniquely qualified to make choices about how your brand will be experienced. And this is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s business critical, because if you don’t make those choices, others (who are less qualified) will make them for you.

Bruce M McKinnon is a Brand Strategist and author of the award-winning bookWhat’s Your Point? which can be purchased from Amazon. The book explores how brand strategy can fuel business growth, referencing some of the world’s most successful brands as well as sharing case studies from his own global consulting practice.

[1] What To Do When There Are Too Many Product Choices On The Store Shelves”. Consumer Reports. 2014. Available at: (Accessed: 9 July 2019)] [2] “How Many Products Does Amazon Actually Carry? And in What Categories?” Business Wire. 2016. Available at: https://www.businesswire. com/news/home/20160614006063/en/Products-Amazon-Carry-Categories (Accessed: 9 July 2019)

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