Show Bites: What Is a Brand, Anyway?
Creating shows to build passionate audiences provides brands undeniable benefits: we hold attention, gain trust, and both increase the lifetime value of our existing audience while decreasing customer acquisition costs thanks to word-of-mouth. However, this stuff can feel like a total mess of parts and pieces. Show Bites is our series of quick-hitting posts where we snap off a tiny piece of the overall work, rethink it, and try to rapidly improve.
If you’ve been keeping up with our Show Bites series, you know it’s where we take a deep dive into certain marketing- and show-related terms to make sure we all really understand what they mean and how to use them. With that in mind, I bet you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, ‘Brand’? I know what a brand is. Everyone knows what a brand is. Why is MSR doing a Show Bites segment on ‘brand’?”
There are a few reasons we’ve decided to explore the concept of “brand” more deeply in this piece. For one: we talk so much about “brand” at MSR — particularly in the context of brand awareness, affinity, and voice — that it’s easy just to assume (especially as marketers) that we’re all on the same page about what these terms mean and where they come from.
But what is the actual definition of “brand,” and how has it evolved over the years? When did people start talking about brands? When did they become somewhat personified, as they are today?
This Show Bite is going to be part history lesson, part vocabulary exploration. As always, it’ll give you another clue into a piece of showrunning — and why your brand matters to both your company and your show. So, without further ado — (Are you imagining a drumroll? Because I am)…
The definition of “brand”
If you look up our word du jour on Dictionary.com, this is what follows under noun:
1. A type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.
- “a new brand of detergent”
- a particular identity or image regarded as an asset: “you can still invent your own career, be your own brand“
- a particular type or kind of something: “his incisive brand of intelligence”
2. an identifying mark burned on livestock or (especially formerly) criminals or slaves with a branding iron
3. a piece of burning or smoldering wood.
- “he took two burning brands from the fire”
It’s safe to say we’re not too concerned with definitions two or three, so let’s focus on the first definition. A brand is an identifying name of a product or company (or both), including its logo and color scheme.
Nowadays, it feels like every person and every institution understands the importance of creating an identifiable brand, and with good reason. Social media and the influencer era have made personal branding an important part of identity, especially if you’re creating anything tied to your name. If you’re familiar with the bizarre, fascinating world of brand Twitter these days, you’ve likely noticed that brands are increasingly interacting with their audiences online and acting almost as if they’re human, with personality traits, quirks, wants, needs, and dislikes. Brands are no longer just the name of a company or product — they represent everything a company or product values.
This is one of the reasons branding is so important when it comes to shows: your brand is a lot like your calling card. It announces who you are, what you do, and what you stand for. It helps potential audience members decide if they want to pledge their loyalty to you (Okay, that sounds vaguely medieval, but it’s true!).
But it hasn’t always been like this. How did we go from a time when “brand name” in many cases just meant the more expensive version of a product, to an era when brands are starting to sound and act more and more like people, and vice versa? And how, in this current era, can brands develop a deeper relationship with the people whose values align most with their own?
To find out, we’re going to take a quick trip back in time, to the beginning of the word “brand.”
The history of “brand”
The word “brand” (You know that thing where you say a word over and over and it gradually stops sounding like a word? Is that happening to you yet with “brand”? Because it’s definitely happening to me. Anyway.) comes from the Old Norse word brandr, which means “to burn.” This is where definitions two and three from above comes in handy — the word initially just meant a piece of burning wood, and it came to reference branding cattle with the mark of their owner. This practice was adopted by artisans, factories, and companies of all kinds to mark their work and distinguish it from similar products. It’s no wonder companies place so much emphasis on logo and brand style guides — an identifying image was the first concept we ever had for a brand, and the tradition remains in practice.
In Medieval times, watermarks were used to brand paper goods and fine arts. Then, during the Renaissance, painters like Michelangelo began “branding” their work by signing it with their names: the first instances of a brand being tied to a name or word rather than a symbol. Fast forward a few centuries (turns out things don’t change that quickly) to the Industrial Revolution, when factories began stamping their goods’ brand just about anywhere it could be seen: on the product itself, the storage containers it was held in, and the transportation vehicles that moved it from place to place. Brand names and logos began to become widely recognizable, and in 1875 they were first able to protect their imagery and investment with the Trademarks Recognition Act.
Jumping forward a bit again to the boom of the marketing and advertising industry in the 1950s and 1960s (Yes, Mad Men fans, here’s where Don Draper and company come in) when brands fought for our hearts and money with meticulously-planned print and TV ads. It was during this time that the role of a company Brand Manager came to exist, and marketing departments became recognized as essential. Brands began catching onto a very key marketing strategy that set the groundwork for content marketing and branded shows: In order to really keep people’s attention and make them care about your product, you have to appeal to your audience’s emotions. By telling a story that strikes an emotional chord, audiences are so much more likely to remember your brand and care about purchasing your product over a similar one. Brands became more than just a logo and a tagline emblazoned onto a product or a billboard: they became an embodiment of a company’s overarching values.
It’s now more important than ever to have a strong sense of brand, but the concept has evolved greatly since those first Industrial Revolution logos — and even since the TV spots of a few decades ago. Today, honesty and authenticity reign supreme in an era where consumers are increasingly wary of gimmicks and stunts, and consumers are putting their money where their values are more than ever.
So what does this mean for marketing showrunners?
Brands have always been an important tool companies can use to differentiate themselves and ensure customers remember them. But today, that means so much more than what it did in medieval times, when brands just needed to literally brand their name onto whatever they touched, and in the Mad Men era, when brands started running splashy ad campaigns as a race to win your money. Now, brands need to stand for something. Customers want to interact with brands that align with their values. They can best do that by understanding the full scope of what a brand believes in.
Shows are the modern day way to do that. If your brand believes in helping small businesses succeed, then a video series that introduces audiences to small business owners and their stores is a great way to show your audience that you’re serious about your mission. If you’re a restaurant software company that pledges to care about the well-being of restaurant employees, a podcast geared toward the issues they face daily is a wonderful way of standing behind your word.
In today’s marketing landscape, shows are how brands can put their money where their mouth is. You can establish your brand’s positioning and stances by stating it in your slogan and marketing campaigns, but you can show audiences a true commitment to standing by your words by putting your messaging in action via shows. If you’ll forgive me for leaving you with one final pun: When it comes to your brand, show, don’t tell.