Breaking Down What A “Brand” Is

When you hear B&B you probably think “Bed and Breakfast”.

But we’re not here today to talk about a cozy getaway. We’re here to talk about Business and Brands.

These terms often get thrown around interchangeably, but in reality they can be seen as two very different aspects of entrepreneurship. When you set out to create your own business, you’ll need to develop a brand to go with it. Your business is what you do, but your brand is something else entirely.

You’ve likely heard terms thrown around like “brand persona”, or “brand image”, or even “brand loyalty”. But, like any word, the more it’s repeated, the quicker it can lose it’s meaning.

That’s why we’re going to take some time to refresh our understanding of the word “brand” and what it means for the self-employed entrepreneur!


Like everything else, language evolves over time. So, too, has the definition of “brand”.

The first recorded use of the word “brand” appeared in Old English. It was a word borrowed from the Proto-Germanic word “brandaz”, which meant “a burning”.

When it entered into the English language, it likely originally referred simply to a burning piece of wood. After a few centuries, entering into the 1300s, it was primarily used to specifically refer to a torch.

Only a century later, in the 1400s, the word took on an even more specific meaning. It was at this point that the verb form of the word, “to brand”, began to describe the act of burning a mark onto a person.

See, at the time, they had much more barbarous ways of punishing people for breaking the law. So if you were caught for certain crimes, the penalty would include a painful branding. The hot irons they used were designed to leave an easily identifiable scar, so that others could recognize that you were a convicted criminal and be more wary around you — sort of like a criminal record. It was meant to be a visual example of your character.

However, the definition of “to brand” would expand during the 1500’s to include the act of burning a mark onto livestock.

Obviously, cattle and other livestock weren’t being branded for criminal activity. Rather, they were branded with a unique mark that would indicate to whom they belonged. This way, if they escaped or were stolen, they could be returned to their rightful owner with fewer complications.

Fun fact, it wasn’t until 1828 that we see people use the noun form of “a brand” to specifically indicate the iron instrument itself that was used to make the burns. But I digress…

This act of branding animals for business reasons actually brings us to our next point of discussion!

Brand Names Versus Brands

Looking at how “to brand” means slightly different things for animals versus people can help us diffuse what exactly is the modern definition of a brand.

Before we get to the modern definition though, let’s take a look at the next big change to the definition of “brand”, which happened during the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution began in the 1760s, and during that time the world exploded in terms of manufacturing abilities, and global shipping became exponentially more accessible. Competition between manufacturers, who now suddenly found themselves in a rapidly expanding global market, was heated to say the least.

By 1827, branding referred to making a mark used to distinguish a particular product by identifying its maker. For instance, a crate of whiskey would have the vendor’s initials or insignia burned onto it. This made it easier to identify their crates, helping with transportation and logistics issues.

It also had the convenient effect of making it more difficult for competitors to produce and sell similar products. This was especially important when those knock-offs were of inferior quality, which could lead to people confusing the two and thinking that YOU were the one with the low quality product.

And because of this, brands were no longer simply symbols of ownership. They were symbols of quality.

In 1870, it became possible to trademark your brand officially. And in 1889, we see the first use of the term “brand-name” to describe a product whose trademark was widely known, or something that wasn’t just generic.

So what separates today’s “brand” from “brand name”? Well, whereas a brand name refers to a product label, a brand refers to the intangible qualities that you associate with that product and its trademark.

While you can brand both an animal and a person, historically we had different motivations for each. We branded animals to help identify the person that owned them, but we branded humans to help identify the type of person that they were. In this case, a brand name is like a mark on an animal, but a brand is like a mark on a human being.

Branding Your Business

Soon enough we find ourselves in the 21st century, where a quick visit to your local store can prove just how many different brands there are of the same types of product.

And yet, not all products of the same category feel equal. Well, why is that?

That’s because behind the brand names, there’s a brand!

The way consumers perceive products — that’s a brand. The reason a shopper chooses between two products that are otherwise the same — that’s a brand. The immaterial aspects of a material product — you better believe that’s a brand!

When a hypothetical person sees two cans of tomato sauce next to each other, with the same ingredients, the same size, and the same price — but two different brand names — they pick the one with the brand that resonates with them the most.

In that example, we know it’s ultimately an unimportant decision. But because it was a decision that couldn’t be made objectively, the hypothetical person had to make their decision subjectively.

It’s that subjective bias for or against certain products or services that defines a brand.

Actually, let me rephrase that… that IS what a brand is! And no matter how good the material qualities of your business are — whether you make the best tomato sauce in the galaxy — if the immaterial qualities of your brand don’t appeal to people, then neither will your business.


Stay tuned for more self-employed self-empowerment with new entrepreneurial articles coming your way!

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