All businesses face a dilemma. They must stand out from their competition, interact with customers, and create unique, desirable products (or services). And, more important, they must do so in an unforgettable way—especially in the era of the eight-second attention span.

The solution to that challenge is branding, an amorphous, broad, and often misunderstood term.

Branding relies heavily on attractive, visually snappy design. Done well, branding and design can bestow colorful, vivid personality on a business, attracting publicity and recognition in an increasingly crowded market—and. ultimately, boosting sales.

What Is a Brand?

In the digital age, brand has become something of a catch-all, denoting everything from product to marketing.

At its core, though, your brand is your business reputation and identity: Because companies are organizations, and not flesh-and-blood individuals, they must communicate with the world (and distinguish themselves) through branding.

Yet, despite the sudden explosion of branding onto the business scene (in the Internet era, even individuals are advised to create their own brand), the history of branding likely dates back to prehistoric times—long before the likes of social media, Mad Men, and advertising greats like David Ogilvy and J. Walter Thompson.

"Branding" probably came from the ancient practice of livestock branding—hot-iron "logos" burned onto cattle, sheep, pigs, or goats to signify ownership.

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image of Anthony Wood

Anthony Wood is the global managing director of Shillington Education, an immersive design school. After working as a senior designer at leading ad agencies, including Havas Worldwide, he transitioned into teaching design.

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