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Brands and their right to exist

The history of brands dates back a long way. Think, for example, of family crests and early guild signs. These are the precursors of our current brands. But how did brands come into existence? How have they evolved? And what is the definition of a brand?

  • 4 minutes
  • February 25, 2021
  • Dennis Damen

the emergence of brands

For the origin of brands, we can trace it back to ancient Greece and Rome, where products available in "shops" were already depicted on signs. Shortly after, wax seals with the imprint of a signet ring were used to ensure the authenticity of a message.

In the Middle Ages, family crests and regional symbols emerged as signs of recognition. The symbolic elements represented their values, such as a lion symbolizing strength. In Scotland, they even translated this into the appearance through a unique color scheme and tartan pattern. Additionally, product-specific symbols like maker's marks and guild signs also appeared. Such marks offered a guarantee of a certain level of quality in a specific craft or industry.

During the industrial revolution, local products began to be sold nationally due to improved infrastructure. To distinguish themselves from locally available products, they were given a name, logo, and packaging.

brands today

This origin function remains the most critical function of a brand. A brand should enable customers to distinguish the goods and services of one producer from another.

In recent decades, the influence of a brand has grown significantly. Think about the influence of brands like Apple or Coca-Cola. The brand represents substantial financial value, and shareholders are paying increasing attention to the brand as part of this. This applies not only to commercial organizations but also to non-profit activities that can be seen as a brand and use it to achieve their goals.

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definition of a brand


We now know how brands came into existence and what the role of brands is today. But what is the definition of a brand? There are now many definitions in circulation, with different perspectives. Here are a few well-known definitions:

"A brand is any sign capable of distinguishing the goods and services of an enterprise and that can have a certain meaning for consumers, whether in a material or immaterial sense." – Rik Riezenbos

"A brand actually only exists in the minds of people. It is a network of associations between elements in memory." – Giep Franzen

"A brand consists of a mix of energy streams that make a product or service relevant, distinctive, and credible to the target audience." – Ruud Boer

I find the most comprehensive one to be Ruud Boer RM's definition. He doesn't just consider the provider of the brand or the consumer but also looks at the overall experience. With the mix of energy streams, he refers to three types of energy streams that a brand can convey to the consumer:

  • Physical brand energy: This is the material aspect a brand offers, or the practical benefits (e.g., Pampers > dry bottoms).
  • Mental brand energy: This is the emotional and functional aspect a brand offers (e.g., Pampers > happy baby).
  • Spiritual brand energy: This is the intuitive and unconscious aspect a brand offers, the value it creates (e.g., Pampers > good mother).

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