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The Rebrand of Brand

What do other people say when you're not in the room?

I heard an interesting insight this week on a podcast with Matt Herbert, co-founder of Tracksuit... that Brand has perhaps done the worst job of branding itself than any brand. Brand is somewhat of an elusive character, adept at shapeshifting it's way through the evolution of commerce. If Brand is simply what other people say about you when you're not in the room, how do we improve on who we are?

So let's take a brief look at the history of Brand and it's journey throughout the ages. More importantly, let's look at how Brand is shaping todays business landscape to build trust and value.

Perhaps it's time that Brand put on a tracksuit, and got a rebrand!

TL;DR - Don't want to read the rest? Watch on YouTube or Listen on Podcast!

Ancient History

The concept of brand has evolved throughout history, based on changes in commerce, technology and consumer behavior. That's what I find so fascinating about brand, it's intrinsically linked to human behaviour through both emotional needs and monetary bias. The concept of brand is as much understood through psychology as it is by philosophy or economics and sociology.

In ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, branding began with simple practices like marking cattle to signify owenership, or inscribing pottery with the makers mark or region. Even back then the purpose of branding was to establish value based on trust and quality.

Moving on in time, the same practices continued as Romans marked bricks with a stamp of the manufacturer, an early form of mass production where a makers mark had yet to evolve into brand names but identified authenticity and quality.

If you don't already know it, I'm a big tea geek and the history of tea is fascinating in so many ways. Tea is also recognized as being the first form of global currency, where bricks or discs of compressed dry leaf would be stamped with a mark of value or origin. These would often be used as barter for goods or to pay taxes along the Silk Road. This is a fascinating example of product branding being attributed to a direct value.

We'll skip forward through medieval times where craft guilds began to certify quality and authenticity and traders or merchant took branding global. But it wasn't until the industrial revolution that we saw the evolution of modern branding take shape.

Mass production exploded with the industrial revolution from the 18th & 19th century, leading to the need for brand names and logos to differentiate products. Some of those earliest mass market products were for consumer medicines.

The Early Sales & Marketing Manager

This boom in medicine brands was born from the smaller scale and more dubious remedies peddled by traveling salesmen, with brand names names such as Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root or Hamlin's Wizard Oil. They were often no more than a high percentage of alcohol with occasional herbs and morphine which no doubt served these snake-oil salesman well in product sampling off the back of a wagon!

The products were often sold by these early Sales & Marketing Managers, using a mix of showmanship and pseudo-science to sell their wares. We can probably thank these early salesmen for their creative brand stories as much as we can the founders of modern brand marketing!

Marketing or Advertising?

The invention of the printing press revolutionized the way information was disseminated and played a huge role in the development of modern branding. By enabling mass communication, the printing press allowed businesses to reach wider audiences with consistent and compelling brand messages.

But it was the evolution of printing from the early 20th century that amplifies this ability to advertise brand, through Newspapers. Along with radio, companies like Coca-Cola and Kellogg's used advertising to build colossal brand identities.

With this new found power to dominate the market emerged the era of Brand Management with agencies such as Proctor & Gamble and General Motors. Their ability to craft consistent messaging for a brand and deliver a customer experience, brought about the golden age of advertising and consumerism in America, fueled by Television in the mid to late 20th century.

This was very much the era of brand building through product advertising and the battle to win loyal long term customers. Well known terms such as USP's (Unique Selling Propositions) were coined in this era and advertisements were designed to capture attention and make a memorable impact, through jingles, slogans, and eye-catching visuals. This is before most brands were tracking product sales directly to their ads, so in terms of todays marketing funnel, from the 1950's through to the 1980's brand activity lived in the top of the funnel to build awareness and consideration.

However, David Ogilvy, often called the "Father of Advertising," revolutionized brand marketing from this period with his emphasis on research and consumer insights. His work for brands like Rolls-Royce and Dove set new standards for creativity and effectiveness in advertising. Ogilvy's books, "Confessions of an Advertising Man" and "Ogilvy on Advertising," are essential reading.

Digital Revolution

The digital revolution we are now in, transformed branding once again. The internet and social media allowed for direct engagement, targeted and personalized marketing, and real-time feedback never possible before. The rise of ecommerce allowed for greater tracking and reporting of measurable results from online campaigns through to online sales.

In contrast to the pre-digital age, modern marketing strategies encompass the entire marketing funnel, from awareness to retention, with a more balanced approach across all stages. The tools of the digital age have brought about a level of sophistication never available before, but it also brought about a level of over-reach into privacy that has triggered a shift in recent years we'll come back to soon. Social media allowed marketers to target people by very specific demographics and personal traits.

The traditional view of marketing spend had been to allocate some 60% on brand advertising and awareness, with 40% to more targeted product campaigns. However the sudden ability to target consumer far more likely to buy, brought about 'growth marketing' or 'growth hacking' where brands began to allocate the majority of their budget to shorter terms gains at the expense of higher level brand marketing.

However, many people didn't realize their data was being made available to advertisers by platforms like Facebook, and so began the fallout from major scandals and a drastic tightening of data controls for the major platforms and their advertisers. As it stands the effectiveness of growth marketing has hit somewhat of a ceiling, although it is still very relevant in the digital age and targeted communication is still an important part of the mix. This brought with it a growing expectation from consumers that brands should have a conscience and behave ethically.

In the digital age, Seth Godin emerged as a marketing guru. He introduced concepts like "Permission Marketing," advocating for strategies based on gaining consumer consent before engagement. His book "Purple Cow" emphasized the importance of creating remarkable products first. Godin's focus on storytelling, ethical marketing, and community-building has significantly influenced modern marketing practices.

Return of the Brand

We are now seeing a return to top of the funnel brand awareness where brands can better communicate their values and align with consumer needs. Brands have begun the realise that neglecting their future potential customers is very short sighted and a shift back toward the traditional 60/40 rule appears to be happening. This correction balances the need to build customer loyalty and value with more immediate gains through targeted marketing and activations.

The challenge in brand marketing at the top of the funnel for awareness and consideration, is how you communicate measurable value of your brand building efforts to stakeholders in the business. The CEO, the CRO and the Board want to see trackable value thanks to the evolution of growth marketing. They haven't forgotten that a strong brand helps you acquire more customers and also increase the lifetime value of those customers, but we all have someone to report to and the digital age is all about accountability and data!

The only way to measure overall brand sentiment and product preference, has been through expensive market research. This has only been within reach of the larger enterprises who can afford to gather this data through expensive surveying methods carried out by the likes of Nielson, Kantar or IRI.

Future Solutions for Measuring Brand Value

But, as we've seen, there is always a new development brought about by technology and as you'd expect with the rapid evolution of AI, a solution to democratize access to market research would not be far away.

But AI in most cases will be nothing without human input (at least, not until it wipes us all out!)

To get genuine high quality data in the area of brand sentiment you literally have to go out there and ask huge samples of the population. AI can help analyzing the results but there is no shortcut to getting that input data.

One of the innovations we've seen in many industries is toward live-tracking of data through beautifully designed dashboards and insights. My wife for example moved us to a home power supplier which shows your power usage live in a app and tracks it against your historic use and projected spend. That kind of technology is rolling out to everyone but requires smart metering to be installed right there in your home.

You'd think to do the same thing with brand tracking through survey data would be impossible without extortionately high costs... but no, it's starting already!

Meet Tracksuit

While on the job hunt, I started doing some research on innovative local startups, who are doing exciting things in the Brand Marketing space, and found Tracksuit. My brother is also very involved in the New Zealand tech startup scene as a director, advisor and investor. He also suggested I look into them. They've already been running for 3 years at the time of writing and are growing fast, expanding into the Australian, US and UK markets.

They provide those beautiful dashboards I love, with always-on insights for your brand. They offer affordable market research and brand tracking at a tenth of the cost of outdated enterprise services afforded only by the largest brands. You don't go to these guys for a one-off project, Tracksuit is more like your brand partner, keeping you informed with a near realtime view of your brand recognition and sentiment. As a marketer, this allows you to strategically allocate spend toward longer term brand awareness, consideration and preference at the earlier stages of the customer journey (or top of the funnel)... through to the more immediate impact of performance marketing and brand activations at the bottom of the funnel where customers make the purchasing decisions between you and your competitors.

Ultimately, this allows you to build your brand for future customers and lifetime value with hard factual data to back up your decisions and beautiful reporting to show the stakeholders. 

So how the heck do they do this?

Tracksuit's affordability and efficiency appear to be achieved through strategic data collection and leveraging smart technology. By targeting multiple clients within the same category, Tracksuit can survey a broader audience and apply the insights across different brands. This allows for cost-sharing and economies of scale.

They also appear to utilize advanced analytics and AI to provide real-time, actionable insights. The platform is designed to continuously collect and update data, making it accessible through a dashboard which doesn't require a masters in statistics to understand. It enables clients to track brand health metrics over time and compare their performance against competitors.

So, finally we have sophisticated market insights accessible to a broader range of businesses... which I love!


Brand has been such an elusive character throughout history and marketers have struggled to shed the shadow of the snake-oil salesmen. So do we finally have a more visible and honest face to the future of Brand? Think about this again... if brand is simply what other people say about you when you're not in the room, how do we improve on who we are? If we can craft honest brand narratives that are not only aligned with basic human needs but informed by innovative market research and always-on insights like Tracksuit provide, I think we can finally say, yes...

Brand is getting a rebrand!

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