McLuhan observed how communications technologies determine the structure of society. The printing press took society from an oral culture to one of print and literacy. Movable type allowed humans to accurately reproduce texts at great speed. This created a more visual world. The printing press — and the shift in media consumption that it catalyzed — was responsible in no small part for social shifts such as the emergence of nationalism, the homogenization of society, and the standardization of culture. As McLuhan observed, we do not merely use technology — it reinvents us.
Companies who own and manage brands must adapt when humans develop new ways of communicating. The history and evolution of branding can be summarized in four distinct economic periods: agricultural, early-industrial, late-industrial, and digital.
Brands in the Agricultural Economy
During the agricultural economy, communities were organized around farming and gaming livestock. During this time, “brands” defined unique ownership. The word brand derives from brandr, meaning “to burn.” Around 950 A.D., “a brand” referred to a burnt piece of wood. Around the same time, Roman glassmakers branded their works using glass molds and marks. Other artisans in the 13th century used brands in the form of watermarks on paper, stamps, hallmarks, and silver-makers’ marks on paper.