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Editorial: The branding iron:

From cowboys to corporations

INTRODUCTION Inscriptions and picture writing on the

In the late 1800s, cowboys drove huge walls of ancient Egyptian tombs indi-
herds of cattle across the central plains cate that cattle were branded as early as
of the USA. During these cattle drives, 2,000 BC.1 Since the scar made with a
the cowboys would often meet other brand could not be taken off or out-
groups of cowboys driving their cattle. grown, it was a highly effective way to
As was often the case, the cattle would mark ownership of living animals.
come together to form one enormous
herd. To tell which cattle belonged to
whom, each ranch had its own spe- Spanish brands: Extensions to family
cial symbol that would be branded brands
with a hot iron on the hide of every A traditional Spanish family brand of
calf belonging to that ranch. Ranchers letters and symbols amounted to a
generally used three types of marks in family crest. A new heir called for the
branding — figures, numbers and let- addition of an initial or curlicue to the
ters, with the brands being read in one brand. In time, the brands became
of three ways: from left to right, from very elaborate. Could it be that these
top to bottom, and from outside in. Spanish brands were the first example
Each brand became almost a heraldic of brand extensions?
crest — a cattleman’s coat of arms, if
you will. Brands not only identified an
owner or a ranch, but also provided a Brand of Cortez: Brands leveraging
set of traditions and a unique sense of secondary associations
identity for the cowboys. It was not Branding as a formal cattleman’s
uncommon for a cowboy of the times process came to America with the
to ride for the brand more than for the Spaniards. In 16th-century Mexico,
individual ranch owner. Cortez experimented with cattle
Today, companies endeavour to breeding. His brand — three crosses —
create internal branding efforts that will may have been the first brand used in
inspire the same employee loyalty and the western hemisphere, and one of the
sense of identity and purpose. Modern first recorded brands to use the brand
brand managers could learn much by management principle of secondary
the examples provided throughout the association leverage to drive a branding
history of brands. message home. Potential cattle thieves
would have to think twice about the
eternal consequences of stealing cattle
HISTORY OF BRANDS marked for God.
As cattle raising grew, in 1537 the
Egyptian brands: Early signs of crown ordered the establishment of a
ownership stockmen’s organisation called Mesta
The use of brands as marks of iden- throughout New Spain. Each cattle
tification dates back some 4,000 years. owner had to have a different brand,


and each brand had to be registered in examples of the 21st-century maverick.

what undoubtedly was the first brand Additionally, corporations such as
book in the western hemisphere, kept Apple Computer and Harley Davidson
in Mexico City.2 Motorcycles continue in the sprit of
‘countering common practice’.

XIT brand: Company name to

acronym brand The cowboy branding process
One of the largest and most famous On the great plains of the American
brands in the late 19th century was the west, ‘ketch hands’ roped each calf
XIT brand. In exchange for building and pulled it near the branding fire.
the Texas Capitol building, the Capitol Flankers then grabbed the calf by the
Freehold and Investment Company ear and loose skin of the flank, lifted it
of Chicago, Illinois, acquired vast up and laid it on its side. Others called
amounts of West Texas property on out the brand of the calf’s mother
which to raise cattle. For obvious and the appropriate branding iron was
reasons, it was not possible to stamp brought to the fire.
the actual name of the company on the While one man held the calf, an
hides of the animals, so the shortened ‘iron man’ branded the calf at the hips,
‘XIT’ brand was used. This is an early ribs, or shoulder according to the prac-
example of how an acronym branding tice of the owner. The owner’s wishes
effort gave rise to the common name were documented in the ‘brand book’.
for a large corporation. Other examples Iron tenders heated the irons in the
of this type of branding outside the coals of a wood or cow chip fire until
world of cattle include corporate giants the iron turned the colour of the ashes
such as ITT, ATT, BP and GE. — not red hot. If the iron was too hot
it caused a sore that could become
infected; too cold, and the mark would
The maverick ‘hair-over’ and leave no lasting brand.
Samuel Maverick ranched along the Modern brand managers employ an
Gulf Coast of Texas in the mid analogous process. Today’s ketch hands
1800s. Counter to common practice, are typical pre-purchase activities such
Maverick failed to brand his cattle, so as advertising, sales promotions, point-
all unmarked cattle in the area were of-purchase displays, and trade show
assumed to belong to Maverick. By sellers. Each element is designed to
1860, any unbranded calf on the Texas bring potential buyers ‘closer to the
prairie was called a ‘maverick’. branding fire’.
Today, corporate leaders, and, in Ropers of today often take the
fact, corporate brands, position them- form of lead management and
selves in the modern interpretation of customer relationship management
the word maverick, being ‘one who (CRM) processes. As prospects come
counters common practice’. into the company via electronic means
Examples of today’s corporate they are often tagged via a cookie or
mavericks abound. Herb Kelleher, of other ad-serving technique to identify
Southwest Airlines, and Richard their origin.
Branson of Virgin offer two excellent Some companies have consistently


done their branding job so well that their brand and the customer. For it
their customers come willingly to the is within each moment of truth that
‘branding fire’. Examples where cus- brands are built or damaged. Being a
tomers actually brand themselves in- frequent business traveller, I will use
clude: Harley Davidson Motorcycles the airlines as an example; however,
— whose customers often tattoo the many other businesses provide abun-
company’s logo on their bodies; Nike dant examples.
— with millions of customers, around Competition within the airline
the world, branding themselves with industry is fierce. Consequently, sig-
the Nike Swoosh. The same can be nificant investments are made in
said for other popular clothing brands traditional mass branding activities such
from Ralph Lauren’s Polo to Greg as advertising, brand architecture, look
Norman’s Shark. and feel, and other identity alignments.
Where the ultimate aim is for What, based on my all too frequent
customers to perceive a brand as experience, is missing, is a true focus
unique, relevant, credible, and differen- on ‘moments of truth’. Moments of
tiated enough to seek it out, most truth are those times where the
brand managers must adopt the cow- modern ‘iron man’ has the opportunity
boy’s ‘iron man’ process and apply the to create a positive branding ex-
brand one interaction at a time. Rather perience for the customer. These
than having one ‘iron man’, however, moments include everything from the
modern brand managers must look for time spent on hold waiting for a
ways to make each brand representa- reservation agent, to the interaction
tive an ‘iron man’ in its own right. with airport ticketing agents, gate
Today’s brand ‘iron men and women’ agents, customer service representatives
must look for ways to imprint their and perhaps most important of all, the
brand on their customers through cabin staff.
behaviours, attitudes and delivery of On a recent flight in to and out of
brand promises made. a major US airport, there were sig-
While it is entertaining to draw nificant weather and air traffic control
similarities between the branding delays. Flying into the airport, the
process of the cowboys of old and cabin staff handled the situation ex-
modern branding, it is, admittedly, tremely well, with empathy, humour
an over-simplification. Today’s brand and understanding. The net effect was
managers do not have the luxury of that the passengers were informed,
taking one key opportunity to knew the bounds of what could and
permanently brand their customers for could not be done, and trusted that
life. In addition, unlike the rancher, the the brand representatives were doing
brand is not truly owned by the everything possible.
company, but by the customer. Flying out of the airport on the same
airline, but in a different plane and
with different staff, the situation was
MOMENTS OF TRUTH completely reversed. The cabin staff
An important goal of modern brand did not communicate, were not em-
managers is to uncover each ‘moment pathetic, and were not friendly in any
of truth’ in the relationship between way. At the brand/customer ‘moment


of truth’, the net effect was a plane full hot as to cause a sore, as in the airline
of people who had a very bad ex- example above. On the other hand, the
perience with the brand. This was branding iron must be hot enough to
completely unnecessary. prevent ‘hair over’ and thus no
The key for effective overall brand long-lasting branding effect.
management is to ensure that each
‘iron man’ understands his or her role Acknowledgment
in the branding process. In the airline Some of the historical information used in this
example, each person from customer editorial was acquired from an exhibit on the
history of cattle brands at the National Cowboy
service representative to cabin steward and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City,
is the brand manager. They represent USA, July 2002.
the brand to the customer.
Like the cowboys of the Wild West, Randall S. Rozin
today’s brand managers look for ways Editorial Board
to differentiate their product or service
from similar offerings. The modern
brand is a sign of ownership, of (1) Unknown (1961) ‘The history of cattle
heritage, of quality level, and of brands and how to read them’, Traditions,
employee identification and affiliation. Vol. IV, No. 1, January, p. 38.
The trick is to apply the brand ‘stamp’ (2) Dary, D. (2001) ‘Cattle brands’, ‘The
Handbook of Texas Online’,
consistently so that it leaves a lasting
mark on the mind, without being too online/articles/view/CC/auc1.html.