Brands are quite fascinating entitles (in my nerdy and obsessive opinion).
On one hand, they’re a collection of distinctive assets and expressions designed to be memorable.
On the other hand, they’re a collection of meanings that come together in the mind of the audience to form a perception.
Are they assets and expressions or meaning and perceptions?
The answer is they’re both. You see, the assets and expressions manifest into meanings and perceptions through something called associations.
In this article, you’ll learn what brand associations are and how they assist in the development of brand reputation.
What Are Brand Associations? (Practical Examples)
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What Is Brand Association?
Brand associations are the neural connections made by consumers between the brand and an image, idea, person, place, attribute or emotion.
These associated connections come together in the mind of the audience to form a meaning and perception about who the brand is, why it exists and why that should matter to them.
In other words, the collection of brand’s associations, are what defines the its reputation throughout the market.
Why Is Brand Association Important?
Brand association is critically important due to their impact on memory.
Brands don’t exist in physical or digital places. They’re don’t live in Times Square in New York, They don’t live on a website and they don’t live on a social feed.
Brands live in the mind of the audience and it’s here that meanings and perceptions are formed through associations.
The more positive associations a brand can align itself to relative to the position it aims to own, the more likely it is to build that meaning and reputation in the audience’s mind and ultimately cement that position.
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How Are Brand Associations Formed?
Associations are formed with brands based on brand experiences.
As consumers come into contact with the brand whether directly or indirectly, the experiences they have forms the basis of the association.
Let’s say you decide to go to a new restaurant in town with your significant other. You have a booking for 8p.m. but you arrive at 7.45.
The charming host greets you at the door, and tells you your table is almost ready, and offers to seat you at the bar while you wait with a complimentary glass of champagne.
The interior décor is cozy but sophisticated and there’s a great vibe in the restaurant among the other casual but smart diners.
Throughout the dinner the staff are friendly, the service is outstanding, the food is excellent and the chef comes out to ask if everything is ok.
You leave the restaurant with a belly full of food and wine and a handful of very important associations that will likely influence not only whether or not you’ll come back, but what you’ll tell other people.
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What Is An Example Of Association?
Based on the experience you had at the restaurant, you’ll have consciously and subconsciously formed many different associations, which may include.
It’s a friendly place
It’s warm and cosy
It’s in a trendy part of town
They have excellent attention to detail
They use quality ingredients
They attract a smart crowd
The people are very cultured
The environment is relaxed
They put their customers first
It’s a stylish venue
Their staff are pro’s
It’s an enjoyable night out
All of these associations are stored to memory and come together to form your perception of the brand. The more memorable and positive the association, the more likely you’ll remember and recall the brand.
Both the brand equity and reputation can grow from these associations and related perception, either through revisits to the restaurant, or brand advocacy.
Types Of Brand Association
As you can see from the example above there are many types of associations a person can align with a brand.
Chances are however, on a second and third experience with the brand, some of the associations from the first experience will be absent yet others will be reinforced.
It’s these consistent and reinforced associations with the brand that become the bedrock of the brand reputation in the market.
The easiest way to associate meaning to things is by identifying attributes that best describe them.
Attributes are defined as:
“A quality, character or characteristic ascribed to someone or something”
Whether it’s a car and animal or a person, attributes provide us with a tool to quickly remember and identify the inherent nature of it.
For brands, aligning displaying positive brand attributes consistently can create an association with that attribute.
A brand can be associated with the benefits it offers through it’s products and services if those benefits are aligned.
Although benefit driven branding is a strategy of old, benefits still represent a key buying decision factor.
If a brand consistently provides a specific benefits or benefits, they can become an association and part of its reputation.
The personality of brands have become increasingly important in modern branding due to the changing relationships they have with consumers.
Modern brands are expected to engage in dialogue and communicate to its audience through human engagement. This means brands have become more human in their behaviours and interactions.
Whether a brand shows up with a dry sense of humour, a rebellious spirit or an inspirational figure, these attitudes can provide meaning in the roles they play, what they believe and the relationships they form with their customers.
It’s no secret that successful brands go out of their way to make their audience feel something.
This is because the emotional epicentre of the brain; the limbic system is decision making central. As science has proven, we buy on emotion and justify with logic.
Coca-Cola is the ultimate example of a brand that is built on emotion. Coke’s long-term strategy has aligned the brand with the feeling of “Happiness” by consistently showing up at every happy event a person might encounter from summer holidays to Christmas and everywhere in between.
Negative Brand Association Example
Unfortunately for brands, not all associations are created positive and brands can end up on the unwanted end of a negative association.
Volkswagen are a perfect example of how negative associations can damage long-term reputation and brand equity.
In 2015, Volkswagen intentionally programmed some diesel engines of their cars to only activate their emissions controls during testing.
This meant the cars passed their emissions tests during the testing phase only to emit 40 times more in the real world.
This scandal absolutely decimated the longstanding reputation of the German auto brand. Not only did they have to fork out billions of dollars in damages, the damages from the lost trust of consumers will span years.
Over To You
Brand associations are the building blocks of a reputation and an owned position.
The key for brands is to identify exactly which associations they want to be aligned with and design the brand experience to provide as many of those positive associations as possible.
The more positive and consistent the associations, the more likely they are to become what the brand is known for.
Have you identified the positive associations you want your brand aligned with, or even better, have you weaved them into the design of your brand experience?
Let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
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