What Is Brand Association? Brand Association In A Nutshell - FourWeekMBA (2024)

Brand association is one of the most significant psychological influences on a consumer’s purchase intent. Although it is often the difference between a consumer choosing one product over a competitor’s product, it is a relatively complex topic that few businesses understand well. Brand association describes the mental connection between a brand and a concept. Put another way, it is the thoughts that enter a consumer’s mind whenever they think about a brand.

AspectExplanation
Concept OverviewBrand Association is a fundamental element of brand identity and perception. It refers to the mental connections and associations that consumers make between a brand and various attributes, qualities, or symbols. These associations can be positive or negative and significantly influence how consumers perceive, trust, and relate to a brand. Brand associations often develop over time through marketing efforts, consumer experiences, and the brand’s overall presence in the marketplace. Effective brand association strategies help shape a brand’s image and build brand equity.
Types of Brand AssociationsBrand associations can encompass a wide range of attributes and qualities:
1. Functional Attributes: These relate to the brand’s product or service features, performance, and capabilities.
2. Emotional Attributes: Emotional associations involve feelings and emotions evoked by the brand, such as trust, excitement, or nostalgia.
3. Symbolic Attributes: Brands may be associated with symbols, icons, or imagery that convey specific meanings or values.
4. Experiential Attributes: These relate to consumer experiences, such as the shopping experience or customer service, associated with the brand.
5. User Associations: Brands may be linked to certain user demographics or lifestyle characteristics.
6. Cultural or Societal Associations: Brands may be connected to cultural trends, social causes, or larger societal movements.
Building Brand AssociationsBusinesses employ various strategies to build and shape brand associations:
1. Brand Messaging: Consistent and compelling messaging that communicates desired brand attributes.
2. Visual Identity: Design elements, such as logos, color schemes, and typography, that reinforce brand associations.
3. Product Quality and Performance: Ensuring that the brand consistently delivers on its promises and meets customer expectations.
4. Marketing Campaigns: Strategic marketing campaigns that reinforce specific brand attributes and values.
5. Brand Storytelling: Crafting narratives that resonate with consumers and emphasize desired associations.
6. Sponsorships and Partnerships: Associating with events, causes, or other brands that align with desired associations.
Impact on Brand EquityBrand associations have a profound impact on brand equity:
1. Positive Associations: Positive brand associations enhance brand equity by increasing consumer trust, loyalty, and willingness to pay premium prices.
2. Negative Associations: Negative associations can significantly harm brand equity by eroding trust and diminishing brand value.
3. Competitive Advantage: Strong, unique, and favorable brand associations provide a competitive advantage in the market.
4. Customer Loyalty: Brands with positive associations often enjoy higher levels of customer loyalty and advocacy.
ChallengesChallenges in managing brand associations include the need for consistent messaging and experiences, the potential for associations to change over time, and the risk of consumer backlash if brand associations are perceived as inauthentic or inconsistent with brand actions.

Table of Contents

Understanding brand association

With that in mind, brand activation can simply be defined as the mental connection a consumer makes between a brand and some other factor, such as a concept, person, interest, experience, emotion, activity, or image.

Brand activation moves beyond traditional key performance indicators such as consideration, usage, and awareness. To that end, marketers strive to create mental connections that are favorable, robust, immediate, and link the brand with positive attributes to build value. Note that brand activation can also be negative when the associations consumers make with the brand are not in sync with its core identity, message, and values.

Foundational elements of brand association

Positive brand association is built on a few simple but very important elements:

Visuals

Since many advertising campaigns occur exclusively via visual mediums, businesses can position their brand using symbols, logos, designs, or any other visual element to induce positive associations.

Coca-Cola incorporated an image of Santa Claus at Christmas on its product labels including seasonally appropriate features such as falling snow. This meant consumers associated the company with the festive cheer and happy memories that occur once a year in December.

Language

When used correctly, the choice of words is also a powerful driver of brand association. Language should reflect the company’s industry, core message, brand persona, and use the correct tone and vocabulary to ensure brand consistency.

The phrase “taste the rainbow” by candy company Skittles allows its fans to associate the brand with a beautiful rainbow that can be eaten. Volkswagen’s famous Think Small ad campaign in the late 1950s created an association between its vehicles and a more convenient size.

Personification

Personification is used by brands to attribute human traits and characteristics to nonhuman, inanimate objects. The most oft-cited example is Wilson, the iconic volleyball that Tom Hanks befriends in the 2000 movie Cast Away.

Another notable example of personification can be seen in Apple’s “I’m a Mac” campaign. Here, the company ran a series of advertisem*nts where two people represented personified versions of a Mac and PC. This allowed Apple to highlight the advantages of the Mac over its competitor by giving the product human qualities such as youth, intelligence, humor, and personality.

Key Principles of Brand Association

  1. Consistency: Maintaining consistency in branding, messaging, and product or service quality reinforces and strengthens brand associations over time.
  2. Relevance: Associations should be relevant to the brand’s positioning and the preferences and needs of the target audience.
  3. Uniqueness: Distinctive and unique brand associations help a brand stand out in a crowded marketplace.
  4. Emotional Resonance: Emotional connections and associations often have a more profound and lasting impact on consumer perceptions.
  5. Reinforcement: Strong and consistent brand associations become deeply ingrained in consumers’ minds, reinforcing their loyalty and preference.

Advantages of Brand Association

  1. Enhanced Recognition: Strong brand associations contribute to increased brand recognition, making it easier for consumers to identify and choose the brand among competitors.
  2. Consumer Loyalty: Positive brand associations foster brand loyalty, as consumers develop a preference for a brand that aligns with their values or needs.
  3. Effective Marketing: Brands with well-defined associations can create more effective marketing campaigns that resonate with their target audience.
  4. Premium Pricing: Brands with positive associations often have the ability to command premium pricing for their products or services.
  5. Resilience: Strong brand associations can help a brand weather challenges, maintain a loyal customer base, and rebound from setbacks.

Challenges of Brand Association

  1. Negative Associations: Brands may inadvertently develop negative associations that can harm their reputation and sales, requiring extensive efforts to rectify.
  2. Changing Perceptions: Altering existing brand associations or shifting consumer perceptions can be challenging and may necessitate significant time and resources.
  3. Consistency Maintenance: Ensuring consistent brand associations across all touchpoints and over time can be demanding and requires diligent brand management.
  4. Market Competition: In highly competitive markets, building unique and distinctive brand associations can be challenging, as competitors vie for consumers’ attention.

When to Use Brand Association

  1. Brand Launch: Establishing and nurturing brand associations is critical during the brand launch phase to shape initial consumer perceptions.
  2. Rebranding: When a brand undergoes a rebranding effort, creating new or refining existing associations can be a strategic move to signal change.
  3. Product Introduction: When introducing new products or services, aligning their attributes with existing brand associations can enhance acceptance and recognition.
  4. Emotion Elicitation: Brands seeking to evoke specific emotions or sentiments in consumers can strategically use brand association to achieve these emotional connections.

Expected Long-Term Impact of Brand Association

  1. Brand Loyalty: Strong and positive brand associations can lead to long-term brand loyalty among consumers, resulting in repeat purchases and advocacy.
  2. Market Leadership: Brands with well-established and deeply rooted associations often become leaders in their respective industries.
  3. Resilience: Strong brand associations can help a brand navigate challenges, economic fluctuations, and market disruptions more effectively.
  4. Brand Equity: Over time, effective brand association efforts contribute to increased brand equity and overall brand value.

Related Branding Strategies

  1. Brand Identity: Brand identity elements, such as logos, design, and brand colors, contribute to and reinforce brand associations.
  2. Brand Storytelling: Effective storytelling can help shape brand associations and create emotional connections with consumers.
  3. Brand Positioning: Brand positioning defines how a brand wants to be perceived in the market and guides the development of associations that align with that positioning.
  4. Brand Personality: Brand personality traits are often used to shape consumer perceptions and associations, humanizing the brand.
  5. Brand Differentiation: Strategies to create unique and distinctive brand associations can set a brand apart from competitors and enhance its recognition.

Examples of brand association at work

CompanyBrand Association StrategyCase StudyAnalysis
Apple Inc.Innovation and Design ExcellenceApple’s product launches and sleek designApple’s brand association with innovation and design excellence is reinforced through groundbreaking product launches and iconic design.
Coca-ColaRefreshment and HappinessCoca-Cola’s “Share a co*ke” campaignCoca-Cola’s “Share a co*ke” campaign associates the brand with happiness and personal connections, strengthening emotional ties.
VolvoSafety and ReliabilityVolvo’s focus on safety and crash test videosVolvo’s commitment to safety has solidified its brand association with reliability and vehicle protection.
McDonald’sFast Food and ConsistencyMcDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” and uniform menuMcDonald’s consistent menu offerings and memorable jingles reinforce its brand association with fast food and convenience.
NikeAthletic Excellence and Endorsem*ntsNike’s athlete endorsem*nts and “Just Do It”Nike’s partnerships with top athletes and the “Just Do It” slogan associate the brand with athletic excellence and motivation.
FerrariLuxury and PerformanceFerrari’s high-end sports car productionFerrari’s exclusive sports cars are synonymous with luxury and high-performance, reinforcing its brand association.
DoveReal Beauty and Self-EsteemDove’s “Real Beauty” campaigns and messagingDove’s emphasis on real beauty and self-esteem through advertising has created a strong brand association in personal care.
StarbucksPremium Coffee and Third Place ExperienceStarbucks’ coffee quality and cozy ambianceStarbucks’ premium coffee and inviting atmosphere create a brand association with a premium coffee shop experience.
DisneyFamily Entertainment and Magical ExperiencesDisney’s theme parks and beloved charactersDisney’s theme parks and iconic characters are closely associated with family-friendly entertainment and magical experiences.
Harley-DavidsonFreedom and RebellionHarley-Davidson’s rebel image and lifestyleHarley-Davidson’s brand association with freedom and rebellion appeals to motorcycle enthusiasts and riders.

Consider the following list of companies and the thoughts that spring to mind for most consumers:

  1. Google – search engine, answers, information.
  2. Microsoft – Windows, software, personal computers.
  3. Nike – performance, athletes, victory, sport, the swoosh logo.
  4. Tesla – electric vehicles, vision, the future.
  5. Disney – family movies, imagination, fantasy, children’s characters.
  6. BMW – driving performance, luxury, workmanship.
  7. Budweiser – patriotism, hard work, resourcefulness.
  8. Dove – beauty, purity, empowerment, diversity.
  9. Skittles – every color of the rainbow.
  10. Patagonia – adventure, sustainability, ruggedness, activism, awareness.

Key takeaways:

  • Brand association describes the mental connection between a brand and a concept. In other words, it describes the thoughts that enter a consumer’s mind whenever they think about a brand.
  • Brand association is built on three core foundational elements: visuals, language, and personification.
  • Brand association is immediately apparent when thinking of companies such as Google, Microsoft, Tesla, Patagonia, and BMW.

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