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The Building Blocks of Positive Brand Association

September 1, 2022 | Anthony Fattore


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What’s in a company name? As it turns out, a lot. 

In a consumer climate driven by social selling, proof-based decision making, and a constant influx of new products, cutting through the noise to influence purchasing decisions is about perception as much as function. Equally important to what a product can do in a customer’s life is how the product exists in the customer’s mind. 

Therefore, the development of positive brand associations must be a priority for every brand strategist. 

Trust cannot be manufactured—it must be built. And recently, the need for trust has become higher priority for consumers. A recent Salesforce report highlights that over 80% of consumers believe trust to be more important during transitions. If they aren’t satisfied, over 70% will move on to products they perceive as being a better value or higher quality. 

Building brand associations is an essential part of the overall marketing strategy for a product. Read on to learn the key aspects of brand association:

What are brand associations? 

Brand associations are the connections customers form with a specific brand or product. These associations may be positive, negative, or neutral (i.e., when a consumer isn’t interested in a product). They result from psychological and emotional responses. These come partly from external stimuli such as the marketing of the product, but internal influences such as the customer’s personal experience with that brand or product also factor in.

For example, Honda has a reputation for building long-lasting, high-performance cars and trucks. That positive brand association has been cultivated over years of marketing and product reviews. However, if an individual consumer has a negative experience with a specific car, service, or dealership, it may override the larger brand association and image Honda typically enjoys. 

How are brand associations built?

Positive brand perceptions are built over time. They come from social proof, expanding market reach, marketing messages, and consumer experience. They are the result of earning and maintaining customer trust and cultivating brand loyalty

Brand associations must be carefully maintained. In a world driven by instant communication and social media shares, issues with reputation may deeply impact your customer relationships. It can take a long time to regain lost ground, especially if brand association issues are related to customer service or quality.

Foundations of brand association

As mentioned above, brand associations combine internal and external influences that grow and change over time. There are some foundational factors that mold customer perceptions:

Identity: This is the overall marketing strategy of the brand or product—what it stands for, whom it is meant to serve, and how the customer fits into the brand’s buyer persona(e). Because targeted branding is both exclusive (weeding out low-likelihood buyers) and inclusive (speaking to those most likely to buy from you), your marketing message helps potential buyers self-identify and form stronger associations.

Consistency: Consistency is a brand’s commitment to delivering regular touchpoints across all relevant channels. Your brand should be easy for customers to find on their chosen channels, with consistent visuals, messaging, and cadence.

Continuity: This means creating a unified brand message across channels over time. Continuity builds lasting associations with your audience, connecting your brand image with your intended market. 

Service: Positive or negative experiences with your company will have a great impact on brand associations. This includes associations with individual products or services and with the brand as a whole. Enough negative customer service experiences will begin to affect the larger perception of your brand through social media posts, online reviews, consumer reports, scorecards, etc. Likewise, consistently providing quality service will build a strong brand reputation and great customer loyalty.

Benefits of brand association

Brand associations form part of a long-term customer acquisition strategy, building on customer experience to expand reach and ensure continued growth. Positive brand associations have several benefits:

Strengthening identity and memorability: Brands with positive associations are more likely to form strong customer relationships and remain memorable and relevant. 

Fostering differentiation: Positive brand association helps customers decide between one product and another. This may even override other considerations such as cost or features.

Improving reach: Positive associations put customers directly into contact with a brand, and can help circumvent the typical consideration phase of a purchase. For instance, a customer searching for a laptop may look no further than Apple for a guarantee of performance and reliability, based on friends’ experiences or the brand’s reputation.

Improving adoption: Customers who positively associate with your brand are more likely to trust your future products and promotions. They may even become early adopters or brand advocates.

11 Examples of brand association

Brand associations are formed in part due to the individual experiences of consumers. What makes a positive brand association for one person may create a negative brand association for others. 

For instance, a particular car buyer might gravitate toward a Tesla for its perceived environmental impact, and avoid a large gasoline-powered truck for the same reason. Yet someone else might gravitate toward a Ford truck for its durability and towing capabilities, and perceive the Tesla as incompatible with their needs or social identity. 

Each consumer develops a variety of brand impressions and associations based on their individual beliefs, experiences, background, and social status. Here are 11 types of brand association:

1. Personality

Brands that achieve iconic status often do so through the work of a recognizable founder or leader. In this case, the leader becomes part of the consumer’s brand experience. Consider associations like Steve Jobs with Apple, Bill Gates with Microsoft, and Elon Musk with Tesla. 

2. Endorsement

Brand management teams have long used sponsorships and joint ventures to create strong brand associations for their target audiences. One famous example is the partnership between Michael Jordan and Nike. The brand markets products like the Air Jordan to associate their brand in the consumer’s mind with high-level athletic performance.

3. Mascot 

A brand’s leading personality needn’t be a real person to be effective. Often, a mascot or character creates deep brand connections, especially in products geared toward children or families. For example, Mickey Mouse plays only a small part in the overall portfolio of Disney assets, but as the first and most recognizable character, this beloved mouse is inextricable from the brand.

4. Language

A catchphrase or tagline creates immediate connections and brand awareness. Consider the slogans “I’m lovin’ it” and “Breakfast of Champions.” These short phrases immediately bring a brand name and experience to mind.

5. Iconography

Brand logos, even when removed from other marketing or context, have the power to evoke a strong emotional connection to a brand. The famous Golden Arches used by McDonald’s or the Nike Swoosh are excellent examples of this element of brand strategy. 

6. Lifestyle

A consumer’s lifestyle and self-image may be used to create brand associations. Take, for example, The North Face and Burton. Though both are premium apparel and gear brands, they evoke completely different brand associations. Burton cultivates a laid-back counter-culture image, owing to its strong ties to the snowboarding community. The North Face forms a broader association with various adventure sports, such as skiing, hiking, and camping. 

7. Cachet

At times, a brand’s main benefit is exclusivity. Brands such as BMW, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Hermes build conspicuous consumer habits into their brand images. While another car, watch, or bag may be just as high-quality, brand equity in these cases comes from owning and using what’s perceived as a premium or exclusive product.

8. Reliability

Brands with reputations for strong customer service, product durability, or reliability often build this angle into their brand identities. One classic example of this is the Maytag repair man. His perpetual boredom across print and TV advertisements drove home the concept of the reliability of Maytag appliances. This type of brand association helps differentiate products in particular categories from a large field of competitors.

9. ESG

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives are increasingly being marketed as part of brand stories. Today, many companies are highlighting their climate and social justice commitments to develop a particular type of brand association with impact-minded consumers. 

10. Health and wellness

Brands associated with wellness, purity, and simplicity may influence customer purchasing decisions through a mental connection with quality ingredients and strict standards. Think of products like Dreft (a hypoallergenic detergent for babies) or Ivory soap (marketed for decades as “99 and 44/100% pure”). The quality perception and the scents of these products foster strong brand associations.

11. Experience

Some brands’ primary association strategy is based on eliciting enjoyment, expanding experience, or evoking a feeling of belonging. These associations may have nothing to do with a product’s functionality, but rather the feelings they stir up. Coca-Cola has built brand associations based on togetherness as much as taste. The sensory aspect is important, but their advertising focuses on family, community, friendly competition (for instance, as a major sponsor of the Olympic Games), and experiences beyond the consumption of the product.

How to measure brand association

There are dozens of metrics for measuring the consumer experience of your brand. Here are five that deliver consistent results and perspective: 

1. Visibility (share of voice): This is a measurement of the market share of your product or brand in comparison with your competitors. It outlines brand awareness and sentiment. 

2. Social shares: This metric measures the number of times customers or prospects share your brand messaging across social media. It can help home in on the best marketing channels for your audience.

3. Retransmission: This is a more personal form of social sharing. Retransmission is when your customer or prospect shares your messages, such as emails, with family, friends, colleagues, or others within their sphere of influence.

4. Net promoter score (NPS): The NPS is a customer experience metric that measures customer loyalty, usually with a 1–10 scale rating. 

5. Branded search: This is the number of people organically searching for your brand on search engines. Branded search is helpful because it outlines the number of prospects already aware of your brand whose brand associations are strong enough to seek you out. 

Take control of your brand associations

Positive brand associations begin with consistent messaging. Using a digital asset management (DAM) tool like Aprimo, teams can bring together a consistent and immersive brand experience that conveys your brand benefits, features, and personality to forge stronger connections. 

To learn more about using Aprimo DAM to drive your branding, request a demo

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