Creating a brand identity is an evergreen hot topic in the world of marketing. But what is the secret behind? Is there an easy way to create a positive feeling? Certainly, there is no such thing as “easy” when it comes to working on your identity. One of those small steps is the magic of associations. This is the topic that caught my attention and I wanted to look up on it today.

brand association

Association in psychology refers to a connection between conceptual entities or mental states that results from the similarity between those states or their proximity in space or time. Pretty cool, but how to relate it to a brand or marketing? Couple of days ago, while working on one of the project the question popped up: How can I make sure that my brand will trigger positive feelings? Things cannot be random. It is not only about creativity. There should be some strategy behind. While researching further I came across the concept well known in the every day life, but slightly neglected in marketing- associations. Brand association is anything which is deep seated in customer’s mind about the brand. Kenneth Bator, the creator of the book The Formula for the Business Success= B+C+S mentions that brand association comes in two categories:

  1. First Thoughts and
  2. The Company You Keep.

There is one word that he enhances in both cases- CONSISTENCY. And I could not agree more. The important is indeed to stay consistent in three cases: communicating to stakeholders, providing products that meet or exceed expectations and delivering a specific brand experience for all customers, members, and clients by ALL employees and partners at EVERY level of the organization. Easier said than done. That is correct! The execution of the aforementioned aspects requires some hard work and discipline. However, it is far from being impossible. Let me give you couple of examples.

Take an example of Citibank. Their slogan says: Citi never sleeps. To make it clear, Citibank was the first to install or at least really promote the 24 hour electronic bank machine in NYC. So the connection is obvious.

associations

A logo can also be a good association to the feelings that the brand provokes. Let’s think about Starbucks latest logo. It does not show what company sells. Rather it depicts the fairy in the green circle that refers to a moment of peace, a moment for yourself and a dash of magic in the world of rush. Sounds familiar?

associations

And when you think about it, aren’t all coffee ads related to the peaceful moment that you present to yourself or share with others. Oldie but Goldie example from the Balkans is the video ad that won a prize in 2012 for the most popular ad in the region- coffee Grand. The idea behind is that no matter how different we are, there is always something that puts us together. And as the coffee culture in the Balkans is the synonym of gathering with friends, family or colleagues, the message is clear- coffee connects us all.

From a theoretical and academic perspective, there are some definitions of how associations work. If you look at your brand from customers’ perspective, you see just one of many brands in the same category. In other words, people project the portfolio into existing marketing categories and categorize the brand within those categories. So, if your brand offers financial services, customers will associate your brand with financial market category. Therefore, brand associations with targeted market categories are important for product placement. In addition, everyone wants to have their brand on the top of customers mind when s/he thinks of a particular category. Like, for example, when thinking printers, you remember HP or Epson. When thinking fast food, you recall McDonalds.

In which ways do brand associations create the value?

Various articles talk about value of the brand that is based on set of associations. There are various ways for association to create a value for a brand. During my research I came across several that I found significant:

  1. Associations can serve in communicating facts about product that would initially be hard to understand. Pictures, words, quotes or slogans can assist interpretation of the message.
  2. Association is important basis for the differentiation. The association to the name of the brand can play crucial role in standing out of the crowd.
  3. Associations can be ground for creating the loyalty if customer identifies with a brand and thus a reason to buy.
  4. Association creates positive attitudes and feelings.
  5. Associations can help brand extension. If the whole portfolio triggers positive reaction, it is easier to communicate all products from the portfolio.

When building a powerful brand in the mind of consumer, the key is to CONTRACT the brand and NOT expand it. Expanding can diminish power and weaken image, especially in the long term. Tips to keep in mind when forming brand associations:

  • Consistency in communication with customers;
  • Advertisements that tell the brand story;
  • Word of mouth publicity;
  • Category of products which the brand belongs;
  • The balance between price and quality of product;
  • Balance the strength of the brand value in people’s minds against the breadth of the portfolio;

For those who want to get involved more into the topic, I suggest reading these two articles: Article 1 and Article 2. A small push to kick off with writing your story.

Indeed, branding is your story, so do not leave it to the chance.