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.
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:
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.
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 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 advertisements 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.
Examples of brand association at work
Consider the following list of companies and the thoughts that spring to mind for most consumers:
- Google – search engine, answers, information.
- Microsoft – Windows, software, personal computers.
- Nike – performance, athletes, victory, sport, the swoosh logo.
- Tesla – electric vehicles, vision, the future.
- Disney – family movies, imagination, fantasy, children’s characters.
- BMW – driving performance, luxury, workmanship.
- Budweiser – patriotism, hard work, resourcefulness.
- Dove – beauty, purity, empowerment, diversity.
- Skittles – every color of the rainbow.
- Patagonia – adventure, sustainability, ruggedness, activism, awareness.
- 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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