What Is Brand Association? Brand Association In A Nutshell

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:

  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.

Main Free Guides:

Marketing Glossary

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing describes the process whereby an affiliate earns a commission for selling the products of another person or company. Here, the affiliate is simply an individual who is motivated to promote a particular product through incentivization. The business whose product is being promoted will gain in terms of sales and marketing from affiliates.

Ambush Marketing

As the name suggests, ambush marketing raises awareness for brands at events in a covert and unexpected fashion. Ambush marketing takes many forms, one common element, the brand advertising their products or services has not paid for the right to do so. Thus, the business doing the ambushing attempts to capitalize on the efforts made by the business sponsoring the event.

Brand Building

Brand building is the set of activities that help companies to build an identity that can be recognized by its audience. Thus, it works as a mechanism of identification through core values that signal trust and that help build long-term relationships between the brand and its key stakeholders.

Brand Equity

The brand equity is the premium that a customer is willing to pay for a product that has all the objective characteristics of existing alternatives, thus, making it different in terms of perception. The premium on seemingly equal products and quality is attributable to its brand equity.

Brand Positioning

Brand positioning is about creating a mental real estate in the mind of the target market. If successful, brand positioning allows a business to gain a competitive advantage. And it also works as a switching cost in favor of the brand. Consumers recognizing a brand might be less prone to switch to another brand.

Business Storytelling

Business storytelling is a critical part of developing a business model. Indeed, the way you frame the story of your organization will influence its brand in the long-term. That’s because your brand story is tied to your brand identity, and it enables people to identify with a company.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is one of the most powerful commercial activities which focuses on leveraging content production (text, audio, video, or other formats) to attract a targeted audience. Content marketing focuses on building a strong brand, but also to convert part of that targeted audience into potential customers.

Digital Marketing

A digital channel is a marketing channel, part of a distribution strategy, helping an organization to reach its potential customers via electronic means. There are several digital marketing channels, usually divided into organic and paid channels. Some organic channels are SEO, SMO, email marketing. And some paid channels comprise SEM, SMM, and display advertising.

Growth Marketing

Growth marketing is a process of rapid experimentation, which in a way has to be “scientific” by keeping in mind that it is used by startups to grow, quickly. Thus, the “scientific” here is not meant in the academic sense. Growth marketing is expected to unlock growth, quickly and with an often limited budget.

Guerrilla Marketing

Guerrilla marketing is an advertising strategy that seeks to utilize low-cost and sometimes unconventional tactics that are high impact. First coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book of the same title, guerrilla marketing works best on existing customers who are familiar with a brand or product and its particular characteristics.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is a marketing strategy designed to attract customers to a brand with content and experiences that they derive value from. Inbound marketing utilizes blogs, events, SEO, and social media to create brand awareness and attract targeted consumers. By attracting or “drawing in” a targeted audience, inbound marketing differs from outbound marketing which actively pushes a brand onto consumers who may have no interest in what is being offered.

Integrated Marketing

Integrated marketing describes the process of delivering consistent and relevant content to a target audience across all marketing channels. It is a cohesive, unified, and immersive marketing strategy that is cost-effective and relies on brand identity and storytelling to amplify the brand to a wider and wider audience.

Marketing Mix

The marketing mix is a term to describe the multi-faceted approach to a complete and effective marketing plan. Traditionally, this plan included the four Ps of marketing: price, product, promotion, and place. But the exact makeup of a marketing mix has undergone various changes in response to new technologies and ways of thinking. Additions to the four Ps include physical evidence, people, process, and even politics.

Marketing Personas

Marketing personas give businesses a general overview of key segments of their target audience and how these segments interact with their brand. Marketing personas are based on the data of an ideal, fictional customer whose characteristics, needs, and motivations are representative of a broader market segment.

Multi-Channel Marketing

Multichannel marketing executes a marketing strategy across multiple platforms to reach as many consumers as possible. Here, a platform may refer to product packaging, word-of-mouth advertising, mobile apps, email, websites, or promotional events, and all the other channels that can help amplify the brand to reach as many consumers as possible.

Multi-Level Marketing

Multi-level marketing (MLM), otherwise known as network or referral marketing, is a strategy in which businesses sell their products through person-to-person sales. When consumers join MLM programs, they act as distributors. Distributors make money by selling the product directly to other consumers. They earn a small percentage of sales from those that they recruit to do the same – often referred to as their “downline”.

Niche Marketing

A microniche is a subset of potential customers within a niche. In the era of dominating digital super-platforms, identifying a microniche can kick off the strategy of digital businesses to prevent competition against large platforms. As the microniche becomes a niche, then a market, scale becomes an option.

Relationship Marketing

Relationship marketing involves businesses and their brands forming long-term relationships with customers. The focus of relationship marketing is to increase customer loyalty and engagement through high-quality products and services. It differs from short-term processes focused solely on customer acquisition and individual sales.

Sustainable Marketing

Sustainable marketing describes how a business will invest in social and environmental initiatives as part of its marketing strategy. Also known as green marketing, it is often used to counteract public criticism around wastage, misleading advertising, and poor quality or unsafe products.
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