Brand Association: Definition, Types, Examples & More
Updated: Sep 8
Understand all you need to know about brand association from what it is, to its importance, the types, examples (positive and negative) and how to develop brand association.
Table of contents:
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What is brand association?
Brand association is a positive or negative personal connection that an individual forms between a brand and an image, experience, emotion, location, attribute, personality or activity such as sponsorships and PR events, which are strongly influential on purchase decisions.
This is through positive brand associations that can lead to a higher standing in consumers’ minds and an increase in sales, where these strong associations are built over time through various connections or interactions with the brand. However, it can go quickly the other way as well if it's not done correctly and will have a negative impact on the business.
What is the importance of brand association?
The reasons why brand association are important is because it helps your brand stand out in the market, where people can link your brand with different qualities than your competitors. This not only makes people more familiar with the brand but also having a favourable impression that leads to being part of the consumers consideration set when it comes to purchasing products or services that the brand covers.
Brand association helps to foster a stronger emotional positive connection (brand essence) that a consumer has with a brand, where people form opinions and attitudes towards the brand and what it’s recognised for such as being innovative, fun, friendly, trustworthy, reliable or high quality.
These visuals, experiences, activities and attitudes towards your brand help to enhance both brand recall and brand recognition with the positive knock-on effects of brand equity and the benefits that come with that.
Benefits of brand association
So just to summarise the benefits of brand association are:
- Enables a brand to stand out in the marketplace.
- Memorable for consumers.
- Differentiate the brand from its competitors with positive qualities.
- It can help to form a positive emotional connection with the brand.
- Leads to becoming part of consumers consideration set, so more sales.
5 types of brand association
There are a number of types of brand association but the 5 most common associations are brand attributes, benefits, personality, attitude and interest, which are explained in more detail below.
1. Attribute based
Attribute based brand association are the characteristics and features that consumers associate with a product or service such as quality, value for money, being innovative, helpful, reliable or even physical attributes like the packaging, shape and colours. This not only helps consumers recall the brand for a specific sector but are often factors that help consumers decide what product or service to buy.
2. Benefit based
Benefit based brand association as the name suggests is where consumers associate benefits they can gain with the brand’s products or services, whether that is functional such as durability or ease of use to more emotive connections with the brand like modern or generous.
This can also be representative of social issues such as Unilever and Proctor & Gamble promoting the use of recyclable packaging or Body Shop being against animal testing in the cosmetic industry by promoting their non animal tested products.
3. Personality based
Personality based brand association usually comes in the form of a celebrity helping to endorse a brand by using their profile such as Kevin Bacon with the mobile provider EE. It also helps if the celebrity covers a related area of the brand like Michael Jordan and Nike with the Air Jordan trainers.
It does not always have to be a celebrity; it can also be a character that represents the brand such as Ronald McDonald for McDonald’s or Colonel Saunders for KFC.
4. Attitude based
Attitude based brand association is established following customers experiences with the brand, which are related to various attributes and benefits they link with the brand’s products. Therefore, overall formation of views and opinions of the brand will form in consumers’ minds on how they feel about the brand, whether that is in a positive or negative context.
Certain lifestyles can also be associated with a brand such as Rolex being a luxury item or Adidas supporting a sporty lifestyle.
5. Interest based
Interest based brand association is used by businesses to first grab consumers attention using methods such as a celebrity or product placement in films or a popular TV series, which will then sub consciously form in consumers’ minds to position the brand in a favourable light to serve a need or want. For example, the Nike is synonymous with Tiger Woods with him wearing the Nike logo cap and T-shirt.
Examples of brand association
The following are popular brand association examples of well-known brands:
Samsung is quality electrical and mobile devices.
Tesla is premium electric vehicles and Elon Musk.
Google is known for online information and answers.
Beats is compact portable music speakers, headphones and Dr. Dre.
Burger King is convenience, burgers and fast food.
Adidas is sports, fashion and football.
Nike is sports, basketball, golf and Tiger Woods.
The above are just some of the numerous examples of brand association, which can be split into two categories positive brand association that can help to enhance a brand compared to their competitors and negative brand association that has dire consequences for the brand both financially and for its reputation. Both example categories are outlined below.
Positive brand association
Beats - innovative sound entertainment pioneer influencing popular culture
Beats (also known as Beats by Dr. Dre) is seen to be related to music, sports and popular culture by providing premium innovative sound entertainment devices worn by players at sporting events, musicians in music videos and celebrities in popular shows.
The status of co-founders of Beats with Hip Hop legend Dr. Dre and famous music record executive Jimmy Lovine originally helped the brand implant itself in popular culture and getting famous people to be seen wearing the headset. This has been further enhanced with their partnership with the NBA.
Budweiser's connection with hard working people
Budweiser's association is more away from the qualities of the beer to being linked towards the industrious side and those people who work hard, so the messaging a lot of the time is around the reward of drinking a crisp refreshing beer at end of a hard-working day.
Patagonia - ambassador for environmental responsibility and sustainability
Patagonia is more than an outdoor clothing brand equipped for the rugged adventures of the outdoors. The brand is also known to care for the environment as being a key activist for environmental change and sustainability with regular messaging and raising awareness by sharing people's stories about sustainability.
Coca Cola’s alignment with the happy Christmas theme
Various successful campaigns run by the iconic Coca Cola brand but one that probably stands out is the brand’s alignment with Christmas. Th Coca Cola bright red branding fits well with the Santa Claus colours of red and white in their seasonal marketing campaigns to reinforce the happy festive messaging with the brand.
Negative brand association
Volkswagen – publicity around fabrication of testing results
Back in 2015 Volkswagen were caught fabricating their emissions testing records, which was well publicised and received negative media and public reaction, which tainted the brand during that time.
BP’s reputational and financial damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Back in 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was an industrial disaster with loss of life and one of the largest oil spills to marine life, where BP were accused and found to have cut corners and taking excessive risks. This cost BP billions not only in damages but also clean-up costs, economic claims and not to mention the reputational damage it caused.
Snapchat – how an advert for a game brought back a celebrity domestic violence case
Introducing ads to the social media platform back in 2018 had initially had negative repercussions for Snapchat from one of the ads promoting a game called Would You Rather? The game was asking the question whether to punch Chris Brown or slap Rihanna but in real life there was a case of domestic violence between the two musicians and users of the platform had not forgotten.
The game’s ads were removed and a public apology was issued by Snapchat, who’s market value dropped that week.
Brand association map
A brand association map outlines visually the various attributes like trust or transparency that consumers could link with a brand. The map will illustrate how close these attributes are associated by consumers with the brand, where you can gain an outlook of how your brand stands in the marketplace and can compare these associations with your competitors in helping to identify opportunities and threats.
This will help guide marketing strategies if certain favourable brand associations need to be reinforced in messaging with consumers to change their existing perceptions of the brand.
The way the brand association map works is the closer an attribute is to the centre circle that means the stronger the likelihood that consumers will relate it to the brand. This is often percentage results taken from a survey of your target audience where they are asked a battery of statements or attributes that they agree relate to a brand on a 5-point agreement scale.
Alternatively, a simplified question could be asked with a list of words (attributes) that you ask respondents to link with any of the brands on the list if they think it’s relevant.
Above is a very basic example of a brand association map for a made-up luxury brand where attributes like high quality, premium and luxurious are strongly related to the luxury brand, while convenience or value for money are less likely to be connected with the brand.
There are also templates available online to build a brand association map.
How do you develop brand association?
There are 7 methods in which you can develop and boost brand association which are:
1. Be imaginative with your branding
So, on the creative side, you need to be resourceful to make your brand stand out from your competitors in order to develop brand associations. This could be a character like Sergei the lovable meerkat along with Aleksandr Orlov who represents the insurance comparison site comparethemarket.com that is instantly recognisable in the UK.
2. Ensure it is memorable
Build positive association that is also memorable but is aligned with the values of the brand. The underlying factor for this is to make sales and not just to make something memorable, otherwise your brand will get forgotten about.
3. Accommodate for the wants of your target audience
The customer always comes first, so you need to ensure your brand caters for the wants of your target audience, which could be quality, performance and style for a car. It basically is something that is related to what your brand can cover in its offering.
4. Assess all customer touchpoints of the brand
You need to examine all customer touchpoints with your brand to see if the correct and relevant image of the brand is conveyed as well as ensuring favourable impressions are made all along the customer journey. This could be from the company website to the aftercare sales staff to help maintain your brand is top of mind for the sector it covers.
5. Build relevant partnerships
Building partnerships with celebrities or influencers to help get your brand message across whether that is on TV or social media as long as your being selective on who to use and their values are related to your brand and they know how to conduct themselves in public. Otherwise, it can turn into PR disaster for the brand if the celebrity acts inappropriately.
6. Highlight potential threats
Obviously, you are looking to build or maintain a positive image of the brand but there are times when negative brand associations can damage the brand as pointed out earlier in the post with Volkswagen or Snapchat. This maybe a case of reinforcing brand messaging to change consumers perceptions or using social media monitoring tools that can highlight threats early on in social media and can be addressed quickly like a bad review before it could go viral.
7. Develop a plan to deal with very negative associations
There is always a risk of really bad PR for your brand even though the main objective for you is building a positive image. You must plan early on and have a strategy in place in the event of a crisis that your brand may need to deal with. Basically, this crisis management plan will outline the necessary actions that may need to be taken to identify the issues and how they can be resolved or mitigated.
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