We live in an economy of brands. Every business today exists as a company of people, a legal entity, and its perception in the eyes of the public. The art of branding is the manipulation of how people think about a company through design and advertising. Brands, though, are more than just logos and names.
A brand inevitably comes with associations in the way it is imagined by the public. Some of these are dictated by people’s experience of a company. Does the product work? Does the company have good inbound call center services? Or has it received negative publicity for unethical business practices? All of these things influence how people perceive a brand.
While some associations are created due to factors that are out of the control of a business, others are more consciously orchestrated. If you are interested in the way people perceive your company, it’s important to understand the different types of brand association.
Some brands have a natural set of associations by virtue of the type of company that owns the brand.
A surf brand comes with a ready-made visual and cultural language to play with. Branding a company that makes surf boards or wetsuits will inevitably draw on this language. The imagery of waves, for example, offers a range of easily accessible motifs for such companies.
For a fashion line that wants to appeal to surfers, the same visual language is mobilized even if the attire does not have such an obvious connection to surfing. Ultimately, all of the cultural associations that people have with surfing and surfers, can be mobilized by clever branding.
Popular associations that exist between a brand and activities like surfing or skating, which have associations running through fashion, music, and lifestyle, can happen more or less organically.
Brands that come into the orbit of a subculture may wish to amplify the association or subdue it. Sometimes it may be advantageous to pick and choose such associations.
Consider a motorcycle brand like Harley Davidson. It is woven into numerous subcultural stories that create many associations – the open road, rebellion, danger, and the American spirit, for example. Which of these associations the company wishes to emphasize, and to what degree, is of critical importance to their brand communication decisions.
Sponsorship is when companies spend their money employing third parties to lend whatever associations they can provide to a brand. In trying to create these associations, companies hope to appeal more to their target market.
Many companies invest in organizations, activities, and events in order to access the benefits of a certain association. Sponsoring a sporting organization or event, for example, can give you access to huge numbers of fans and attract some of their energy and passion for the sport. The most coordinated sponsorship drives might include merchandise, competitions, and a membership site or mailing list.
The best sponsorship initiatives for creating powerful brand associations are not necessarily the ones most geared towards sales. Sponsoring a YouTube channel may directly increase your online selling potential by maximizing traffic from click-throughs, but the lasting effect of a positive association is less quantifiable.
When a business strategically places its products in such a way as to maximize visibility and emphasize certain associations we call it product placement. Product placement is a kind of subcategory of sponsorship. Sometimes it is paid for and other times it is encouraged by offering out the product for free.
Say a company makes online meeting software. Even if they are the market leader, maintaining a public perception of being the best video conferencing tool is what will ultimately secure long-lasting success. In such a situation, a business might want to pursue sponsorships in the corporate sphere. Sponsoring digital events would advertise the product but also create a lasting association with the software and online meetings.
But another way of creating this association would be to secure agreements from meeting organizers to use the software. This would be product placement, as the product in question is displayed by the meeting organizer in action.
Popular media like books, films, or television can be used as means of brand association by tactically inserting brand references.
When we see someone else use a product or service, we automatically assume that person has a good reason to be doing so. If the user in question is someone whose opinion we trust, we are likely to form a good opinion of whatever it is they endorse.
Endorsements can happen organically if someone is already engaged with your brand. They can also be a form of sponsorship.
An example of a sponsored endorsement would be a sportsperson using a certain brand of sneakers, either because they are paid to do so or because they have received them for free. This is really a very targeted type of product placement whereby a given public figure is chosen because their opinion is respected by a company’s potential customers.
The kinds of endorsements that will best validate your brand will depend on what it is that you provide. Sports personalities are an easy type of public figure to think about in terms of endorsement because there is a clear logic that describes which brands would be attracted to whose endorsement.
While professional athletes are an obvious kind of celebrity, the best endorsement for your business might not be well-known at all. Verified reviewers, experts, specialists, and ordinary users all create brand associations through their endorsement.
These days, we often think about influencers as people whose endorsement can generate business for a company. Influencer endorsement can be used as a marketing tactic that appeals to people’s desire to emulate the lifestyles of their favorite influencers.
Ultimately, aspirational lifestyle markers can be one of the most sought-after associations for a business. Getting to grips with this dynamic is really at the heart of good branding. From organic associations to paid endorsements, authentically evoking the notion of coolness and a heightened sense of desirability is the ultimate goal of many brand strategies.
What is Associated With Your Brand?
Now that you understand what brand association is and why it’s important, the next step is to identify what people associate with your brand. Brand associations can be good, bad, or more complex. Knowing what they are is the first part. Being able to change them or take advantage of them is where this knowledge will prove its worth.