Brand association is all about reinforcing positive attributes about your brand and helping them take hold in the mind of the consumer. Ideally, a positive brand association will elicit an emotional response from your customers that causes them to reach for your brand over the competition.
It’s helpful to think about brand association as subliminally “branding” the ideas and feelings you want your consumers to think about into their psyche. Brand association doesn’t happen overnight, but it doesn’t have to be complicated – just consistent.
Here, we’ll chart a course through seven effective examples of positive brand associations that have made a difference in how consumers perceive the brand – and three that didn’t go as planned. Specifically, we’ll show examples from the following brands:
- Department of Education
A positive brand association is enormously helpful because perception is a powerful tool, as these stats suggest:
- A great brand association stimulates a positive emotional response in consumers. One survey found that 68% of men and 64% of women said they had experienced an emotional attachment to a particular brand.
- 82% of investors say that name recognition is a driving factor in the brands they invest in.
- If your brand is considering messaging that touches on social or political issues, it’s critical to form the right brand associations with your target audience. That’s because 64% of consumers will decide whether to buy or boycott your brand based on your position.
With that, let’s jump in and look at the different examples of brand association in action.
Let’s face it – when your brand name becomes a verb, then you’ve nailed brand association. That said, Google has become synonymous with information. If you need to know something, you ‘google’ it. Everybody knows it, and if someone asks you something you don’t know, you tell them the exact same thing.
Google started out in 1998 and has since dwarfed its search engine competitors. On their website, they address their mission statement saying, “Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Though they’ve developed a staggering suite of tools over the years, they’ve stuck to their guns, providing easy access to information. And now, all these years later, that fact is lodged in the minds of consumers the world over.
When it comes to iconic brands, Coca-Cola is in a class all its own. Not only is their bright red logo instantly recognizable the world over, but they’ve also managed to come up with hit after hit with their marketing messaging.
So, what do you think of when you think about Coca-Cola? A Coke and a smile, refreshment, and the subtle urge to buy one for the whole world so we can live in perfect harmony.
One of the most powerful examples of brand association is how they’ve aligned the brand with Father Christmas. Honestly, his red and white outfit makes a perfect fit for the brand. Coca-Cola’s version of Santa has been around since 1931 and has become an integral cultural sensation during the holiday season.
Coca-Cola has masterfully inserted its brand into the holidays and the hearts and minds of its consumers worldwide.
Nike is another global brand that has mastered brand association. When you think of Nike, you immediately think about athletes, footwear, sports, and the idea of pushing your limits. Additionally, their famous swoosh logo is instantly recognizable anywhere. And their “Just Do It” catchphrase captures the essence of overcoming life’s obstacles.
They didn’t put these impressions of excellence in consumers’ minds overnight, however. They revolutionized the celebrity athlete endorsement when they signed the then-rookie Michael Jordan to a landmark seven-million-dollar deal over five years.
To put that in perspective, the previous endorsement record was authored by New Balance for $150k over eight years. That said, Nike went all in – and it has paid off handsomely.
Not only did they transform sports marketing, but they also have gone on to cement their image by putting their iconic logo on world-class athletes across the globe. Additionally, they’ve also aligned their brand association with socially responsible messaging that reinforces their message of overcoming.
To every mother, everywhere: you are the toughest athlete. pic.twitter.com/9qa88DlkAZ
— Nike (@Nike) March 14, 2021
Skittles has aligned its branding with the color of the rainbow with its colorful assortment of candies. Their invitation to “Taste the Rainbow” is likely one of the first things consumers think of when they think about the brand.
That consistency in messaging pays dividends when you’re wanting to build your brand association. And when life hands your brand a golden opportunity to align your branding with positive social movements – you leap at the chance.
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Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia is synonymous with ruggedness, durability, and adventure. And through their consistent messaging and activism, they have also carved out a brand association known for environmental responsibility and sustainability.
Their mission statement is simple: “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
Over the years, Patagonia has told the stories of the people making a difference in how we take resources from the planet in a sustainable manner. As such, they’ve become much more than a clothing brand.
That’s because their pursuit of activism, change, and awareness has been rewarded with a brand association that mirrors its consumers’ perceptions about caring for our planet.
A quintessential American brand, Budweiser has been building positive brand association since the 1880s. Their iconic logo and branding make the King of Beers instantly recognizable. However, their marketing doesn’t really lean into the attributes of the beer itself.
Instead, Budweiser’s marketing through the years has worked towards associating the brand with the industrious spirit of America. The brand connects hard work and resourcefulness, which ties into the brand’s signature Clydesdale draft horses, which made their first appearance in 1933.
Budweiser has successfully aligned its brand association with hard-working people everywhere – and a reward to be had at the end of a job well done.
Dove does a lot more than make soap, and they’ve made sure their brand association reflects that. Probably the first thing you see in your mind’s eye when you think of the brand is the drop of water causing a splash when it hits their beauty bar. That, of course, speaks to the moisturizing qualities of their products.
However, the brand’s goal has always been to empower the spirit of beauty within its consumers. As such, you’ll notice that they call their flagship product a beauty bar and not a bar of soap.
Consistency is king with building your brand associations, and Dove is building a beauty empire meant to inspire and empower its consumers. And the bulk of their social media marketing focuses on helping to shift the global beauty narrative and raise awareness.
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Department of Education
So, whether you’re a brand or institution, the fundamental idea of brand association is to build trust through positive reinforcement. However, life being what it is, sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot. And although you’d think that the Department of Education would double-check their resources – and their spelling – mistakes happen.
Back in 2017, the Dept. of Education got grilled on Twitter for misspelling the name of one W.E.B. Du Bois, a co-founder of the NAACP, in a tweet attempting to expound on the importance of education.
Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life. – W.E.B. DeBois pic.twitter.com/Re4cWkPSFA
— U.S. Department of Education (@usedgov) February 12, 2017
To add insult to injury, after their initial Twitter hazing, the Dept. of Education tried to course-correct, saying, “Post updated – our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo.” [italics ours] As you can imagine, this was not a good look, and the heat was turned up accordingly.
As we’re all well aware, getting roasted online happens quickly – and it can hijack your brand association in a heartbeat. The lesson here is that once you’ve worked so hard to build a positive brand association, stay alert for avoidable missteps that can seriously impede your progress.
Not only can missteps set your brand association efforts on fire, but they can also seriously impact your bottom line. In 2018, Snapchat found this out the hard way.
Not only had they just introduced a new layout that had upset many users, but they were also rolling out ads too. One of them was created by a third party for a game called Would You Rather?
The problem started with the ad posing the question to users that said, “Would you rather slap Rihanna, or punch Chris Brown?” And what they had neglected to think about was if users would remember Rihanna and Brown’s domestic violence case. Well, they did.
Snapchat pulled the ad and issued a public apology. Rihanna replied with disappointment in the social network, highlighting how the situation was a letdown for domestic violence victims. Snapchat’s market value dropped 4% that week, resulting in a loss of almost a billion dollars in the span of a week.
Life lesson? Brand association takes a long time to build, so learn from Snapchat and don’t stick your foot in your mouth. It’s a terrible look for your brand and one that’s not quickly forgotten.
Successful influencer marketing can be a beautiful thing for your brand. However, this influencer’s inattentiveness highlights why your brand should watch their posts like a hawk in the interest of building your brand association.
While this type of flub is mostly harmless, copying the instructions to your sponsored post still leaves a lot to be desired. It’s probably quickly forgotten by the fans but still leaves your brand looking silly and unprofessional.
In closing, the longer your messaging and branding consistently sends the same message, the stronger your brand association will become in your consumers’ minds.
Social media analytics can not only inform your brand on how consumers perceive your brand, but it can also alert you when things go south. That way, you can jump in to steer the narrative and minimize blowback. Reach out for a demo to learn more!