When we begin the initial stages of a rebrand or identity refresh it’s crucial for us to draw out all of the information from our clients so that we make sure that we are creating the visual aspects that will essentially become the visual triggers for a brand.
If we had a dollar for every time someone said they wanted to be like ‘Insert any mainstream brand here’ we’d be stinkin’ rich. The thing is, a lot of the time when we ask people what they like about the brand, it isn’t the visual aspect at all, it’s the associated connotations that are so deeply tied to them.
So, let’s explore this a little more shall we?
1. What is brand association?
Put simply, it’s the feeling or first thought, or connection people have when they think, or come into contact with a brand. And the thing is pending on your viewpoint, you can actually see brands differently to someone else based on your own personal experience.
They’re embedded in your brand from an array of different things:
- Your value
- The product or service you offer – what you provide and the quality of it
- Positioning and presence – channels and general touchpoints (where you sell or are seen).
- Brand voice and messaging
- Your targeted audience
- Identity – logo, colours, key identifiers
- Partnerships, collaborations and alignments
- The customer experience – how the consumer interacts with you
All of these things combined together create the overarching memory that people will have about a brand big, or small.
2. Why are they important?
The associations are essentially why people will buy or align with a brand. In society, especially drilling down into sub-cultures, brands can represent something. Think about how we use social media and what platforms specific age groups are using. It doesn’t always translate to what is ‘cool’ but what is socially accepted or expected.
- Apple: Design, Innovation, Simplicity
- Dior: Luxury, Sophistication
- Nike: Performance, Style
- Instagram: Connection, interaction
Brand’s work hard to build these associations, consumers help to establish them. A lot are also subconsciously embedded in our minds, be it from years of recognition, or something much closer, emotion. An example we always use ‘what product of washing detergent did you buy when you first moved out of home?’. A lot of the time, everyone says ‘what mum/dad used’ because it’s associated with our childhood. The association is that a specific brand is embedded into your upbringing and that is a super-strong association and one that builds loyalty.
As we get older, learn, evolve, our buying decisions change – we choose brands that align with who we are as people.
- People buy Chanel, because it showcases status. Luxury, elegance, high society (economic status). You’ll find people that may buy a one off purchase, will buy because they WANT to be seen and be associated to ‘the status’.
- People choose Apple because they like the simplicity, design and innovation aspect. Apple demonstrate this through literally every touch point, right through to the way they package their products and present their stores. It’s an envy to almost all brands and why people use them as the pinnacle of brand success.
- Toyota is seen as a reliable, family, affordable car brand. In fact, Lexus is owned by Toyota and was created PURELY so they could capture a different market. So essentially a Lexus is a glorified Toyota, but the way they have created the brand separates the two completely.
3. They don’t just happen, you’ll need to do some work
Associations come from good strategies and building a reputation that helps to cement them in the eyes of the consumer takes hard work.
From a design point of view, your identity is the visual aspect that connects the brand, so when a consumer ‘sees’ the brand their brain triggers the associations. Though before you get to that stage, you need to build brand awareness, it isn’t a case of slapping on a new identity and expecting instantaneous association and street cred.
This is where it’s really important to understand your target market; how they operate, who they align with, what their problems are etc. so you can create a brand that will attract them. In the same instance, the behind-the-scenes focus and internal branding are just as important, creating your values, alignments, people, product, manufacturing process, etc. A ‘made in Australia’ claim has a lot more ‘value’ than when it’s made overseas. A lot of people really value that, so it’s an association you could build.
Once all of this is established, creating an identity that ties into this strategy helps to create the right visual associations to convey meaning.
4. They can be both positive and negative
Not all brand associations are good ones, bad associations are hard to shake, so it’s important to stay on top of the game. For instance, Nike came under pressure with sweatshops and child labour. Around the same-sex marriage vote in Australia, Coopers beer came under pressure being associated with The Bible Society of Australia with a campaign focused on ‘creating a conversation about the positives and negatives of same-sex marriage (full story here). Their target market strongly disagreed with the message (rightly so) which resulted in a nationwide Boycott, with pubs placing their kegs on the side of the road, refusing to put them on tap.
Negative associations are harder to shake, and this is when PR can be both damaging and rewarding. Generally, you need some good PR to come back from that (speak to our good mate over at Odette and Co. for all things PR).
Though the positives can really help you shine. It’s the positives that we all want, the work we put in to build them through culture, strategy, marketing, and R&D.
The associations essentially form the brand reputation and what consumers will think about it. It is not one singular thing that will form your reputation, but a bunch of associations that are built from a magnitude of things within your brand. As we say, pieces of the puzzle that create the whole picture. Understanding that the reason you may like a brand, may not be how it visually appears at all, but how they’re placed in the market and what they’re doing.
As for your brand identity, it will create value over time once the association and reputation have been established, and that’s all in what you do and what people say.
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