While growing up in secondary school, everyone wants to hang out with the cool kids. The in-group. The popular group! Why? Because if you hang out with the cool kids in school, you’ll automatically be labeled as one of the cool kids as well. Being part of or even being acknowledged by the cool kids would associate you with the cool crowd.
So, if a person can be identified and associated with ‘being cool’ or being popular among the peers, what about brands?
Here is the idea of Brand Associations, which are the thoughts, feelings and images that a brand evokes in the consumer’s mind. These associations have a direct impact on brand value, influencing the consumers’ behavior and ultimately their purchases. Brand Associations are not “reasons-to-buy” but provide acquaintance and differentiation that’s not replicable. They are relating perceived qualities of a brand to a known entity.
Brand Association is lined to images, symbol or colours associated to the brand or its benefit. For example Nike’s swoosh sign, the Nokia’s tune (which is also known as Grande Valsa), the golden arches or McDonald’s, the red and blue wau of Malaysia Airlines, and the flat-bottomed teardrop shaped Hershey’s Kisses. If these symbols and images were presented to people without identifying the brand, most consumers would be able to recognize and recall from memory what brands they are.
Brand association is anything which is deep-seated in customer’s mind about the brand. Brands should be associated with something positive so that the customers relate your brand to being positive. Brands also want to be associated with people, events, activities and items that reflect their brand values.
Brand associations can be formed from two main sources – direct experience and indirect exposure. Brand association through direct experience can be based on the trial or actual usages of the product – getting to experience the product performance and its quality first hand; like using Colgate toothpaste while brushing or drinking Nescafe every morning before working. Indirect exposure would involve learning about the product through reviews, recommendations and advertisements, like checking out YTL’s resorts on the website, or hearing from a friend about how good the newest burger from KFC tastes like. Brand associations formed via direct experience tend to be stronger and more stable over time as compared to those formed from indirect sources.
Positive brand associations are developed if the product which the brand depicts is durable, marketable and desirable. The customers must be persuaded that the brand possesses the features and attributes satisfying their needs – which leads to customers having a positive impression about the product. Positive brand association helps an organization to gain goodwill and slows down the competitor’s entry into the market.
But if the consumers find that the products are of poor quality or services rendered are not up to expectations, it would lead to negative brand association. Everything someone recalls the brand, it brings back bad memories – which in turn could deter repeated sales as well as negative publicity. Among these are Mattel recalling its toys after discovering that its one million of its toys, which were made by a contract manufacturer in China, was covered in lead paint in 2007, or counterfeit cosmetics purchased online, which had dangerous levels of lead, beryllium, aluminum and bacteria in them.
Commenting on such incidents, Former London Business School professor Nirmalya Kumar noted that Chinese brands will face many obstacles when marketing to Western consumers. “Beyond the associations with poor quality and unsound environmental practices, they generally do not have the marketing capabilities or budgets to build powerful global brands,” he said.
At the end of the day, all companies would want positive brand associations from their customers to their brand in order to beat the competitors to be the ‘cool brand amongst its peers’.