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Published August 9th 2016

Exploring the Identity of a Brand: How to Discover and Measure Brand Associations

Brands work hard to foster identities, but need to know if customers recall the brand associations. We reveal the best methods for discovering brand association

Brands work hard to foster an identity.

Certain qualities are brought to mind when a consumer thinks of a company, and marketing campaigns and products are all designed to reinforce these brand associations.

Brand associations help to build value around a brand. Combined with brand awareness these associations make up brand equity – if consumers are aware of the brand and have strong, positive associations, your brand has equity with consumers.

What are brand associations?

Brand associations are a set of remembered qualities that help communicate information to the customer. These qualities should differentiate one brand from the competition, and therefore provide a reason to buy that brand over the other.

These qualities should provide positive attitudes and feelings.

Brands help foster these associations, fostering them through marketing activities. But also, brand associations can develop outside of a business’s control. A poor journalist review or a PR disaster amplified by social media can harm the brand and place new associations in the minds of consumers.

The value of brand associations

Brand associations are a vital part of building a brand identity. Specifically, they can:

  • Help buyers to remember your brand for its unique qualities
  • Differentiates you from your competitors
  • Provides reasons to buy your product
  • Creates positive attitudes or feelings towards your brand/product
  • Form the basis for brand extensions, where new products use the livery of the old brand.
Shops of well known brands in HongKong

Discovering brand associations

How do you find out what these brand associations are? There are a few methods available, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Surveys

Surveys and focus groups can unearth associations from general consumers and loyal customers.

You do have to factor in response bias, where people give different answers as they are being asked direct questions and feel a certain pressure. It can also be prohibitively expensive for some, although online survey sites reduce the cost.

Online survey data

The website brandtags.com shows a brand logo and asks visitors to type the first word they associate with that brand. Once you have entered 5 words, you can look at the results.

Over time they have built up a database of brand associations. While this provides an interesting topic cloud, the number of brands covered by the site is limited.

There are some responses that are humorous and may not be entirely genuine, and also some answers where people have clearly got two brands confused (Dow Jones with Dow Chemicals, for example).

The below image shows some of the associations with Coca-Cola.

brand associations for coca-cola from online data

Search data

In this Think with Google post, Google recommends using search data. We often think of searches as standalone requests for information, but Google says that each search session will often contain several searches.

By analyzing searches that happen in the same session, associations can be unearthed. Google recommends heading to Google trends and checking out ‘related topics’ and ‘related queries’ after searching for your brand.

The data available is limited, and may be more useful when there are a larger number of searches carried out. It does allow you to conduct some competitive research, which can be useful.

Social data

Social intelligence can uncover brand associations through natural conversations. It provides a mix of qualitative and quantitative data.

Writing a search for your brand allows you to look at topics around the brand, and identify which are more common than others.

You can also analyze trending topics, helping you to understand if any events or campaigns are changing the associations around your brand.

Dove has a history of promoting a positive body image in its marketing material. Looking at the topic cloud for associated topics paired with mentions of Dove, this emphasis appears to be reflected in the way people talk about the brand.

Social intelligence is also useful for competitor analysis.

Once you have identified the topics that you want customers to think of in relation to your brand, you can undertake comparative brand associations using social data.

The below chart compares three electric cars and the percentage of conversation around car qualities. BMW could use this information to highlight the fuel efficiency of its cars, as it is clearly already established in the minds of consumers.

Uncovering these associations allow brands to maximize the positive aspects and develop strategies to deal with any negative ones. It can let you know what your competitive advantage is, and what makes a customer chose you over the competition.

To discover more about crafting a brand identity, download our free guide below.

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