Brand associations can be viewed at two levels.
First brand architecture, or hierarchies, are the internal methods used by multi-brand operations to align and position their brands, brand families, brand extensions, brand satellites, sub-brands, feature brands and event brands.
In brand architecture, the structure is purely an internal matter. The company will decide upon these associations and develop them. In other words, it’s their fault if consumers misinterpret the associations.
The second level is not as controllable as the first, but nevertheless, brand management can either associate or not associate with various other brands.
There are several ways to associate your brand with others:
- Through product placements. In films, TV shows and concerts, you’ll see obvious examples of companies paying to have their product be used within the context of the vehicle or venue.
- Through charitable sponsorships, usually in conjunction with other corporate sponsors. These usually take the form of charity events like Race for the Cure. Sponsorships at a local level could mean little league teams, civic commemorations and after-school functions such as Junior Achievement.
- Through commercial sponsorships, usually sports related. In this class are NASCAR sponsorships, buying the naming rights to a sports facility, and becoming the “official” brand of a sports franchise (beer, cell phone, radio station, ad nausium).
- Through celebrity associations. Here, a celebrity may use and endorse a brand, or may actually participate in the development of a product bearing his or her name (Think Jordan/Nike, Stewart/K-Mart). Another approach is to contract with the celebrity to become the brand’s spokesperson, most often in advertising, but perhaps also at events like car shows and trade conventions.
- Through co-branding. In this instance, your brand and another’s brand might be purchased together as a solution to a consumer problem. For instance, the AT&T and Apple iPhone association, or a Tide detergent sample coming with a new Maytag washing machine.
It’s a good idea to layout your various associations. Evaluate each one based upon your own brand goals. Much like a stock portfolio, your brand associations need tweeking once in a while.
And once in a while, an association will blow up on you and you’ll have to assess and control damage.
One of the best resources for understanding and performing a “brand association audit” is a book by Sam Hill and Chris Lederer, co-founders of Helios Consulting Group, titled The Infinite Asset: Managing Branding to Build New Value.
Their unique idea of visualizing a brand and all its associations as a molecule is particularly intriguing.
However you do it, looking at your associations and attempting to make them positive and aligned and meaningful is a job for those managing your brand(s).