Marketers often talk about a brand being a set of memories and associations in people’s minds. But I suspect most of us exaggerate the strength of those associations. Most of the time people’s brand associations are dormant, waiting to be triggered by something relevant, at which point they combine to generate a sense of for what the brand stands.
As I have written elsewhere, brand associations are a network of impressions in people’s minds that have accumulated over time from a variety of sources. Most of that absorption is incidental and unconsidered and until someone starts to think about something related to the brand those associations remain dormant and only ‘wake’ when triggered. At that point, the brand impression – the feelings, impressions and ideas related to the brand – will be activated.
When thinking about what triggers the impression of a brand, I suspect most of us focus in on the context of a purchase decision, but the trigger could be anything; including an occasion, a person associated with the brand, a reference in social media or a specific location. Triggering one association can set off a chain reaction, recruiting other associations and building up the sense of the brand in question. The more frequently the brand impression is triggered the more salient it will become in future.
When triggered, the immediate response will be an intuitive feeling about the brand, an instinctive, emotional attraction or rejection which then shapes people’s more considered reaction (if there is one). This intuitive response, the ‘feeling of rightness’, can be incredibly powerful, encouraging people to make shortcut decisions based on heuristics and habit. However, failing an easy choice people will deliberate on their choice, drawing on richer, deeper associations and feelings and justifications.
From a marketer’s perspective this implies that it is critical to understand what might trigger a person’s brand associations, not just in the context of a purchase decision but also in the wider context of everyday experience. Does the logo trigger immediate, positive associations? Is the colour scheme immediately associated with the brand? Is the shape one that is distinctive? Perceptions of popularity can have an important influence on people’s purchase decisions but first they have to recognize that they have seen the brand on the street, in the store, in people’s homes or online.
Every time the brand is recognized, or an association is triggered, it serves to strengthen the imprint in people’s minds. The stronger the imprint, the stronger the intuitive response, and the stronger the individual associations become. Repetition is not just important in advertising, every contact with the brand can help remind people of what the brand stands for.