How Brand Associations Work as Memory Cues

How Brand Associations Work as Memory Cues

Illustrated image of a brain behind text that reads: Brands exist in consumers minds as a web of associations they've learned and connected to the brand in their memories

Your brand isn’t just a name or logo. It’s also the sum of everything customers think about when they think about your brand. Research shows that brands exist as a web of cognitive associations. These are cues that consumers have learned and connected to your brand in their memories. Each time they encounter your brand, their experience can create or reinforce these memories. Refreshing brand associations can make your brand more likely to come to mind in buying situations.

Brand associations might come from a variety of cues, including:

  • Attributes of your product or service
  • Customer benefits
  • Relative price
  • The geographic area you serve
  • Your competitors
  • Target customers
  • The intended use or application, and more.

Examples of brand associations are all around us. If you’re familiar with the brands below, do the associations here also seem familiar to you?

  • Snickers = satisfying, snack
  • Buc-ees = Texas, road trip 
  • Volvo = safety

If so, it’s not by chance. These companies consistently and intentionally communicate and reinforce what they want their brand to stand for in your mind.

To build your brand, conduct market research to understand the mix of positive and negative brand associations in customers’ minds today. Then, define an authentic, relevant, and differentiated brand strategy. Most importantly, communicate the short list of associations you want your brand to stand for going forward. And use your brand identity and distinctive brand assets in every communication.

Read more about managing brands in the Harvard Business Review article, “Understanding Brands” by Anat Keinan and Jill Avery.