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Role of Associations In Building Brand Perceptions

Harsh Pamnani & Rohit Kapoor When you find brands with similar features, prices, & advertising then how do you choose a brand over others? Mostly you buy based on the reputation of the brand. Sometimes, you even buy products of better brands at higher prices though they serve the same utility served by lesser priced brands.

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Most of the times, we don't realize why certain brands are more reputed than others, who make them more popular and credible, it's just that we know somehow that a few brands are popular & reputed and we feel safe & proud in buying their products and services. Advertising is one of the most visible marketing initiatives and many people have misconception that advertising creates reputation of brands. But there are many initiatives that are invisible to customers and play prominent role in establishing reputation of a brand slowly and softly.

Perceptions about a brand's image are created by its associations that make similar products appear different to customers. We don't view a brand in isolation; we view it along with its associations such as:

  • Who is talking about this brand?
  • Who is using this brand?
  • Where this brand is getting sold?
  • Who is the investor in this company?
  • Who are the top executives of this company?
  • Which other popular products this brand has?
  • What is the exclusivity of this brand?
  • Who are alliance partners of this company?
  • What is the place of origin of this brand?

Let's understand these factors one by one:

Who is talking about this brand? - There are people who are admired for their credibility, whose word of mouth matters a lot, and whose advices make it easier for us to take important decisions. These people are called influencers. A few examples of such people are: Business Consultants, Venture Capitalists, Founders & CXOs, Existing Customers, Thought Leaders, Journalists, Professors, Industry Analysts, Conference Organizers, Senior Government Officials, Politicians, Bloggers, Salesmen, Celebrities, Family Members, and Friends.

Different influencers have different credibility, reach, and authority in a particular field and according to relevance in a particular field, these influencers could be termed as Super Influencers, who influences Influencers, who influences Mini Influencers, who influences Micro Influencers and so on and eventually perception travels to customers. Most important thing is that it is difficult to gain trust of genuine influencers at any level and to gain their trust, product has to be really good. Genuine influencers talk only about good products as in case they appreciate any wrong product then people could think that they have any vested interest and then influencers' credibility gets affected.

Before the launch of Mac, Apple gave product samples to many influential Americans to use and comment. It trained thousands of dealer salespeople, and gave presentations to industry analysts. Many professors give examples of Apple in their classes, many publications have published articles on Apple's story and many authors have written books on Steve Jobs. All these influencers have played a very important role in creating perception about Apple.

Who is using this brand? - Let us imagine that you go to an industry conference and you meet a few senior executives, who are using a particular brand. They tell you that it's a good brand and they are using it because their CEOs use this brand. This conversation would create a perception in your mind that this particular brand is premium and used by reputed people in their respective fields.

Where this brand is getting sold? - The channel through which a brand reaches to customers matters a lot. Depending on whether you buy a brand from road side market, medical store, super market, or premium store, your perception about a brand and its credibility would be different. You may negotiate and prefer to pay low price for a brand available with road side vendors, but you may not mind paying higher price for a brand available at a premium store.

Who is the investor in this company? - Credibility of investor is more important than the amount of money he puts into the business. Even if a company has raised small amount of money from a successful & known business leader from the similar industry, its perception in the eyes of industry watchers would be better as compared to a company which may have raised more amount of money from some unknown investor in the industry.

Who are the top executives of this company? - If a company's top executives have strong reputation, are known for being associated with a few successful & popular brands, are mentioned by influencers for their work, etc. then customers perceive positive about using brands from that company.

Which other popular products this brand has? - If a brand is market leader in one category, let's say milk then it would be easier for people to trust the brand in other milk related products such as butter, cheese, ice creams etc. At the same time, if a market leader in milk products tries to enter into unrelated industry such as technology or fashion then it would not get similar advantage as of the industry for which it is known.

What is the exclusivity of this brand? - Exclusivity of a brand makes it desirable & available for a selective customer segment, and aspirational & scarce for masses. Though multiple Business Schools including many new IIMs have opened up in the country, but IIM Ahmedabad is known for selecting top candidates and is consistently ranked as one of the top business schools in the country. Though there are multiple car brands in the world, but brands such as BMW, Ferrari, and Audi etc. are known for being expensive and affordable by rich people. Though conferences for business and thought leaders happen all over the world, but conferences such as World Economic Forum and TED are known for being invitations & applications based and are attended by top executives in their respective fields.

Who are alliance partners of this company? - If a company has alliances with very successful and popular companies then its credibility increases in the minds of customers. Microsoft was a startup started by two college dropouts - Bill Gates & Paul Allen, but in 1980, when IBM decided to use an operating system from Microsoft, its credibility shot up in the software industry.

Which is the place of origin of this brand? - Place of origin creates an important differentiation factor. For different categories, customers prefer brands from different places such as Automobiles from Germany and Japan, Electronics from Japan and USA, Fashion from USA and Italy, Chocolates and Watches from Switzerland, Ayurveda from India etc.

A century ago, there were very few brands, a decade ago there were many brands and now a days, every year uncountable brands are getting launched and competition in every category has become intense. Technologies are changing rapidly and innovations are changing dynamics of almost all the businesses. In such environment, brands can't survive on the basis of better discounts, features and advertising. Marketers have to figure out powerful associations that could help in building brands' credibility and make them visible in customers' minds.

Harsh Pamnani is former Senior Manager of TiE Mumbai and an alumnus of XLRI Jamshedpur, and Rohit Kapoor is Associate Professor at IIM Indore and an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Harsh Pamnani

The author is a Marketer & Author. He is an alumnus of XLRI, Jamshedpur

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Rohit Kapoor

The author is Associate Professor at IIM Indore and an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad.

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