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Word association game: What do people think of your brand?

Word association game: What do people think of your brand?

What does your brand mean to you? What does it mean to your consumers? Are they the same?

I had lunch recently with a friend and former colleague, and we were discussing the difficulty he’s having at his new company as they’re going through something of a reinvention of what their brand means in the marketplace.

In short, his company’s story is one thing internally and something completely different externally.

Both are good, but that they’re completely misaligned is making business difficult. They’re getting pitched opportunities they don’t want, and they’re being turned down for the opportunities they do want. He admitted his company’s marketing team, on which he now works, was partially at fault because the incorrect perception about the company has been known for a while and the company hasn’t done much to change those perceptions about the brand. It stems from, he said, the company changing directions a few years ago and then doing nothing to let the marketplace know what they were doing.

About halfway through lunch, he looked at me and said, “It’s like if Lexus woke up one day and decided they wanted to make affordable cars for the lower middle class, and then carried on business as usual and didn’t tell anyone about it.”

It’s kind of Brand Management 101, I replied, you have to at least know two things: what you want your brand to mean, and what people *think* your brand means.

“Brands are not just what they say they are. Brands are what consumers say they are,” writes SolveMedia CEO Ari Jacoby in Forbes article A Common Sense Approach To Measuring Brand Perception.

Toward the end of lunch we decided to play a game. I pulled out my notebook and wrote down the first 20 car brands I could come up with. I then told him to rattle off the first thing that came to mind when he thought of the brand. I also told him he could repeat his answers in the case that two of the brands made him think of the same thing. He ended up not doing that.

See below his answers (and also what happens to be the first 20 car brands that I could come up with):

  • Audi – Classy.
  • BMW – Performance.
  • Buick – Grandparents.
  • Chevrolet – America.
  • Dodge – Traditional.
  • Ford – Mike Rowe.
  • Honda – Dependable.
  • Hyundai – Cheap.
  • Jaguar – Style.
  • Jeep – Off road.
  • Lexus – Luxury.
  • Nissan – Affordable.
  • Mazda – Boring.
  • Mercedes – Refined.
  • Porsche – Speedy.
  • Subaru – Granola.
  • Tesla – Future.
  • Toyota – Plain.
  • Volkswagen – Engineering.
  • Volvo – Safe.

Why did I pick the auto industry? Partly because of his example from earlier in the conversation, and also because it couldn’t be an industry further from what he does for a living so I figured he probably doesn’t think about it a lot.

I think, by and large, brand representatives would be happy with my friend’s perception of their brand (with a few exceptions in there: Buick, Hyundai, Mazda and Toyota). I also think most would at least understand where that perception comes from.

We both found it quite interesting that for most brands, he came up with a descriptive word but Ford led him to first think of pitchman Mike Rowe.

Another answer that stood out was his “America” response to Chevrolet.

“It’s probably because the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Chevy is the Camaro, and and I think of that as an American muscle car,” he said.

So how important is it that you know the perception of your brand, especially when you’re the one trying to market that brand? In short, very.

Obviously, the big-time auto brands mentioned earlier by and large have a pretty good handle on things, as do most companies that size. But what if you work for, or run, a much smaller business? What’s a boutique brand manager to do?

I go back to Jacoby’s article in Forbes, specifically his section after the jump on page 2 Re-think the Definition of Research.

Sure, big-time and more scientific market research might be the way to go for the Fortune 500. But for those working at smaller companies who have to be more nimble, you might have to buck tradition sometimes.

There are many resources out there for do-it-yourself marketers. See what’s out there, and do what you can. It’s better than doing nothing at all.

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