Branding is such a fundamental part of marketing that it is worth understanding it completely. In this tutorial on branding, we discuss the basics. In other tutorials we extend these basics to look more in-depth at other important aspects of branding.


The first idea when thinking about brands and branding is to understand what is a "brand concept". In essence, a brand is a set of associations that are linked to a brand, a division, or company. These associations reside in the memory of customers. These associations help customers understand what the brand or company is, why it is potentially relevant to them, how it is different or similar to other products made by the company, and how it is similar or different from competitor’s products.


Within a company there are different levels of brand concepts, and they are all inter-related. To see this, consider the Learning Company and their various product lines in the figure below.

At the highest, company level, are meanings associated with the company (psychologists call this the "super-ordinate meaning"). The products of companies are often structured into product lines, and the Learning Company has two of these basic product lines. Brand names can be associated with these product lines. Finally, meaning can be associated with specific brands.



You might wonder where these associations come from. In fact, they come from various actions of the firm, including (but not limited to) the advertising and general media communications. But they also come from distribution (e.g., shelf location can convey a good product by a big seller), sales promotions (e.g., affordable), and product characteristics (including the name, packaging, and logo). Consumers' usage of these brands, and information about the brands from the press, opinion leaders, and word of mouth also affect the nature of these associations.

Researchers have various ways to uncover these brand associations. They might, for example, try to find out whether the brand concept is active in customer’s memory by using techniques of brand name recall or recognition. Other techniques like asking consumers to recall the associations they link to the brand or asking them to think of the brand as a person and describe what kind of person it would be would be examples of techniques designed to get at what specific associations are salient in consumers' minds and hence strongly linked to the brand name.


When thinking about extending a brand or company name to a novel product category (e.g., Let's say Hi-C, known for its fruit drink, decides to make Hi-C hard candies), one of the things managers need to think about is whether consumers will accept this new brand based on the name it has. The central concept here is the extent to which consumers perceive a fit between the original brand concept and the new product. Indeed, consumers make inferences about the new brand based on the name it has, and if the name doesn't fit the product, consumers wont' think the brand is very good. The Hi-C name may be perceived to fit well with hard candies because the name evokes associations (fruity, sweet, fun), that should be relevant and desirable in hard candies. Read the tutorial on Brand Extensions for a more in-depth view of this subject.

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image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is the CEO and founder of MarketingProfs. He's also a longtime marketing professor and mentor at the University of Southern California, where he leads Mindful USC, its mindfulness center.