17 Mar

A brand: a network of associations

What is a brand? We use the definition of (emeritus) professor in Commercial Communication Giep Franzen: ‘a brand only exists in the brains of people. It is a network of associations between elements in the memory. These associations are the result of common, simultaneous processing of sensory stimuli in space and time, and of thinking concerning several phenomena in relation to each other.’

This definition makes it clear that a brand is not a physical, visual phenomenon. A brand exists in the head of people, for example customers. A brand consist of bits of information, opinions, experiences, interests, aims, emotions, pictures, and intentions in the memory of people.

Appraisal system in our brain

Our subconsciousness determines our choices, not our consciousness. In our subconsciousness exists an appraisal system. Components of this system are criteria that have been formed and refined during our life. They assess our experiences and create associations and expectations. They give grip in a complex, sometimes complex world of brands and messages. They let us interpret reality. They give direction to our choices and our buying behaviour.

By having insight in the association network and appraisal system of (potential) customers a brand can lay positive connections. And can anticipate on subconscious needs, ideals, emotions and intentions.

Be relevant and consistent and vary

The brain works at this process according to some simple algorithms. Tjaco Walvis (THEY) summarises these ‘ brain algorithms ’ and grounds on these three main rules for everyone who works with brands:


Both people and animals are better at remembering emotionally and personally important situations and objects. Associate the brand therefore with events/situations or products to which the target group attaches value. Due to this the brand Interpolis anticipates on the distrust of people in the small print of insurers. With the ‘crystal-clear ’-proposition the brand wants to remove mistrust. Moreover it translates this proposition into all touch points of the brand, also the interior of its offices. Employees and visitors recognise the open and transparent brand value in office concept ‘clearly working’ by Veldhoen + Company.


The more often a certain combination of brain cells is activated, the stronger the mutual connection becomes. Strong connections are essential for sustained memories. Try to be consistent and focused in your brand stories. An exclusive and repeating message increases the chance that the associated brain cells are frequently activated and that a brand name is ‘stored’ together with the desired associations in the memory. For example McDonald’s: the well-known yellow-red striped clown, the message ‘ I’m loving it ’, the happy meal, and the McDrive: everything is aimed at pleasant, brief/lightly experience of McDonald ’s fastfood.


People remember things better if they are physically and mentally challenged. Because of this their brain cells probably develop new connections more quickly. The more connections exist in the brain, the larger the chance that a memory is being activated. Therefore, develop a magnetic and exciting experience/campaign. Use for example several media types to ‘stimulate’ the target group (and several senses) continuously. That spaces play an important role is demonstrated by museums. In fact, stronger than at other sectors, even the retail market, they constantly recreate their spaces to new experience fields.

Reading tip: Managing the brand

This post was published in 2010.