“There is one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Aristotle

The brutal reality is that companies do not create brands, consumers do. Consumers give a brand value by forming views and expectations of it. Brands can increase or decrease that value by reinforcing consumer expectations through experiences, but more than ever, consumers have the power to influence, and often control the narrative through content, social media, and live discussions. 

For brands to be successful, it is crucial to have a deep understanding of the needs and perceptions of consumers. That comes from being able to analyze the emotional and rational needs of your audience via understanding their interactions with the products, services, and communities associated with your brand. As consumers communicate their perceptions, thoughts, and emotions freely via content creation and online communities, these perceptions often extend beyond just opinions of a brand to the customers that use it. 

How are perceptions formed?

As humans, we are looking for ways to obtain our identities through self-expression and habitual behaviors. Our values and aspirations define our habits. Accordingly, many brands find ways to sell themselves as matching these aspirations. But the association of these activities or aspirations can extend far beyond those intentionally communicated by the brands themselves.

For instance, when a customer purchases a motorcycle, they are also buying a community and the associations that come with it. From a brand perspective, they are buying desirable qualities like freedom, exclusivity, and adventure. However, bikers are also negatively stereotyped as being dangerous, daring, and having their own private outsider groups. Even though motorcycle communities have worked to change these perceptions for both the preservation of the lifestyle and for the love of the brands that the lifestyle encompasses, certain associations persist. 

A Biker’s jacket, by itself, can build a negative or positive perception for a brand based on personality, perspective, and preferences. Those perceptions can result in the narrowing of the brand’s target market, or the development of a new, and often unexpected, audience. Whether the connotations are perceived as negative or positive, customers are drawn to brands that represent who they are and what they aspire to achieve. It is up the brand to make sure that it represents their intended values as well. 

Regardless of what your brand does, it will have to balance its own values with the perceptions of those values, and the culture that subscribes to them. One of the best ways to do that, is to sustain positive associations. 

How brands can sustain positive associations

  1. Reach out to existing customers
    By building that bridge of trust and keeping them in the heart of your business, and listening closely to their needs, you can open up new perspectives on what to enhance with your product or services, and guarantee their loyalty longer. 
  2. Encourage them to create content
    Many brands are relying heavily on their target audience to create content due to trust built between them and their network. The probability of the content produced being genuine tends to be higher. As a result, it is more trusted by their audience.
  3. Incentivize online and offline events
    Post the pandemic, many brands tend to assume that their audience lives, eats, and breathes online. However, many of them are looking to build physical offline lives and meet others with shared interests. Balancing online and offline engagement will encourage customers to become a part of your brand.
  4. Create a narrative where your customer is the hero
    For a story to truly be successful, it needs a hero that the audience can identify with and root for. A story about a hero, in this case, your customer, that overcomes some sort of adversity will stay with your audience long after they have left your website or store. Think about some of the most memorable commercials you have seen, chances are they all had some sort of storyline with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Customers want to align themselves with a brand that they are proud to be represented by. The key is making sure that the perceptions of your brand are aligned with your actual brand values. That way, when your target audience engages with your brand they can feel good about using your product and being part of something bigger.

Cover image source: Imani Bahati