Secondary Brand Associations – Leveraging and Types

Brand identity is a crucial component of marketing. Creating or building upon a brand’s identity can be a long and involved process, with varying methods and strategies. The leveraging of secondary brand associations is one such method, and it consists of linking your brand’s image, to some extent, to another entity’s image. By creating an association between the two entities, the brand is essentially taking on aspects of the other entity’s identity within the minds of its audience. This is not limited to new or developing brands. Strongly established brands may choose to engage in one or more types of secondary brand associations to grow even stronger or broaden their audience reach.

Let’s look at 7 main types of secondary associations that a brand may choose to leverage for the development or strengthening of their brand identity.

1. Companies

A brand and the company behind it are sometimes one single entity, but on other occasions, the company-brand relationship takes more of a parent-child structure. Nestlé, for example, is the parent company to a large number of brands, but those brands have different levels of associations with Nestlé in the public’s mind. This is because they have strategically determined that some brands would benefit more from having a stronger association with the parent company, while others would do better standing alone in their brand identity. Nescafé, on the one hand, has a direct reference within its name. On the other hand, Häagen-Dazs makes little to no reference to Nestlé, despite being their brand too.

2. Countries or other geographic areas

Some brands may choose to link their identity strongly to their country of origin, or even sometimes smaller geographic areas. Ikea, for example, links itself strongly to its origins in Switzerland, referencing it in the names of all their products. This helps in the process of differentiating it in the public’s perception.

3. Channels of distribution

Often, how a product reaches the customer adds certain aspects to the how they are perceived. This happens often in the beauty industry. A brand such as Covergirl may choose to make its products available in drugstores, an association that makes it be seen as affordable and accessible. By contrast, Anastasia Beverly Hills is sold in retailers such as Sephora, identifying it as a higher-quality brand in the eyes of beauty shoppers.

4. Other brands (Co-branding)

When two brands choose to co-brand, they are each aiming to tie their success together in the development of a new offering. A successful example of co-branding, also called a strategic partnership, is the development of the Doritos Locos Tacos at Taco Bell. The partnership between Doritos and Taco Bell in this endeavor resulted in a product that The Atlantic calls “the most successful in Taco Bell History.”

5. Characters

This type of secondary brand associations may be seen as a sub-category or co-branding, but rather than associate two brand names directly, one brand licenses the use of its characters to another brand. The most obvious and prolific character licensor is Disney. One of the many licensees of Disney characters is Lego, who has been granted permission to create sets utilizing Disney characters. Disney fans thus may begin to positively associate Lego to their interests and vice-versa.

6. Spokespersons

One of the most successful examples of associating a brand with a spokesperson is the partnership between Nike and Michael Jordan. Air Jordans have had such success that Jordan became a sub-brand under Nike.

7. Events

Brands will often sponsor events to leverage them to increase brand awareness and positive associations among the event’s attendees and viewers. The most prevalent type is the sponsorship of sporting events, often taking the shape of sponsoring the event’s parent company. One example is Enterprise Rent-a-Car’s sponsorship of the NHL. This helps build Enterprise’s positive brand image among hockey fans.


The building or strengthening of a brand image doesn’t have to be done in isolation. By leveraging secondary brand associations, this process can be streamlined to some extent as well as build positive relationships with other entities.

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