Wouldn’t you love to have a solid, reliable map of where your brand sits in relation to its competitors in your consumer’s subconscious? Of course, it’s the foundation of any marketing strategy – a strategy designed to get you from A to B. The reality is, if you don’t know ‘A’, you don’t know where you’re going. And, as the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.

Implicitly fragile

Implicit association has been useful in helping us understand mental models for groups of people. In the Pantheon of psychological research it is relatively new (2003). As a useful addition to social understanding it’s very helpful – racism, sexism, many of the ‘big boulder’ questions of society are relatively easy to measure mostly because the words and their antonyms are fairly clear.

For branding and marketing it’s a little more anchorless. One would often perform qual research to try and understand the differences between the target brand and its competitors, and scribe the territory – both positive and negative – to get an idea of the width, height, and depth of mental model’s out there. This is fine, but a challenge is in its lack of replicability across brands – and across countries – as you’d have to do the qual again. And no doubt the mental models scribed will be different. And even then, one cannot be sure that the terms described by the qual group are predictive of consistent differences – they may just be small-batch fragile differences appearing within the group (which we all try to account for, but natch they get through).


This has been a recurring problem until Geuens came along with a brand personality study (Brand Personality Dimensions, 2007, 2009). Now we have a list of twelve terms which are solid and replicable – tested on 12,789 respondents on 193 brands and divined from over 40 initial word-terms. It’s reliable for within- and across-brand, category, and respondent comparisons, and shows high test–retest reliability, and cross-cultural validity (in the US and nine other European countries: France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey).


Marrying a reliable, consistent measure of brands with a way of divining the implicit associations consumers’ make is a very powerful combination that makes mapping brands’ strengths and weaknesses versus competitors easy. And replicable.

A strategic journey from A to B so much more easier now we know where ‘A’ is. In fact, it’s reliably, and repeatedly easier – what a relief.


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