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The OCR Glossary

Corporate Associations

Tom J. Brown

The term corporate associations is a general term used for all of the information that an individual may hold in memory about a particular company. Such mental associations may include beliefs and feelings about a wide variety of corporate attributes (e.g., its product/service categories, employees, degree of social responsibility, location, size, and promotional efforts) as well as an overall evaluation of, or attitude toward, the company. The individuals who hold these corporate associations may belong to any number of audiences or stakeholder groups, such as customers, employees, the general public, regulators, and suppliers. Corporate associations, as a general term, encompasses a wide variety of concepts, including identity and reputation, as detailed in this entry.

Corporate Associations as Mental Associations

The term corporate associations is based on the idea of mental associations as represented in traditional associative network memory models. It is similar in meaning to brand associations, except that the focal entity is a company or organization rather than a product or service brand. In an associative network memory model, particular pieces of information (i.e., associations, broadly speaking) are stored as nodes in a semantic network. These nodes are activated (i.e., remembered) when triggered by an external stimulus (e.g., a friend mentions the name of the company during a conversation; a consumer sees an online advertisement for a company) or when sufficient activation is spread to the node from other nodes that are connected to it in the semantic network (e.g., thinking about a company in an industry causes one to think about another company in the same industry). All of the information that is stored in memory about a focal company is presumed to be linked together. The linkages among the corporate associations may be weaker or stronger depending on how and when the linkages were learned by the individual. The company’s name or logo is a key corporate association that can serve as an anchor for the network of corporate associations.

Corporate Associations and Related Concepts

The term corporate associations was initially used because traditional labels for corporate knowledge (e.g., identity, reputation, and image) had taken on a variety of different meanings over time. Recent years, however, have seen substantial progress with respect to construct definitions and labels. For any individual (or stakeholder group, when aggregated across individuals within the group), there are differing levels of meaningfulness across all of the corporate associations for a company. Some corporate associations are central to how an individual understands an organization, while others are much less important. For organizational members (e.g., employees), the set of key corporate associations is often referred to as the company’s identity. For individuals who are outside the organization (e.g., consumers or other categories of individuals), the set of key corporate associations might best be labeled the company’s reputation.

Corporate associations apply to the study of corporate reputation in three general ways: (1) reputation as familiarity with a company or organization (e.g., “I am aware that the XYZ Company exists”), (2) reputation as a set of beliefs about a company (e.g., “The XYZ Company has a reputation for product innovation”), and (3) reputation as a summary judgment about a company (e.g., “The XYZ Company has a very favorable reputation”). When an individual encounters a stimulus or cue representing some company, the associated node in the memory is activated, causing the individual to recognize or recall the company. If no corporate associations exist for the company or if the individual cannot retrieve any information that was previously stored, then there is no familiarity with the company. Beliefs about a company are key components of corporate associations that are stored in memory. Finally, the corporate evaluation serves as a summary evaluative judgment about the company and is also stored in memory.

General Categories of Corporate Associations

Corporate associations exist in the minds of individuals. As such, there is the potential for an idiosyncratic element in the corporate associations to be held by a particular individual about a particular company. Still, it is reasonable to expect that similar types of individuals (e.g., employees, customers) may share common categories of corporate associations. For example, an organization’s employees are likely to hold corporate associations about the company as an employer, the work environment, the degree of corporate social responsibility, and so on.

A company’s prospective and current customers are also likely to possess common categories of corporate associations. Figure 1 presents a proposed taxonomy for some of the commonly held types of corporate associations for this important stakeholder group. Although this is a greatly simplified picture of the types of corporate information that might be held in memory, note that both attribute-level information and an overall summary judgment can be stored in memory. The attribute associations can include particular beliefs or knowledge about some aspect of the company as well as emotions experienced and stored with the particular attributes. As shown in Figure 1, one general categorization of attribute-level customer corporate associations has six categories: (1) corporate social responsibility, (2) corporate ability and expertise, (3) corporate demographics, (4) marketing efforts, (5) product associations, and (6) other associations. The following sections briefly describe these categories.

Figure 1 A General Taxonomy of Consumer-Based Corporate Associations

Corporate Social Responsibility

Consumers care about the degree to which companies live up to their perceived societal responsibilities in areas such as treatment of the natural environment, involvement in local communities, and care for employee welfare. Sometimes potential and current customers learn about a company’s (mis)behavior in these areas through the company’s communications efforts (e.g., advertising, website); sometimes they learn about it through other sources (e.g., word of mouth, media reports).

Corporate Ability and Expertise

A second category of corporate associations relates to perceptions of a company’s expertise in developing, producing, and delivering products and services, or the degree to which it possesses and implements its core competencies. Although brand associations for specific products and services produced by a company can influence perceptions of corporate ability, corporate ability and expertise refer to mental associations about the company (e.g., a company’s innovation, logistical expertise), not about the particular products and services. In addition, general perceptions of the success of the company (e.g., the belief that the company is an industry leader) fall into this category.

Corporate Demographics

Many of the things that prospective and current customers know about a company or organization fall into the general category of demographics. For example, the perceived size of the company, general perceptions of the age of the company, the industries in which the company operates, the geographic markets within which the company operates, the location of the company’s headquarters, and similar corporate associations fall into this category.

Marketing Efforts

Sometimes consumers develop corporate associations related to a company’s marketing efforts. For example, a company might become known for especially clever advertising campaigns or for selling its products only through certain types of exclusive retailers. Not all corporate associations for marketing efforts are positive, however. Some companies, for instance, may become known for their aggressive salespeople or for unethical attempts to trick people into purchasing their products and services.

Product Associations

One key set of corporate associations for almost every company is the products or services offered by the company. In fact, for many companies, the products and services that they produce may be about the only things that prospective and current customers know about or connect to the company. Note, however, that specific brand associations for the products and services (e.g., price, quality, packaging, wait time for a service) are technically secondary associations to the company itself. That is, knowledge that certain products and services are offered by a company are primary associations to the company; specific brand associations are primary associations to the product or service offering but secondary associations to the company. From an associative network memory model perspective, there will be two semantic memory networks, one representing the company and the other representing a product offered by the company. Although brand associations may activate—or be activated by—specific corporate associations, the activation would typically spread through the node that identifies the product and is connected to the company network.

Other Associations

Many specific things that consumers know about companies do not necessarily fall into one of these categories of corporate associations. As noted, corporate associations exist at the individual level, and as a result, each individual has a unique set of corporate associations. Some of these other associations may arise from particular interactions with the company or other sources.

Once an individual has formed an evaluation of a company, that evaluation can be stored in memory alongside other corporate associations. Attitudes are automatically called into working memory when the attitude object is activated. Consequently, when an individual encounters a stimulus that triggers activation of the node representing the company name or brand, his or her attitude toward the company will normally be triggered as well.

Brown, T. J. (1998). Corporate associations in marketing: Antecedents and consequences. Corporate Reputation Review, 1(3), 215–233. doi:

Brown, T. J., & Dacin, P. A. (1997). The company and the product: Corporate associations and consumer product responses. Journal of Marketing, 61(1), 68–84. doi:

Brown, T. J., Dacin, P. A., Pratt, M. G., & Whetten, D. A. (2006). Identity, intended image, construed image, and reputation: An interdisciplinary framework and suggested terminology. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 34(2), 99–106. doi:

Einwiller, S. A. (2013). Corporate attributes and associations. In C. E. Carroll (Ed.), The handbook of communication and corporate reputation (pp. 291–305). Oxford: Blackwell.

Keller, K. L. (1993). Conceptualizing, measuring, and managing customer-based brand equity. Journal of Marketing, 57, 1–22. doi:

Lange, D., Lee, P. M., & Dai, Y. (2011). Organizational reputation: A review. Journal of Management, 37(1), 153–184. doi:

See Also

Action and Performance; Attribution Theory; Brand; Capability Reputation; Corporate Communication; Corporate Identity; Expertise; Marketing; Organizational Demographics; Organizational Identity; Reputation, Dimensions of; Visual Identity

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