On any given day we will be confronted by up to 10,000 brands – brands that we will see and filter according to our familiarity with them, the associations we have with them and the context in which we see them.

For a moment, consider your morning routine – your iPhone wakes you up, you glance at the news – the Age, Huffington Post, The New Yorker, The Economist, BBC and ABC all stream at you. You wander into the kitchen and open the cupboard. WeetBix, Carman’s Muesli, Uncle Tobys Oats all beg to be picked. You open the fridge and your Rev is surrounded by the kids A2 and your partner’s almond milk, then the bathroom with all the cosmetics products followed by the wardrobe and the myriad of brands in that.

You get the picture – about 100 brands have winked at you before you make it out the door!

In today’s world we have but moments to be noticed. And when we do, it’s not enough to be just noticed. We need to reinforce a few key associations – associations we know will motivate the people we want to attract.

According to the Microsoft Attention Spans Research 2015, our attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013. It will undoubtedly be less now – some research suggesting it’s six seconds as we continue to live life, mobile.

For some perspective, a goldfish has a 9 second attention span!

In this 8 seconds or less attention span world, brands are shortcuts, signposts or lighthouses for us to make decisions by – each one has a number of associations good or bad depending on our beliefs and experience.

The art is to determine what associations are motivating to our audiences so that they buy us or use us – ideally to the point it becomes habitual.

Data, research and observation can help identify them, but we need to nurture them so that they grow strong in our minds.

Great brands have strong stories or narratives – stories that have an emotional and rational element to them that move you from one set of beliefs about the brand to a stronger set of beliefs.

I like to think of the core associations as the key themes in that story.

Consider Apple, a story we’re all familiar with. As it has evolved since the late 70’s from desktop to lap top to mobile to watches, it has consistently reinforced a number of associations that are fundamental in their story.

For me, three clear associations that they have entrenched are design (look great), creative (makes me feel creative) and usability (easy)

In determining and nurturing the associations it is important to understand the context in which your brand is used.

I want those universal associations I have with Apple in my professional life and in my personal life when I’m taking photos or filming my kids, or monitoring my health when exercising.

For a slightly different take on context, let’s look at wine, which I enjoy.

For a regular night at home with Jill, my wife, I might choose a Shiraz from the Heathcote region (my favourite) and more often than not choose Bress – good value, always excellent and has a nice label (ok so I like design and so does Jill).

But if it’s a special night at home, an anniversary night, I might lash out more to a sentimental favourite Châteauneuf-du-Pape – excellent wine, presents good value but at higher price point and again has nice label. It is also a wine we enjoyed on a special holiday in the Vaucluse region of France, so it has another layer of association for my partner and I.

You can see in both the examples I explore above, the context in which a brand is considered and used is very important It’s context, alongside key associations that lie at the heart of successful positioning.

It’s context — alongside key associations — that lie at the heart of successful positioning.

Let me finish with four questions to regularly challenge yourself with:

1. What is the context in which my audience will buy or use my brand?

2. Is my brand being noticed by my audience?

3. What are the three motivating associations I want people to have with my brand?

4. And finally, does my activity consistently build those key associations?

This article was provided by Michael Daddo, Managing Partner of the Shannon Company, not by AustralianSuper. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, who made their comments based on their experience and expertise