Exploring the difference between brand recognition and brand recall


Have you ever wondered how strong brands survive, what makes them different than others? What is good brand awareness? How to distinguish your brand from millions of others?

If you can connect the logo of Nike with Just do it, that is brand recognition, but brand recall would be that when we are driving to the mall and we want to buy shoes, we instantly think about Nike and the model Air Max for example.

Most of the smart, innovative companies, realize the importance of having a strong brand. A strong brand helps a company grow, obtain new customers, as well as retain the old ones. It increases the company’s competitive advantage. But now all companies realize the necessity to have a strong brand.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of a consumer, WHICH brands attract us, which brands do we remember, when we hear a certain song, melody or see a specific advertisement. What distinguishes a good brand vs a not so good one. We have all heard of brand awareness, which consists out of several factors, two of them being brand recognition and brand recall. In this article, I will go into details what separates them and what is the best position for a company. Is it good to have a strong brand recall or recognition?

First of all we have to clear out some definitions like what a brand is, what kind of role it has, what is brand knowledge and brand awareness and finally of course, what is brand recall and brand recognition. So what is a brand? According to Kotler & Keller (2012, page 241): “The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors.” So now that we know what brand really is, we can try to better understand what the role of brands is. According to Kotler & Keller (2012, page 242): “brands identify the source or maker of a product and allow consumers- either individuals or organizations- to assign responsibility for its performance to a particular manufacturer or distributor.” Therefore, it is very important that companies work on their brands and try to somehow get them into consumers evoked set. Companies try to get as many loyal consumers as they can, because a loyal consumer is a long-term consumer that is faithful to your brand. Some of the brands like Harley Davidson also have a subculture of very loyal consumers. Next term I would like to clarify is the term brand knowledge, which according to Kotler & Keller (2012, page 244) means: all the thoughts, feelings, images, experiences, and beliefs associated with the brand. That is why, all the knowledge or interactions, tangible or intangible the consumer has with the brand is called brand knowledge.

Figure 1: The brand knowledge pyramid

Source: Chandon Pierre, 2004, Note on Brand Audit: How to Measure Brand Awareness, Brand Image, Brand Equity and Brand Value

From Figure 1, we can see the knowledge pyramid, which shows us that the first phase in the pyramid is, brand awareness depth and breadth. We need to deepen and broaden the brand awareness. But what does the term brand awareness mean?  “Brand awareness is the probability that consumers are familiar about the life and availability of the product. It is the degree to which consumers precisely associate the brand with the specific product. Brand awareness includes both brand recognition as well as brand recall (What is Brand Awareness, 2011).” Also according to (2.1.4. Brand awareness, 2001): “Awareness reflects earlier experiences and affects future perceptions, attitude and behaviour.” From Figure 2, we can also see that brand awareness, consists of several other factors and that everything relates to each other. Brand knowledge is connected to brand awareness, which is connected to brand recall and brand recognition.

Figure 2: Brand equity

Source: Chieng Fayrene Y.L. & Goi Chai Lee, 2011, Customers-based brand equity: A literature review

We have several techniques a researcher might use, to see if the consumer’s memory has any traces of brand recall or brand recognition:

  • show respondents the advertisement and ask straight out if they remember it;
  • remove the branding from the commercial, show it to respondents and then ask them to name the brand;
  • describe the commercial to the respondents, omitting to mention the brand, and then ask them if they have seen it, and what brand it is for;
  •  ask the respondents if they remember seeing a commercial for brand A;
  • ask the respondents to describe the most recent commercial for brand A


According to Aaker (Building strong brands, 1996): Recognition reflects familiarity gained from consumer’s past exposure and does not necessarily involve remembering where the consumer encounters the brand before, or why it differs from other brands. The main thing is that the consumer’s remember the past experience with the brand. According to research in psychology, recognition can result in more positive feelings towards almost anything, whether it is music, people, words, or different brands.  There was also a study done, to show how important brand recognition really is. Respondents were offered three different samples of peanut butter. One of these samples was an unnamed and it was preferred by 70% of all blind tests. But when they give people to choose between this peanut butter and a peanut butter that had a label on it, exposing the brand, 73% of the respondents selected the brand-name. This shows us how important brand recognition really is. The respondents must have recognized the brand. Familiarity with the brand plays a huge role in this part. Therefore, when consumers see a brand and remember that they have seen it before, the figure, because the company is spending money on advertising this brand, it must be good, because they would not advertise bad products. In Appendix 4, we can see which steps to take to improve brand recognition.

According to Dew and Kwon (2010): “Brand recognition refers to the consumer’s ability to verify previous exposure to the brand when the brand is given as a cue.”

Brand recognition is also sometimes referred as aided recall – and as a subset of brand recall. For example, if a product name can be associated with a certain logo, attribute or tagline (safety and Volvo; “Just do it” – Nike) we have brand recognition (Brand recognition, 2011).


For example, if we take a brand McDonalds, it is said to have recall, if it comes to consumers’ minds when its product class, which would be in this case, fast food company, is mentioned. Whether or not a consumer recalls your brand can be very important, if he will then buy your product, as well as getting on a shopping list of that customer.

Figure 3: The Graveyard model

Source: Brand awareness, 2011

From Figure 3, we can see the Graveyard model, which has brands in a product class that are plotted on recognition versus recall graph. We could make an example the recall and recognition of each of twenty automobile brands. These could be measured, and the measurements used to position each brand on the graph. But we need to be careful, because brands tend to follow the curve line. We can find two exceptions.

The first one is the healthy niche brands, where the brand has relatively little overall recognition among all the mass of consumers, but on the other hand has a very high recall among the loyal group of their key users. In this exception the low recognition is not indicative of poor performance. It is of course possible that a healthy niche player expands its recognition and thus its customer base. The second exception is the graveyard. We can see it in the upper-left hand corner. Here we have brands with high recognition but low recall. Consumers know about the brand, but it doesn’t come to mind when they consider purchase (Aaker, 1996, Building strong brands).

According to Dew and Kwon (2010): “brand recall occurs when the brand name is evoked by memory given a cue such as a product category name (When you think of clothing, what brands come to mind?).

According to some researches, we have unaided and aided recall. An example of an aided recall question would be “Do you know of the “Honda” brand?” But companies want the unaided recall, the first recalled brand. This is often also called the top of mind. (Brand recall, 2011).


In this part I will explain the difference between brand recall and brand recognition and what they really mean. If we take another look at Figure 3, the Graveyard model, we can see several things. First, high recognition is not necessarily the mark of a strong brand. This can be a big problem for the marketer, especially, when consumers feel that they know the brand. In several cases they may have little interest in listening to a new story about the already familiar brand. On the other hand, a strong recall is really good to have, because this tells us that consumer, when he is being asked about a product class, always and first thinks about our product. With high recall, brand enjoys a relatively high superiority in comparison to other brands, but it is true that it is easier to recognize the brand rather than to recall it.

When we compare both and analyze them, we can see that recall is considered to have a higher level of memory performance. For example, if a consumer is able to recall a brand outside of a store, when he is presented with a product category, then he can most surely recognize the brand, when he is exposed to it in a store.

We want consumers to think about our brand when they are thinking about the category, before they go to the store.

Especially for online stores and services, generally recall is needed first, which is why the advertising for different shopping websites focuses a lot on their names and website addresses (Brand recognition v Brand recall, 2011).

High recall indicates stronger brand position in the mind of the consumer. At a higher level, we have the recall. And the recalled brand is the brand, which comes first to the mind (Brand Recall – A Brand Building Concept, 2011).

In my opinion brand recognition and brand recall are important, but it is better to have a high recall and be a niche brand, than to have a high recognition and be a graveyard. Because if we have a high recall, it also means that consumers will first think about our product, for example Audi or Honda. But with recognition, we know that we have seen this brand before, but it is not important where. Important is that we are a little familiar with it. Therefore, with brand recognition, we would remember that we encounter a certain brand, but with brand recall, if somebody would ask us, What is your favourite car, we would instantly answer Honda.

To conclude, if you can connect logo of Nike with Just do it, that is brand recognition, but brand recall would be that when we are driving to the mall and we want to buy shoes, we instantly think about Nike and the model Air Max for example.


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Mark Kalin

Achiever, Competition, Futuristic, Maximizer, Significance