Posted 03.13.2024 by Josh Krakauer

Measuring Unaided Recall: Why You Should (and How)

Ever found yourself humming a jingle seemingly out of nowhere? Recommending a specific company again and again when someone asks for suggestions? That's unaided recall right there, and here you'll find all there is to know about it.

Ever found yourself humming a jingle seemingly out of nowhere? Recommending a specific company again and again when someone asks for suggestions?

There’s a reason why certain brands stick in your mind, and it goes beyond mere recognition. The ability to remember a specific brand or ad without prompting is called “unaided recall”, and it explains why some brands become unforgettable.

In this article, we’ll analyze the elements that transform brands from passing memories into market gold, and provide you with:

  • A definition of unaided recall.
  • The difference between unaided recall and top-of-mind awareness.
  • The difference between aided and unaided recall.
  • Unaided recall examples.
  • A method to test unaided recall.

In addition, we’ll discuss how to prevent a decline in unaided recall rates and share best practices to solve this situation as soon as possible.

What is unaided recall?

In the context of marketing, unaided recall refers to a metric that quantifies the rate and/or number of individuals who can recall a brand or product without being provided with any hints or suggestions.

This metric gauges the strength of a brand’s presence and advertising effectiveness, showcasing its ability to linger in the consciousness of the audience.

What is the difference between unaided recall and top-of-mind awareness?

Unaided recall and top-of-mind awareness are related concepts in marketing, but they differ in scope and focus.

While unaided recall measures the successful retrieval of brands and products without prompts or cues, top-of-mind awareness marks which brand is the first to come to mind when a person is asked about a particular category or industry.

By definition, only one brand within any given industry can achieve top-of-mind awareness in a consumer’s mind, while multiple brands can be recalled without aid. Of course, opinions differ on this concept.

What is the difference between unaided recall and aided recall?

The main difference between unaided and aided recall is that the latter relies on prompts or cues to assist individuals in remembering the brand or product.

In a way, you could say that unaided recall is organic or natural, while aided recall is assisted.

While unaided recall measures the consumer’s “memory depth”, aided recall is more often used to measure aspects related to branding, company values, and recent campaigns.

Both unaided and aided recall are valuable metrics in understanding brand awareness but offer insights into different aspects of consumer recognition.

3 examples of unaided recall

Unaided recall is context-dependent and often tied to specific questions or prompts.

As such, every example of unaided recall can be based on common questions that might trigger spontaneous brand recall. For instance:

  • Smartphones: Imagine asking individuals to name a smartphone brand without providing any specific options. This context allows for a natural and unaided recall response.
  • Soft drinks: In a scenario where people are prompted to think about soft drink brands without any specific cues, their responses reflect unaided recall, showcasing which brands naturally come to mind.
  • Fast food chains: Without guiding or suggesting options, individuals might be asked to recall fast-food chains. Their immediate responses indicate unaided recall, highlighting the brands ingrained in their memory.

In essence, unaided recall examples are influenced by the framing of questions or prompts.

These reflect the spontaneous brand awareness that individuals possess, showcasing the brands that naturally stand out in their memory without external assistance.

How to test unaided recall

While the key to testing unaided recall lies within the questions, having an established process to measure recall over time using the same methodology is useful too.

Here’s one you can use right away:

  • 1. Select the category: Choose a product or service category relevant to your brand or research. For example, if you’re testing a smartphone brand, focus on that category. You can go niche as well (i.e. best value smartphone brand), and test accordingly.
  • 2. Ask open-ended questions: Pose direct, open-ended questions without providing any cues. For instance, ask, “Can you name any brands of smartphones?”
  • 3. Record spontaneous responses: Note down the brands mentioned by respondents without any prompting. Capture the first brands that come to their minds naturally.
  • 4. Analyze and evaluate: Assess the frequency of brand mentions and identify which brands have strong unaided recall. Pay attention to brands that are consistently and spontaneously recalled by respondents.
  • 5. Repeat: To reduce the standard deviation and increase the quality of your data, repeat the process with different sets of respondents to gather a more comprehensive understanding of unaided recall within your target audience.

Bonus tip: When testing unaided recall, live sessions are less prone to error than using digital forms.

How so? Without supervision, any respondent can aid its recall effort (for example, by searching online while answering), and tamper with the value of results.

Tools for Measuring Unaided Recall

You have several options for tools that help measure brand recall from your advertising and marketing over time.

This category of technology is often referred to as Brand Tracking or Brand Awareness Tools.

For long-term and cross-channel brand campaign tracking, you can purchase surveys from third-party platforms that poll a panel audience. These audiences are compensated for sharing their opinion and answering questions.

Examples of third-party brand awareness tools for measuring recall include:

Note: Unaided recall should be measured with an open-ended answer field. If you’re reviewing a list of names, you’re aiding the consumer.

For channel-specific campaigns, like YouTube advertising, many platforms offer their brand recall surveys as a product for high-spending advertisers. For instance, Google offers Brand Lift surveys.

While these surveys offer a way to measure how well your ads are affecting brand awareness, they almost all fit into the category of aided brand recall.

What are other measurements of brand awareness?

Unaided brand recall is not the only way to measure awareness of your brand. Other brand measurements include:

  • Aided Brand Recall.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS).
  • Brand Perception Surveys.

Unaided recall decline: What can you do about it?

A decline in unaided recall is not a pretty picture for any brand and requires action. But where do you start?

  • Your distinctive brand assets and cues: According to X, for example, video ads with clear logo placement in the first 3 seconds drive 30% higher unaided recall.
  • Making memorable content: Whether through storytelling, visuals, or placements, campaigns that leave an impression are more likely to be remembered.
  • Reassess brand differentiation: Evaluate your brand positioning in the market based on brand tracking survey results. Ensure that you’re positioned in a way that distinguishes it from competitors in your category.
  • Invest in brand awareness campaigns: Launch brand awareness campaigns to reintroduce your brand to the market. Create wide-reaching ads that hit everyone in your buying category, and relay key messages that set your brand apart. Your goal is to prompt your brand when someone is making a purchase decision.

Wrapping up: Turning insight into impact

Now that you’re well-versed in the topic of unaided recall, we’d like to leave you with a final thought to play with:

Unaided recall is not just another metric, but one that serves as the heartbeat of brand resonance.

Absolute, unaided recognition of a brand is among the most ambitious goals a marketer can achieve.

Ready to elevate your brand’s unaided recall and leave a lasting imprint on your audience’s memory? Partner with us to transform your brand into an unforgettable force in the market!

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Josh Krakauer

Josh Krakauer is the CEO of Sculpt, that B2B social media agency you just discovered. Josh has launched social media campaigns for best-selling books, publicly-traded corporations, and early-stage startups. Josh works from Washington, DC, but still thinks Iowa City is the best city on earth.

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