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Get Your Brand Out of the Graveyard in 2021

December 18, 2020


Get Your Brand Out of the Graveyard in 2021

As we look forward to a new year, most of us are hard at work on our strategies. One pitfall we should be aware of this year is the so-called brand graveyard.

What is the graveyard and how do you end up there? More important, what the heck can you do to get out of it? It can be difficult to escape, especially since many Marketers don’t realize they’re even in the graveyard. But it is possible to get out and to start building towards a better brand.

So, What the Heck Is the Brand Graveyard?

First things first. What am I even talking about when I say “brand graveyard”?

This concept lets us model brands based on both recognition and recall.

Recognition is familiarity with a brand. People see the logo and they know it, or they hear the name and say, “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of them.” But they may not be able to tell you what the brand does or if they’ve ever bought anything from them. “Recognition” is that vague feeling of “I’ve seen this before,” but without being able to attach it to anything.

Recall is what Marketers want. When you have high recall, customers know the brand, but they also know who you are and what you do. They’re more likely to put you down on a shopping list or to call you up when they need a product or service.

As brands, we want to aim for high recognition and high recall. When these two things are paired, the brand is likely doing well. People recognize and recall it, so they’re more likely to call us up or pull our brand off the shelf when they’re at the store.

Low recall and low recognition are both issues—your brand is invisible. High recall and low recognition isn’t necessarily a problem. In fact, this is often associated with niche brands. The brand is unknown in the general population (low recognition). Yet loyal fans of the brand have very high recall.

The graveyard is the inverse problem: the brand has high recognition but low recall. As a result, people have a vague sense they’re familiar with the brand. They’re not going to book a demo or pick your product up, though.

We can look to the food industry for examples of brands with high recognition and low recall. People have a hard time placing these brands. They know they’ve heard of them, but they may not be able to place what the brand does without prompting.

Case in point: customers who walk into a grocery chain and ask for another chain’s house brand. They don’t recognize the two “brands” of stores as separate businesses! They’re confused about why the one store doesn’t carry the other company’s products. The customer’s familiar enough with both stores—they recognize the brand—but their recall is a bit spotty.

How about the Canadian brand Saputo? You’ve probably heard the name. You might have seen a truck driving around with their logo, making deliveries to your local grocery store. But do you know what this brand does?

People are often surprised to learn they’re a Quebec-based food giant that owns many other brands. They’re big in the dairy sector, with plenty of brands of cheeses and other milk products.

But if I asked you what brands Saputo owns or if you’ve ever bought a product from Saputo, you might not be able to tell me! You know their logo, their name—but you don’t know exactly what they do.

How Do You Know If You’re in the Graveyard?

It’s pretty easy for brands to discover if they’ve wandered into graveyard territory. Ask people two questions:

1.      Do you recognize this brand? (You can show them your name/logo/etc.)

2.      Do you know what the brand does, or have you ever bought anything from them?

You can follow up by asking customers who say “yes” to question #2 for specifics. You might be surprised to find that most customers are just guessing! They might think they’ve bought something from you. They may be conflating your brand with someone else.

So, if you get a lot of people saying they’re familiar with your brand, but they can’t tell you what you do—you’re in the graveyard.

Keep in mind that this is one test you don’t want to run on your loyal customers! They know who you are and they know exactly what you do. Asking them won’t give you a clear indication of if you’re in the brand graveyard or not.

Getting Out of the Graveyard

So, now we know what the brand graveyard is and even how to tell if we’re in it. The bigger question: how the heck do we get out of it?

It’s a challenging question, even for experienced Marketers. The problem with the graveyard is that familiarity acts as a barrier to recall. People recognize the brand, so they think they know all about it! They tune out stories, marketing materials, and more, because they think they already know.

Brand recognition and visibility tactics also aren’t the goal here. We want to improve recall, not recognition. So, how do we do that?

The best way is to focus on our unique selling proposition (USP). Those usually speak to our brand essence—our purpose. What is our brand all about?

To find that, we can talk to our loyal customers. Why do they buy from us? Moreover, whatdo they buy from us that they can’t get from any of our competitors?

That’s the USP. A brand like Saputo can move out of the “graveyard” by focusing on why people buy from them—great products, high quality, a suite of brands consumers trust. Saputo owns Alexis de Portneuf, Armstrong cheeses, and even distributes Baileys Coffee Creamer in Canada, among others.

By focusing on this aspect of the brand—not the logo, not the name—we seek to build relationships with customers. And relationships help build recall. Think about it: you might recognize someone in the crowd, but you don’t know their name or where you know them from. If you’ve interacted with this person at the grocery store on a regular basis, you recallthem—“hey, I know you! You’re the one who always knows where everything is!”

That’s brand recall over recognition. Putting the focus on building relationships versus just getting people to “know” our name is the key.

And that starts with knowing our purpose, why people choose us. So remember—always start with the why!


Here to inspire!

I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing is inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles I have written to inspire others.

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