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Tessa Tinney

Why We Dig Brand Research

If you hang around our office when we’re in the heat of a branding assignment (and trust us, it gets heated), you’ll inevitably hear me ask the team, “What stage of ignorance are we in right now with this client?”

In good humor, somebody usually quips, “Uh oh. Rummie’s back,” in honor of Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous response to reporters one day: “…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

(Did you get all that?) I assure you, I don’t channel Mr. Rumsfeld out of affection. With my question, I’m actually borrowing from the epistemological theory of the Four Stages of Competence.

But in all seriousness, the “state of ignorance” question is a reality check in our research process. The question reminds us to be fully aware of what we don’t yet know and question whether we’ve questioned enough.

It’s easy to ask surface questions of clients and to take answers at face value. But we’re not doing our job as branders if we don’t dig deeper, question every assumption, and seek validity for every answer. We need to understand the universe our clients occupy. What are their consumers’ behaviors, patterns of belief, misconceptions, perceptions, cultural influences and norms? What are they worried about and passionate about?

We need to understand our clients’ business objectives and vision. And what economic and market forces are influencing their decisions. Research is key to our branding process. It’s our first step in branding and informs every detail —strategy, messaging structure, copy tone, color palette, photographic style — at every stage.

Watch my take on the research process and its role in branding:

Tessa Tinney on Brand Research