The Wellynn Group

Senior Level Strategy in Marketing, Public Affairs, and Communications

Knowing the Unknown Unknowns

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”  –Donald Rumsfeld

Of the adjectives you might use to describe former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, does “marketer” come to mind?

Probably not, and we’re not suggesting you call Mr. Rumsfeld for your marketing needs (that’s what The Wellynn Group is for).  But this comment from Mr. Rumsfeld (in which he was referring to Iraq) makes an important point about marketing and communications: good research is important.

Don’t Assume

We talk to many potential clients who are convinced they already know everything they need to about their organization’s stakeholders. Sometimes these clients are even correct.  More often, they are only partially correct and sometimes flat out wrong—and not always in a way you might think.  We have conducted research that showed customers actually thought better of the business than our clients supposed.

The point is, no matter how much you think you know about your customers, employees, or stakeholders, why wouldn’t you want to be sure–especially if you need to invest time and money into a marketing or communications campaign? 

Research is Easier Than Ever

The good news is research need not be expensive or time consuming.  The use of on-line survey panels, on-line communities, and email surveying has greatly reduced the cost of research and made it easier to have steady stream of measurable feedback from customers. Traditional research tools such as telephone surveys or focus groups also continue to provide valuable quantitative and qualitative information.

We encourage clients not to skimp on research, even if only to confirm or challenge current assumptions. To paraphrase Mr. Rumsfeld, you should know what you know, know what you don’t know, and try to identify the unknown unknowns.  That’s why research among your target audiences is so important. Investing even a little into research up front can protect you from misspending a lot later.