Storytelling is a key asset to all industries, and here in the insights industry, we are slowly discovering the full extent to which storytelling can enhance our efforts in all areas of market research.
More specifically, insight teams are experimenting and finding the best ways to use storytelling techniques to boost insight activation and cultivate better reports by telling the right stories in the right way for the right stakeholders.
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Importance of Storytelling in Market Research
Storytelling is an important technique that insight professionals should attempt to understand as fully as they do data collection and analysis. Ultimately, the data generated will not be used to full impact if it is not communicated in a way that captures the attention of stakeholders and spurs them to act on them.
Peter Foster, Founder of Field and Track Research, astutely explains that “storytelling is a vital skill for researchers so as to fully optimise how insights can effectively land, live on or thrive in a company or organisation. The key is to engage and inspire wider stakeholders who are less involved in the nuts and bolts of the research project, and storytelling is ultimately all about socialising the insights and research findings beyond the research or core brand team, and thus driving greater impact.”
Inspiring wider stakeholders through storytelling can be difficult, especially since each stakeholder will find different tactics more engaging. These creative artistic techniques used to address this very issue are slowly taking hold in the previously statistical-based research sphere, storytelling, in particular, seems to have secured a hold in market research by promising more engagement with insights.
Peter mentions that “storytelling is also key in order to make research and insights memorable and actionable. It helps fuel decision making and action as there is a clear and compelling narrative, as well as actions and implications to move forward with. Clients will always remember and hold on to a key quote from watching a group far more than any fancy PowerPoint presentation.”
Finding the Story
With the importance established, the question becomes: how can insight professionals go about finding the right story to tell with their data?
This is a skill best developed over time. Finding a story in quantitative data is a bit more difficult than qualitative data, but both require the same level of dedication and attention to detail. The first step to finding a story is to identify the core themes prevalent throughout the data insight teams have collected. In qualitative research, this will be easier to find, because the participants are more likely to talk about the same issues and positive experiences, whereas in quantitative data the core themes will be found in the overarching statistical trends and correlations of the numerical data.
Peter makes a very good point about how “finding the right story from data can often be undertaken collaboratively with a client or team of stakeholders. The collaborative element is key as clients can act as a sounding board for which themes or stories are most compelling, unexpected or even controversial or politically sensitive. Ideally, this is undertaken face to face via workshopping key insight clusters and themes in small cross-team groups, but with a project earlier this year we managed to undertake this exercise virtually via zoom break out rooms with clients dialling in from across multiple markets. It was also an engaging process for the client teams to collaborate with one another.”
As well as understanding the core themes, one way to create a truly marvellous story is to steep the insights in context to communicate why those themes have popped up, how they were announced, and what motivators drove them into existence. This last one is especially important for stakeholders to understand. These contexts are crucial to creating truly informed stories with the insights available, and once the what, how, and why are established, it’s easier to use storytelling techniques to communicate them in a way that only enhances their interesting nature.
Engaging Storytelling Techniques
So, what are some effective storytelling techniques that work well to engage stakeholder audiences?
Peter shares one effective method that he finds effective, “incorporating an element of self-reporting via video or mobile ethnography that can be to help bring to life consumer voices around key themes and narratives.” He explains that “hearing a key insight direct from the consumer is ultimately more powerful and engaging than any PowerPoint presentation as in this case, voices speak louder than (written) word.”
Vox pops are a widely-used tool in the insights industry, and can greatly attest to this insight into stakeholder motivators. Clips of video showing research participants explain their answers helps enhance the connection between stakeholders and their customers – putting a name to a face, or an insight to a demographic at the very least. This particular storytelling tactic can also be taken further than simply showing a video to get the point across; Peter mentions that they can be “developed further into short video content pieces or even microsites that a broader range of stakeholders can access and dive into.”
Videos are fast becoming a staple for insight reports, but for the written there are other storytelling tactics to help engage audiences, going deeper into the construction of the narrative reveals a number of opportunities for insight teams to craft data in the right way to entertain as well as inform, producing an impactful effect similar to that of documentaries. The staples that any story should communicate is: what, who, where, when, and how, with a focus on who the characters are, what is happening, and where it’s happening. The core themes of the insights identified earlier should go a long way to establishing this base, and there are storytelling techniques to help insight teams properly form this within the research report.
For example, what would a story be without any characters to drive the plot forward? When creating a story, insight teams should identify the predominant characters in the story first, and explore their relationship with the themes expressed in the data. Making these characters and using them to guide and drive engagement throughout the research reports can help wider stakeholders better connect to the insights and customers whose experiences are wrought with the core insight themes.
Another step into the world of storytelling is to create a setting for those characters to act in. Set the stage and immerse stakeholders not just in the characters themselves but in their lives, their world, to boost and solidify the connection, cementing it emotionally. Creating a setting maybe isn’t quite as important as the characters, but it is a great tactic to implement when the insights need grounding in a similar reality.
Once the characters and the setting have been determined, then it’s time to take the key themes identified earlier on and use them to construct the plot. Kurt Vonnegut says it best in his lecture on the Shapes of Stories, when you’ve recognised the overriding needs of the main characters, make sure to highlight obstacles in the way to getting those needs too, and those should be the things stakeholders need to work on in order to move them. The solution to their needs, the bridge across their obstacle all depends on the stakeholder decision at that time.
Telling Stories in Insight
Storytelling is fast becoming known as a universally applicable art, especially in the insights industry. Telling insights in the form of stories or even just using a couple of storytelling techniques to boost a more formal report to enrapture key stakeholders is a skill worth learning if it leads to more insights activation and empowerment.
With fewer stakeholders holding onto the traditional statistical report, insight teams are now free to harness the full power of creative storytelling and really embed the voice of the customer at the heart of organisation-wide decision-making processes.