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Four ways to tell better stories with research data

As researchers, we need to find the best way to understand what the data is telling us, and how best to share those insights with others.

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"You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built into the human plan. We come with it.”
- Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale

If our industry is any example to go by, Margaret Atwood was onto something. We’ve been talking about 'storytelling' when it comes to market research insights, for decades, and it shows no signs of slowing. In fact, as data has continued to increase in both volume and speed, the difficulty extrapolating the story from it has simultaneously risen. How do we cut through the clutter to engage, enthrall and enlighten others with our insights?

Experiences in the art of storytelling vary

You may remember being bounced on your dad’s knee before bed, and being enthralled by his upward inflections as he told stories from his childhood.

Or you may vividly recall the hand-crafted, humor-laden montage that was delivered by the best man at your wedding.

Both share a common element – the ability for the speaker to engage the listener (or viewer) with a well-presented story. Successfully delivered stories are usually distilled from personal experience so that they can connect with others on many levels.

The challenge behind consumer research storytelling

Not all of us are great orators  - many of us struggle to explain what we had for lunch! And, when it comes to creating a visual story or presentation, we have difficulty with the tone, tools and target audience.

Presenting stories is all about drawing on experiences, information, and ideas, and then crafting these into interesting and digestible output.

- Johan Van Kuyk, Infotools

So how do we present, tell or convey a story and ensure our audience receives value and a lasting connection to the content? Rather than just giving access to the data, we must work hard to create relatable ‘stories’ that enlighten, influence and change people. This, in turn, promotes further discovery and encourages others to be storytellers of their own.

How to create consumer research stories that matter

Our experience shows there are four points that are key to creating meaningful stories in consumer research. 

  1. Know your audience

    Just like dear ol’ dad and Jimmy-the-best-man, who prepared for their deliveries by understanding their audience, think carefully about who will receive your story and how it will enlighten, entertain, or provide interest to them. Hopefully, you uncovered what the business goals were at the start of your market research project; your story will speak to the stakeholders in charge of achieving these goals. Let these desires drive the content, context, and tone of your story. 
  2. Acknowledge the challenge of simplicity

    We recently posted a blog about finding simplicity in today’s current deluge of data. This is such an important point for us, as storytellers, when we attempt to successfully distill down the information overload and produce nuggets of interest or entertainment for someone. We must simplify our message so it’s easy to connect and relate with.

    Give your audience just enough of the story to keep them wanting more, and don’t confuse or overload them with too many details. Make sure to tie your story back to the goals of the research and what the data is telling you. 
  3. Engage quickly and encourage discovery

    A great story will always inspire and intrigue the listener. When delivered or presented well, a good story will open up a window of thought or reflection on which the audience will draw. 

    When successful, it is quite common for a simple story, created from one market research insight, to open up a path of further exploration and discovery. This can lead another person finding and creating their own stories from the story you have shared, which they can then share with others.

  4. Use new technology to your advantage

    There are many market research solutions that strive to make processing data faster and more effective. Our own platform, Harmoni, automates many steps along the way, from the input of data to visualization and reporting, that then allows the researcher more time to uncover that vital story. The “machine” can even find exactly which data points stand out, such as a big differences in percentages from group to group, and where the real story might lie.  

Your role as a consumer research storyteller

So, as you think about the next story you will deliver, whether it will be at a conference via a PowerPoint deck, an interactive dashboard or simply talking your colleagues, remember the fundamentals.

Identify your audience, and target the story you are telling to encourage early engagement. Focus on the simplicity of the message and encourage further thought… and discovery. 

Atwood had it right: we humans are natural storytellers. Now we just need to find the best way to understand what the data is telling us, and how best to share those insights with others.

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