MRA enlisted several researchers attending the Corporate Researchers Conference in Dallas this week to report back summaries & insights from the conference sessions.  This report is on “Socializing Insights Through Storytelling” by Colleen Hennegan Harris at MarketVision Research and Kimberly White at Sherwin Williams.

Although still at the early stages of developing and utilizing storytelling in place of traditional MR, e.g. lots of stats, data, facts and figures, Colleen and Kimberly discuss the key elements of stories – beyond what we learned in school about “the beginning, the middle and the end.” In preparation for this presentation, they interviewed a litigator who has to tell a story to every jury they face, a pastor who prepares compelling presentations each week, a photographer who uses pictures instead of words, a fundraiser who has to tell the story of charity to large donors, a novelist, a business development guru, etc. In other words, people who tell stories for a living. The bases for this; to discover how to turn traditional report slides into about 10 slides that tell a story to the client instead – a story that communicates and socializes the insights and summarizes those insights with impact, instead of just reporting them. While storytelling lends itself best to limited audience studies and qualitative, it certainly can be used across all methodologies.

Storytelling is hot, with numerous current books on this very topic (Lead with a Story, Tall Tales, and The Story Factor, to name a few.) While it may be hot, it’s easy in the marketing world to tell stories, but much more challenging within MR.

How does one turn data into a story? According to Colleen, Kimberly and some of the session’s attendees:

  • Verbalize (or visualize) the story and ask: does it make sense?
  • Take a real-life situation and make it interesting, in a reasonable manner.
  • Be flexible. Facts can lead to a different story, e.g. there can be different versions or interpretations of the story; look for the true meaning and provide resolution.
  • Create an “understructure” that everyone can relate to.
  • Use sources to state what the facts are and the closing to bring everything together and to support all which came before in the story.
  • Create a symphony of movement where the story unfolds and unpacks.
  • Remember that details make the story delicious and the details don’t always start at the beginning, e.g. shouldn’t always be unfolded in a straight line.
  • Establish a story, see the story develop and locate key details that support the story.
  • The storyteller must believe in the story and have passion; the story is taking the viewer on a journey and it must have a rhythm that the viewer is comfortable with. So, know your audience and make the story relatable and relevant – emotionally connect with the viewer.
  • Set the stage and ask: What’s normal? What’s typical in the consumer’s life? How does the consumer view changes that occurred vs. how they are views internally?
  • Use tension; create surprise and unexpected parts. (Tension equals attention of viewers.)
  • Don’t be obvious; use symbolic images and analogies.
  • It’s very challenging to take a boring study and bring it to life, but also rewarding…the idea that you can literally change a person who hears the story. Stories have an impact whereas it’s hard to accomplish the same change with mere facts, stats and figures.
  • Engage the senses during the design stage of research so that they can be utilized for storytelling when the study concludes.