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The Secrets to Storytelling Excellence in Market Research

One of the skills an insight professional needs to hone carefully is the ability to weave data into a memorable story. Creating impact doesn’t just take the right data it also requires good presentation of the data in a relevant, concise, memorable and emotive way.

So, what exactly makes a good story?

First you need to decide who is taking the lead role — who is your protagonist; does your story have a heroine or a villain that the audience can relate to? A character they want to follow the journey along with? Inevitably in insight, the customer or potential new customer takes centre stage. Alternatively, the brand/service product is the lead in the story that unfolds.

But to really create a memorable journey you need to find not only the central character who drives the story forward, but their opposite too: the antagonist who places obstacles and complications along the journey, creates conflict and reveals more depth about the central character. So you might pick through your data and observe a notable customer segment who face a particular set of challenges when they engage with the brand’s website or the customer experience team. This is the customer segment your audience want to hear about and will engage with most.

Equally the story in your data could be that the brand is proving to be the hero and you’ve got some lovely qualitative examples of how it has been challenged by the customer and one of the brand teams have met with that challenge and responded in a way that can be expanded to other departments (from social engagement to customer experience and beyond). Once you find identify these two key roles you have the beginnings of a very engaging tale.

Once you have your lead roles, then is the time to think about structure. A common and easy mistake to make is to try to structure your story in the order in which your data is processed or your questions were posed. If you try to build your story from that then you’ll never be able to deliver emotional engagement and a memorable story. Why? Because you will overwhelm your audience with a range of interesting but not cohesive findings.

If we borrow a concept from script-writing, we see that using a 3 act or 5 act structure offers (time and time again) a well-balanced and fluid form to deliver your story. So think through your data and organise it into 3 or 5 key events/ conflicts/ challenges that arise from it. Then focus on presenting and explaining those well in relation to your main characters.

If you want to elicit emotional engagement from your audience then your data needs drama! A play, a movie, a book, a folk tale (any method of delivering a story) applies the same structure to achieve this. Narratives have been found to have a consistent dramatic arc across every medium. Within this structure there exists a key turning point that tends to fall exactly in the mid-point of the film or play.

This might be a crisis, a moment of truth, an abandonment of the cart, a pivotal point where the customer is lost, they are faced with a scenario that either requires them to change or ends their relationship with the antagonist. So search out that crisis in your data and build to that key point where the stakeholder will hold their breath or close their eyes in dread of what might be revealed next!

Don’t mistake this pivotal point with the full climax to your story. This key challenge should arrive at in the middle of act two or three. But you do of course need to keep the real juice for the last scenes. You can still drop little hints throughout the story that the brand might turn out to be good or bad or that there is an answer to the customers’ problems. This will help to build engagement and momentum.

But don’t give away your most powerful insight until the end. Suspend your audience and increase the tension a little so that they truly remember your results. Think through how you want them to feel at the end — do you need a cliff hanger to motivate action? Or do you want to give them a resolution that allows the audience to feel satisfied and continue on the path in which they have been pursuing?

Again, when a story is deconstructed, you can find a symmetry within acts and scenes that reflect the wider story. The overall story is reflected in multiple mini episodes that help us to understand and believe the final resolution. A memorable slide deck does this too. Each slide illustrates a key experience that supports the overall story. If it doesn’t then it’s a distraction, a side point, and you’ve probably disengaged your audience — if it was a book you’ve lost your reader.

In conclusion, remember that every story has the same building blocks. We can learn from and apply these to help weave our data into a memorable narrative. The key point to remember is that we need to find change, an overall pivotal moment that is supported by lots data points, in order to elicit the most powerful responses from our audience.

In a fantastic deconstruction of the way we make data memorable, impactful and satisfying, John Yorke references a plethora of films, plays and TV series. I would highly recommend his book “Into the Woods” to anyone who has yet to read it. It’s a masterfully crafted peek into the world of storytelling and what we can do to improve it.

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