I hate to admit it, but with all the web-based services and on-demand viewing, I have become enamored with binge-watching. I recently binged on an HBO series called True Detective (I highly recommend it–it’s some groundbreaking stuff). One of the primary characters, Rust, seems to have a form of ESP when it comes to things he sees and how he interprets them within the context of each other. His dedication to looking deeper with a true sense of conviction works for a greater good in resolving issues and questions. As I watched for the entertainment of it all, it made me think about how we often gloss over the deeper meaning of issues we encounter on a daily basis.
From a market research and business perspective, some see a line of numbers tracking customer satisfaction with a company, recall of an advertising campaign, transcripts from an online focus group or an impact on a key driver model. But a researcher needs to embrace Rust’s mindset, combining information we gather with knowledge of our client’s industry and the world we live in to develop a “case file” that informs a confident business decision or pushes back on a commonly-held belief. While I doubt we will ever gain ESP per se, we can tune in more closely to understand what we encounter and what it means from a bigger, more global view.
The Power of Storytelling
The other reason True Detective draws you in and makes you come back for more is storytelling. With the way our information gathering and usage patterns have evolved with the internet and social media, the true way to engage people is to draw them in with a compelling story. During my tenure in the industry, market research tends to be less about storytelling and more about generating PowerPoint decks full of detailed results or dashboard reports showing a bevy of numbers without much in the way of context or vision. In a recent MRA article, researcher Duncan Stuart refers to this trend of presenting greater volumes of supporting statistical evidence rather than quality insight as “a tragedy.”
Stuart also offers the following take about returning to storytelling: “Stories are an elegant solution to the problem of too much information. Humans are wired to process stories and understand them.” I will be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn when it comes to my own storytelling skills, but I am committed to providing the most value to my clients and to helping mentor my young researcher colleagues at Market Strategies.
Luckily, Stuart offers several observations about storytelling to guide us. While there are ten in total, I’m sharing a handful to which we can all aspire:
- Good storytelling is authentic. In market research reports, the statistics, charts, evidence and conclusions must “reek of authenticity.” This will help the client “inhale and smell the reality of the research.”
- Before getting too far into the research story (aka the report), a researcher must recapture why the research was conducted in the first place and why it is important to the end user.
- Sometimes very complicated concepts can be explained much more simply with a good illustration as opposed to mind-numbing technical jargon.
- Variety is important. Instead of providing page after page (or slide after slide) of information in exactly the same format, make sections of the report fundamentally different from each other.
- Researchers should be bold enough to develop a deeper theme. Developing an “I’ve been thinking” zone in the report increases the degree of authenticity.
- Action is better than talk. Spice up headlines with action verbs, and summarize findings in a way that always leads to actions or consequences.
As our industry evolves, the researcher skill set will have to evolve from data collection and huge PowerPoint decks filled with graphics and tables. We need to become “true detectives” who are dedicated to exploring things in greater depth and with more conviction to develop thoughtful story lines. Showing empathy for our clients’ needs will uncover the deeper meaning and help us gain ongoing trust as a true business partner. As Rust would say, “A little detail somewhere way down that line that makes you say ‘Ohh!’ and breaks the case.”
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