Storytelling: A Powerful Tool in Market Research

storytelling techniques in market research
Explore how to apply storytelling techniques in market research

In the world of market research, storytelling techniques can be incredibly valuable tools to bring powerful insights to the surface and present findings to clients in a digestible, memorable way.

At the Quirk’s Virtual Global Event, speaker Nancy Cox from Research Story Consulting presented her take on storytelling, offering tips to make the most out of stories throughout the research process. In the presentation, “Research storytelling techniques – Always in season,” Cox encourages market researchers to explore the qualities of a good story and suggests that stories be collected and used at multiple stages of research.

As researchers, we can use storytelling techniques to better identify and focus the research scope, and to frame our results in more concrete ways. Useful techniques include:

  • Modeling – telling respondents a similar or adjacent story to set an example
  • Guided Writing Story Scene – prompt respondents to think of a specific story, and follow up with clarifying questions to dig deeper (What happened just before? How would you describe how you were feeling in that moment? What were you smelling or hearing?)
  • Staging Empathetic Dramatization – use a specific story to bring context to a fact or data point

To further discuss methods in storytelling, The Martec Group held an interview with Cox and learned more about the value this technique provides.

Megan Bauer, Martec senior analyst: In your presentation, you touched on the power of stories. Why do you think people are interested in stories?

Cox: We’re interested in other people’s intentions, motivations, beliefs, emotions, actions – all the things we study as researchers and that are important, whether we’re selling a product or a service. It’s what we listen for in a story. Storytelling is neurological. When the functional MRI came along, we could see what parts of the brain were lighting on when something happened. One study showed when I tell a story as a storyteller, and you’re listening as a story listener, the same parts of our brain light up. Storytelling also is a way for us to learn without actually having that experience; it’s a way to try on a role and know what it would feel like.

Bauer: In your presentation, you suggested we don’t wait until the end of our research to use stories. Why is using storytelling throughout the research process valuable?

Cox: One of the reasons is it makes sure you actually have stories at the end to tell. You can plan to gather stories versus hoping you have a story. The other thing is I think it might help to demystify it for researchers and feel less like of a big hurdle at the end, because research is a long process.

Bauer: You mentioned modeling as a valuable storytelling technique. What is the importance in sharing your story with respondents, and how can you do that effectively?

Cox: With modeling, you’re clarifying what you expect from respondents by giving an example. For example, if I was wanting to learn more about a meal preparation, I might tell a story about eating a meal that I really enjoyed at somebody’s house. Then I might ask them, tell me a story about when you were preparing a meal and you were going to have guests over. It’s an adjacent scenario that they can’t completely copy, but it gives them enough context that they can mirror it.

Bauer: Finally, how does storytelling play into quantitative data?

Cox: Researchers actually tell stories about quantitative data – they just don’t necessarily live on the PowerPoint slide. You say things out loud, because you obviously found something you felt was worth explaining. Researchers just need to be sure those stories are documented on the slide or dashboard. Quantitative data also adds important story context as you can zoom out to look at the bigger picture and zoom in with specific details of a story because you have enough data for both views.

Overall, storytelling is an excellent way to capture unique and compelling information throughout the market research process. Market researchers should find ways to implement storytelling techniques and improve on the ways stories are communicated in order to produce solid, well-supported market research insights.

Bonus read: Market Research Agility: How to Balance Speed and Depth – Takeaways from Quirk’s Virtual Global

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