“As long as there have been campfires, humans have gathered around them and conveyed their view of the world through the use of stories.” Geoffrey Berwind nailed it. Storytelling has long since been hailed by content marketers as one of the most effective ways to capture the time and attention of prospects. Stories are powerful connectors. When told or written masterfully, they ignite the imagination and spark curiosity.

But why are we talking about storytelling here in the context of market research? It’s simple. As it turns out, the way traditional market research has been reported for the last 50 years has been all wrong. That’s a bold statement, but sadly true. You’ve been there, trapped in a dim boardroom, eyes glazing over, walking through a presentation deck 100+ slides deep chock full of charts and graphs. The facts are reported, but you have to wonder just how much understanding clients walk away with.

Today’s market research consumer, as with any consumer for that matter, is inundated with information. When you marry that with dwindling attention spans, you get zero retention. Fortunately, we’re starting to catch on to what neuroscientists figured out some time ago – the human brain lights up like a Christmas tree when its being told a story. So, as market researchers attempt to humanize data points, storytelling has become an integral part of the work that we do.

The benefits of good storytelling

According to the most recent GRIT report, lack of time is one of the top concerns among client-side market researchers. Cramming as much data as you can into what seems like an endless slideshow not only wastes valuable time but unfairly places the onus of making sense of the data on the client. Aside from the length of the deck, is the meat of the presentation. Advances in neuroscience have given us visibility into how humans process information and it’s clear that a bunch of bullet points does little to fire up the synapses.

Leo Widrich breaks down the science of storytelling in his article, “Why Telling A Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains” in the following excerpt:

It’s, in fact quite simple. If we listen to a PowerPoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.

When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.

So, why is this important for client-side market researchers? Ultimately, good market research should have an impact outside of the confines of the insights departments. When an insights person is tasked with presenting this information with a slide deck devoid of story, it becomes difficult if not impossible to deliver these insights in a way that inspires lasting change within an organization.

The story behind the numbers

ThinkNow is no stranger to this dilemma and has been focused on storytelling since its inception in 2011. Both founders come from communications backgrounds with degrees in Communications and English, so storytelling is baked into our culture. When that’s coupled with our mission of representing the traditionally underrepresented through data and meaningful insights, we deliver not only a story that resonates with an organization’s leaders but is representative of your target consumer.

We accomplish this through a three-step process that we integrate into all custom market research projects:

1) Proper sample framing to “frame” the story – a story only has value for an organization if it is true. We ensure that the data being used to craft the story behind the numbers is set up properly on the front end by creating representative sample frames and using a culturally sensitive questionnaire design that accommodates cultural biases that we have identified through our years of multicultural research experience.

2) Questionnaire design with the story in mind – understanding the story that needs to be told before putting a questionnaire together is critical to delivering the story you need. This doesn’t mean creating leading questions that will get you the results you want. On the contrary, this means thinking about what the story could potentially look like if you have a hypothesis in mind and designing a questionnaire from there. Putting no thought to the result when designing a questionnaire will lead to meandering data that is unactionable for an organization.

3) Edit, edit, and edit again – what you leave out of a presentation deck is almost as important as what you leave in. The old school thinking was to give the client all the data and let them decide what to leave out. This is a good market research practice but to be GREAT requires a healthy dose of red ink. Highlighting the data points that matter – the ones that will lead to change – and providing contextual evidence as to why its relevant is the most critical part of delivering the story you need and want.


Searching for a market research partner that can deliver the story you need and want? Contact ThinkNow today and learn about our custom market research solutions: