Getting Over Ourselves

10 Sep 2014|Added Value

As insights professionals, we traffic in insights, and stories are our currency. If we focus qualitatively, we’re paid to hear people’s stories and watch those stories enacted in real life. If quantitative, we’re paid to uncover a pattern of stories in the world around us.

Yet there’s a fundamental disconnect between the stories we hear and the stories that get told.

We hear rich narratives of a single mom managing the tension between working to support a family and being home for the kids after school. We hear multi-ethnic families struggling to “make-it” in a culture where “making it” means different things. But what happens with those stories? Too often they’re turned into lists of how many groups we did or how many people we surveyed.

Too many insights teams tell stories of disconnected responses and facts, and leave it to clients to simplify and narrate to their audience.

At ARF’s Audience Measurement 9.0 event, Joan Lewis (global consumer & marketing knowledge officer for P&G) made a bold statement:

“I have to have hundreds & thousands of people understand it well enough to take action… So for us to be able to talk in R-squareds is not enough: it has to be clear; it has to be able to drive decisions; it has to be better and simpler than what the research community would be comfortable with – because we have a lot of people to bring along.”* (emphasis added)

Maybe this statement’s importance wasn’t clear at the time – if it had been, we should have seen a blizzard of tweets, editorials, and debates from the insights community. But there’s been very little to indicate that anyone recognizes the importance of this comment.

Joan’s comment is a call for the insights community to get over itself and care more about what clients need than how rigorous and important our research is. Technical talk means nothing if clients can’t use the insight to make an impact. Reams of tables and bullet points wind up in the shredder (or worse: collecting dust) if clients can’t use the insight to influence their audience.

At Added Value we have four key tenets to help ensure that we avoid the data trap and tell stories our clients can use.

1. Stories emerge early. It’s rare to conduct research in the absence of some pre-existing hypotheses and ideas. These are the foundations of the story to tell – and we know them as soon as we launch a new study. Intentionally incorporating the story early helps us think like storytellers.
2. Editing is a constant. The stories we start with are never the stories we end with. If they are, we’ve probably missed something. Throughout any insights process, we constantly revisit the story, revise, discard, and build.
3. Write like a writer. Though most of us aren’t writers, we follow well-known guidelines in writing debriefs. What are the plot points that drive to the crisis? How are key points communicated to heighten tension? Where is the suspense – and where is it resolved? Without a basic narrative arc, audiences don’t know where to focus attention and lose interest.
4. There’s never one author. We write stories to give our clients what they need to have impactful insights. That means we write the stories with our clients. Clients act as co-authors – not to shape the data, but to help share it in a way that will resonate in their organizations.

Remember: it’s not about the research – it’s about ideas and their impact. It’s not about a process or the minutiae of research design – it’s about stories that influence an audience.

It’s not about us!

*“Brands, researchers and the new “measurement mandate” by Stephen Whiteside, Warc. Event Reports: ARF Audience Measurement, June 2014

Written by Tommy Stinson, Senior Vice President & Director of Qual Insights, US.

Follow Tommy on Twitter @StinsonTommy

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