The best insight stories should take brands on a journey from discovery and transformation through to ultimate triumph, says former Royal Mail researcher Caroline Florence.
The hero's journey
In my column last week I made the case for storytelling in market research and suggested that we apply our human instinct for stories in a commercial context. My call to action to the industry centred on evidence-based stories that are solid, bold and brave. But what does that really mean and how can we achieve it?
Solid refers to the need for us to remain true to the evidence that supports our insight, gathered through high quality research and robust analysis frameworks. This must remain a given. Creating bold and brave stories, however, requires us to do much more. Being bold and brave requires us to be directional and offer a roadmap for the journey that our hero (in this case a brand, a product or company) must navigate to reach their goal. By outlining the journey, we offer opportunity for real foresight.
“The true value of our insight comes when we are able to provide end-users with a roadmap for the direction of travel, including an assessment of the shortcuts, the dead ends and the refuelling options”
From here to there
Mapping the journey from insight to outcome requires a broader understanding of the context in which the hero finds themselves and an understanding of the nature of the market in which the hero operates. Applying this understanding helps the storyteller identify enablers and barriers, which in turn helps end-users create dynamic strategies and plan for potential deviations.
Having worked across insight, intelligence and analytic functions on the clientside, I believe the true value from our insight assets comes when we are able to provide our end-users with a roadmap for the direction of travel, including an assessment of the shortcuts, the dead ends and the refuelling options.
A roadmap often comes about as a consequence of triangulating secondary sources onto primary research or analytical models. Insight professionals are particularly popular if we can identify case studies of other heroes who have followed the same path, so we can borrow and adapt their roadmap for our own use.
In addition to overlaying sources, it is crucial that we apply our understanding of the market and the competitive context to anticipate how others might react, or how a certain path might create a shift in the nature of competitive pressures in the category. From this we are more equipped as insight storytellers to foresee potential problems in following a particular recommendation and present alternative evidence for different paths the hero might take.
In all of my clientside roles it has been this fusion of consumer/customer insight, analytics and intelligence that has paved the way for the real commercial application of insights while unlocking the insight story through the organisation.
The benefits of solid, brave and bold insight stories are significant. When I have worked in teams that have strived to achieve this we have built confidence in the evidence itself, effectively stress-testing our recommendations and offering greater return on our insight investment. By demonstrating our understanding of the dynamic nature of markets and how fluid strategies need to be to reach the end goal, we opened doors to tell our insight stories across a greater audience within the business.
Furthermore, by including the wider context in our analysis and outputs we were able to provide the much needed contrast that’s required to make a good story stick. When comparing typical insight communication to other models of storytelling, our industry often forgets the importance of contrast in the storytelling formula. Mapping the journey with highlights and pitfalls provides us with the opportunity to inject the necessary contrast, or conflict that is required for a story – which is then processed, translated and moved across the business.
So how can the MR industry build an understanding of the business context within which our heroes operate to help map insights to outcomes and generate stories that resonate? The answer is relatively simple: read, observe, ask and care. Half the battle in unlocking insight stories can be won by keeping our eyes and our ears open. The old adage that the best way to write is to read still rings true, or as Stephen King puts it: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
Caroline Florence is the founder of Insight Narrator. She is online at www.insight-narrator.co.uk. Florence is conducting an interactive workshop using gameplay to create commercial narratives at MRS Annual Conference on 20 March. More details at www.mrsannualconference.com