Let’s go out and tell some stories – ESOMAR storytelling & communications event

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Let’s go out and tell some stories – ESOMAR storytelling & communications event
Posted on June 16, 2016 by Braden MacDonald

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Storytelling has been highlighted as a central topic within the market research industry for a number of years now. We know it’s important and we know we need to apply it to our everyday office activities. Unfortunately the difficulty is that market researchers still struggle to lose their ‘data duvet’ and abandon data as a safety blanket. The succeeding difficultly comes from figuring out just how market researches can implement this majestic storytelling element. Wednesday’s ESOMAR UK event answered both the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ behind storytelling and communications.


Storytelling makes your findings and conclusions infinitely more impactful and memorable. Anthony Tasgal (Tas), author of ‘The Storytelling Book,’ introduced the idea and explained why we need to re-story research. Tas explained how we need to unlearn destructive habits of the past and relearn what actually works. He suggested we do this in three ways. First we need to escape arithmocracy (‘arithmos’ is Greek for data). In his view, biology and psychology are the sciences that should inspire research, not maths and physics. Researchers are often data rich, but insights poor. Next, we need to understand why [big] data isn’t king. Tas introduced the concept of attention spam; most data ends up in the attention spam box and never makes it into our, or our clients’ inbox. Data favours rationality over emotion, but humans are not consumers, in Tas’s words we are ‘semavores’; avid consumers of semantics or meaning. And that is the missing link between a data and a story.

Tas’s final point was that story trumps information. Stories translate information into emotion and create empathy- and empathy is the single biggest thing that we survive on. Storytelling makes us care on an unconscious, but universal level. Never underestimate the emotion of surprise- that’s what cuts through the attention spam.

After Tas, we progressed to conquer the ‘how’ behind storytelling in market research. Martin Lee from Acacia Avenue delivered a brilliant presentation titled ‘Goodbye big data, hello big stories.’ He began by ensuring we understand that the power of storytelling comes from communicating person to person. Researchers must make a connection with their clients by including something personal about the agency or the presenter. The biggest take away from Martin was that conflict always sits at the heart of the story. It’s similar to that element of surprise that Tas mentioned previously. Therefore the structure of a story in market research should always start with the ‘inciting incident’. It creates a sense of suspense in what’s going to happen next and dramatises the client’s choices. Always ensure there are choices to be made that ultimately lead to a resolution. Next the plot should thicken even more in order to make the consumer really care about the outcome. Finally, end the story with the classic happily ever after, which includes the conclusion and final piece of learning. This is where the data finally comes in.

To follow up on the first two presentations, Caroline Florence from Insight Narrator explained how to unlock the story by finding, creating and bringing stories to life from data. She gives us the day to day activities inductive to storytelling. First, Caroline told researchers to step away from the computer, from all the charts and excel spreadsheets. After all storytelling comes from the mind, and certainly not the computer. Similar to Martin’s thought, Caroline points out that the story always comes first and the data comes second. The story needs to explain why it’s important to the consumer and make that initial connection. And again, Caroline notes the story needs to put conflict at its heart. The central question of the story should always be ‘What will this story help me with?’ Finally, the story must end with a check and balance to explain why the customer should believe the story. Again, this is where the data can finally come in.

One of the most interesting points that I found in Caroline’s presentation was that deductive research always trumps inductive research. In inductive research, the evidence is the star, making the story inefficient and consumed by detail. However, deductive research makes the answer the star. It starts with ‘what ifs?’ and hypotheses, and then looks for trends and answers. This way the story stays at the heart of the research and you can more easily withstand getting lost in the evidence.

Overall we got valuable insight from the ESOMAR storytelling and communications event. Storytelling involves making personal connections and keeping conflict at its heart to dramatise and create empathy. You can’t benefit from storytelling if you’re stuck on using big data to aid your every move. So there you have it. Let’s go out and tell some stories.

Lucy Davison, MD and founder of Keen as Mustard Marketing, is also an ESOMAR UK representative. If you have any questions or would like to find out more, please contact info@mustardmarketing.com.