Storytelling in market research gets the Voice of the Customer to the table

We live in a world that’s full of data. And the amount of data is increasing. Author Anthony Tasgal believes it’s because we live in a system where we worship numbers strongly and above all else. Some of us are afraid to make decisions without data. People want facts. So they say. But data alone doesn’t give the whole picture. I use data, too, but for great storytelling in market research we need the customer to appear as the main character. That means we need to hear from them. Directly.

People can also be unpredictable and things change. If researchers really want to start understanding why people behave the way they do, we need to start looking at the people behind the data.

Choosing insight over information

In this data-heavy age, it’s easy to think that the world revolves around numbers. Numbers matter. But, it’s furthermore about insight. And stakeholders sometimes don’t remember data. They remember stories.

"If you listen to your customers they will tell you what they want."

We should focus on unlocking insights and understanding what drives behavior. Be in the business of constructing and delivering meaning. Not just data points. Deliver insights.

Nothing beats truth, especially when it comes from a genuine person. It is an in-depth insight that allows researchers to unlock and share powerful customer stories that have real impact.

Read next: How stories influence leaders

The importance of storytelling in market research

Tas writes that if numbers numb us, then stories stir us. They translate information into emotion – and it is that reason why storytelling in market research makes your findings and conclusions more impactful and memorable. It’s all about finding the people behind your data and unlocking the story behind your statistics to engage and excite your executives and shake up your stakeholders.

Read next: Building teams that work to understand your customers better

Stories are patterns with meaning that the brain is hardwired to respond to. In fact, neurochemically there is evidence that stories make us care, create empathy and build trust by producing oxytocin.

Unfortunately, today some researchers are data rich but insight poor. It’s the story that trumps information by turning information into emotion to create empathy. Empathy is the single biggest thing that can drive decisions. That means that in order to unlock real meaning, we need to start telling stories – and fast.

Tas said on “Reel Talk” that it really comes down to grabbing the attention span and not being attention spato stakeholders.

"We have to find ways to craft stories using something human and looking at the emotions."

Get to the point

When we tell a human story with real emotions, we have a chance to make an impact with the information we want to convey. That’s why storytelling in market research matters.

“Nobody has ever said ‘I wish that meeting had more PowerPoint slides,” Tas added.

“The facts might be true but they don’t cut through or are absorbed,” said Jenn Vogel, vice president of marketing at Voxpopme and host of “Reel Talk.” “When you hear somebody’s story, people do remember that.”

Jay Lister, head of insights at Reebok on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show,” said, she just can’t tolerate a PowerPoint presentation with 101 charts.

“A single-line headline and a visual that represents the message we are trying to get across,” she said should do the trick. “It’s about the craft of connecting the dots. The data dots that you have.”

She added that it’s also good to play editor. Know your audience and adjust your storytelling techniques to them.
It also helps to take off your researcher hat and put on your storyteller hat when you share results, she said.

The influence of big data

Let’s talk about the influence of big data a bit.

“When I talk with executives, they often don’t leave the office or talk with customers,” said Graham Kenny, a speaker, consultant, strategy expert, and regular Harvard Business Review contributor. He joined us on an episode of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “That alerted me to the need of executives needing to get out of the office and talk to customers. There’s an absence of that in most organizations.”

Much of the decisions are based on insights gleaned from big data in these cases. How customers interact with a brand, where they buy and other relationship points that can be collected by data without having to speak with people.

“I can understand that it’s hard for time-starved executives,” said Jenn. “I don’t have enough time either for all the things I need to get done. But how can we run successful businesses if we never hear from the actual customers? I think it’s impossible.”

If executives can’t get out of the office, at least they can hear from their customers through video surveys.

In many companies, Graham said, the executives get isolated away from the customer experience. On the other hand, he’s seen a push toward big data.

Can one work without the other and how successful would that be? Let’s discuss that topic a bit more here. Fittingly, we are starting with a lake. Dive right in.

The data lake

All the data goes into a “data lake” and you can then fish out what you want and when you need it, Graham said. Certainly, analyzing user behavior can help us understand some things about our customers. Let’s take the example of banking. Tellers can see your information when they talk to you and get instant recommendations on potential upsell opportunities.

What comes up in front of that teller is a profile of the customer that can include:

  • Potential interests based on previous behaviors
  • Situational-based recommendations – like what other similar customers have bought in similar circumstances
  • Interests based on demographics, time of the year, etc.

It’s really no different from what Amazon does online. When I buy something new, Amazon immediately recommends something else that I might be interested in and want to buy right then. Judging by the amount of Amazon packages on my doorstep this seems to work. Given that the Prime truck seems to be driving up and down my street all day, my neighbors seem to agree as well! So big data can help us!

“Relying on big data only or the end-all, be-all is just going to be a disaster,” said, Graham, stressing that big data is one piece of the puzzle to understanding our customers.

Data needs to be centralized and analyzed correctly. Silos in different departments won’t help. Some data is precisely inaccurate, Graham said. Those data points hide biases. With that in mind, a lot of data companies have can also be wrong.

Read next: How to spot and use new trends with consumer insights

The so what!

Sebastian Schuliaquer, insights director at Kellogg, chimed in on another episode of “Reel Talk.”

“Today, we spend too much time focusing on the facts,” he said. “We need to transcend a little bit. We need to evolve from the ‘what’ to the ‘so what.’ It’s in the ‘so what’ where we as insights professionals should concentrate.”

Sometimes we devote too much time to the what and not the so what. (2)

Strategy design and execution

To understand your customers start with a well-designed strategy, which is then followed by execution.

“Different people get involved and they have different challenges,” Graham said. “Big data is very helpful in the execution phase.”

Execution – everyone has to be involved. All the way from the CEO to the people in creating the products and working directly with customers. That can also make it difficult. Many organizations struggle with ensuring everyone understands their important part in the execution.

Strategy design – doesn’t include everyone and should fall to the executives, Graham said. The insights team can help here as well.

Read next: Building teams that work to understand your customers better

The implementers shouldn’t create the strategy: They focus on the implementation, efficiencies and often look at it from that lens. Graham also mentioned that strategy off-sites with everyone involved don’t work. Many people in fact, say nothing has changed after those sessions.

A better solution to doing an isolated off-site strategy session, which could include a visit to customers to hear from them. Or to run a video survey research product and hear from customers what they have to say.

“Don’t do what you’ve been doing all these previous years,” Graham said. “Don’t do what most organizations do. That is look inwardly. And try to come up with an outside view.”

He calls that process “strategy discovery.”

“Strategy discovery alone implies that you are looking elsewhere,” said Jenn. “That’s where the role of talking to customers is so crucial.”

And the voice of the customer matters

When teams bring the Voice of the Customer to their daily tasks and decision making a better customer experience can happen. But VoC programs don’t happen overnight. They take time, effort, and a deliberate strategy. Storytelling in market research helps here as well.

What is the Voice of the Customer?

The Voice of the Customer refers to hearing from and implementing changes that are being shared by your customers.

That can be easier said than done. You want to listen to them, understand them and of course, make sure they know that their feedback matters. Many companies have started VoC programs and that’s a great start. But to make it truly work customers need to be heard and that’s often done through storytelling in market research as part of your overall process.

How to leverage storytelling in market research

1. Bring your research to life

The research doesn’t come to life by just presenting – or dare I say dumping – facts after facts after facts. You have to find the thread, the story that binds the facts together and makes them interesting, relevant, and memorable.

“You need a thread that the brain can hold onto,” Tas said. “A thread the brain can latch onto.”

The story also doesn’t need to be unnecessarily long, he said.

“Anyone can write 5,000 words, but 5,000 good words, that’s the thing,” Tas said. “For every fact, ask yourself, is this true but useless? If it isn’t it has to go. That’s the secret of storytelling.”

You can collect videos from consumers by adding open-ended video questions to your surveys. Elisabeth Trawinski, an insights pro at Reckitt, mentioned how showing videos to stakeholders can have more impact than PowerPoint.

2. See real people’s responses

Video feedback can help you see and understand genuine customer interactions. That helps you get to the bottom of what customers really think. People share their thoughts in their own words and in their own environment.

People – including stakeholders – relate to stories from customers. And the best way for those stories to be memorable is by hearing them directly from customers.

3. Tell the story behind your results

You can collect videos during or even after your research to boost the impact of your results. By supplementing your quant study with scalable video feedback you can add real weight to your research, find the golden thread, and make everyone in your organization sit up and take notice by sharing impactful stories that drive change.

Jenn reminds us that a lot of stories can come out of one research study. But not every story needs to be shared to get the point across.

“A lot of times we want to tell all the stories because there’s a lot of interesting stuff,” Jenn said. “Being able to have a single, common thread that takes you through the whole story is a great tip to think about. Even if there are multiple findings that we want to tell, how does it all connect and what does it mean?”

Storytelling is as much about editing as it is about anything else.

4. Find the insights you’re looking for

Once uploaded, videos can be searched by keyword or filtered by additional data such as age, gender, or other customer tags so you can easily find the insights you need to tell customer stories. Additionally, because all videos are theme and sentiment coded you can easily discover what your customers are thinking and why – so in just a couple of clicks you can bring a topic to life and tell the story behind your scores.

“I think what you are doing as an organization is quite interesting,” Graham said referring to the Voxpopme online survey platform, which:

  • Allows brands to ask questions to consumers and customers through an online platform.
  • People can then answer the questions directly on video with their smartphones – on their own time.
  • Responses are transcribed and analyzed for sentiment and key topics.
  • Highlight reels can share the most impactful responses quickly and concisely. That works especially well for those busy executives.

“I think that’s a good approach,” Graham said. “We are getting people talking about their experiences.”

Hearing from customers directly is the only way to understand how the product or service works for them.

“That’s emotion and you can’t get that from a written document,” he said.

5. Use proven storytelling strategies

Tas mentioned the importance of using proven storytelling styles and techniques on “Reel Talk.”

For example, follow the rule of threes. When you give examples, share them in threes.

Customers said the product is cool, useful and beautiful.

That’s a simple example. It’s a cadence that works and that keeps the consumer of the content engaged. From the perspective of the researcher who is putting the report together, it also helps us focus on the message. What are the three most important things to mention here? Not the nine most important, but three!

Another proven strategy is to draw out emotions. People don’t make decisions purely on numbers. Many decisions are drawn out by emotion. Seeing a powerful story does that. Focus those emotions on the audience’s pain points. What’s the problem the story is trying to address?

How to start with better storytelling in market research?

Practice telling better stories. If it’s through the written word, write, write and write some more, Tas said.

“Every writer says, the more you write, the clearer it becomes in your brain,” he said. “When you got your data and your charts, keep working on it, keep reducing it.”

Keep in mind that your first draft might not be perfect. Some writers call their first draft the “vomit draft,” Tas said. It’s not that good and shouldn’t be shown to anyone. But it’s a draft.

Don’t be shy about collaborating with others on the team to determine what the best story is. What are others seeing? How can it be told in the best way?

Be very clear about who your audience is and produce the content with them in mind.

“We are trying to understand our consumers but we also need to understand the audience we tell that story to,” said Jenn.

Challenges talking to customers

Graham said a lot of people agree that they should talk to customers.

“But people say ‘we don’t know how to do to that,'” he said. It’s really about these prioritization steps:

At the end of the day, the answer is probably a mix of using big data and talking to your customers so you can understand them and build even better relationships.

Read next: How you can secure buy-in for market research

Also, keep in mind that sometimes you want to consider behavioral economics. What are people doing in the real world with your product and why? One you can observe, the other needs a follow-up question.

Please don’t overdo it either, warned Melina Palmer of The Brainy Business on an episode of “Reel Talk.”

“Somebody says ‘well, we are doing the survey anyway. Let’s just ask these 25 other questions,'” Melina said. “‘We are sending the direct mailer. We might as well put all this other stuff on there.’ That just doesn’t work very well with the brain.”

Have a single goal you are trying to figure out.

“What’s the most important one and how can you put all your eggs in that basket?” Melina said.

Using video for storytelling in market research

Agile video market research can help companies get to the bottom of what drives customer decisions. It’s the single most powerful way to deliver real human feedback, giving researchers unbeatable access to how customers truly feel about different brands, products, and services. Using video to uncover real human stories means you can give context to your data, get closer to what people think, and make informed customer-centric decisions.

A typical, consumer-recorded video response is 6-8 times longer than a response to a text-based open-end. That means that in just a few clicks, video enables you to see what your customers truly think, feel and do by revealing real consumer responses. It goes beyond the information and data provided by scores and scales and unveils the true voice of the customer, unlocking real insights and telling the story behind the scores. The result? Multi-dimensional layers of insight and true customer stories that just aren’t achievable with scores and statistics alone.

Who has used video surveys well? These companies!

Video cuts through the noise to obtain raw, unfiltered context. You can better understand your customers’ true feelings and build a deeper understanding of your consumers across your entire organization. Not only that, but it also increases customer closeness by allowing you to add depth, emotion, and authenticity to your data. That means instead of sharing yet more statistics with your stakeholders, you can humanize and add context to your data and deliver impactful, convincing and memorable stories that drive change.

Let’s tell better stories to drive results

At the end of the day, researchers want their insights to have an impact. Of course, that’s done by finding good insights that can have a business impact. To make sure stakeholders and executives hear the insights, good storytelling in market research can help us accomplish the goal of being heard.


What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?