Creative and communications agencies know that storytelling is a vital element of a strong campaign. But when it comes to storytelling in research, the application of story can be easily overlooked. But, studies show that we think in stories, so why don’t researchers share insights this way?
Consequently, in this post, we explore the power of story – storytelling fundamentals that will improve the communication of customer insights in a way that is memorable and persuasive to your audience.
By and large, there is an art to storytelling in research. Research data can be a dry and a dense read. It takes skill to sift through the details and unearth the insights. Now that information is ubiquitous, the method of gathering and interpreting data is where our value lies. We have to make our data ‘sticky’.
However, the problem often comes in how those insights are shared. And this is where we’re missing a trick. The research and data science community tend to rely on endless charts and graphs to sell our insights. We’ve all seen PowerPoint decks so overloaded with information they’re almost unreadable.
Though a necessary evil perhaps, but it’s not the only option.
Once upon a time still matters
In short, Mark Turner, cognitive scientist and linguist, puts it best in his work The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language (1996):
‘Story is the fundamental instrument of thought. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining… most of experience, our knowledge, and our thinking is organized as stories.’
Countless studies reinforce this view (if you’re interested, Blythe et al. 2004 or Boje 1991, is the tip of the iceberg). Yet we seem content to repeatedly throw out data points, and sometimes insights, as lists – leaving interpretation to our clients. If we want our messages to truly land, we should follow our colleagues in advertising. We should tell more and better stories.
Structuring the story
There are a number of ways to shape a story. The easiest way to introduce storytelling with data is with a tried and tested narrative structure. One that serves data particularly well is a variation on the classic three-act structure. Most people know this as the beginning, middle and end. But there’s a bit more to it than that.
This is all about the CHALLENGE. Here we identify the problem or issue that needs a solution. It’s all about setting the scene and introducing a key question.
This is the STRUGGLE. It’s the heart of the insight, the tension in the data and the subject matter. Our story brain likes to know that getting to the end wasn’t easy – that the insight wasn’t obvious.
This is the RESOLUTION. Here the initial challenge or problem is answered. It’s the thing you want your reader or audience to walk away with.
We apply this method to our own research projects at Delineate. This structure is an effective logical framework that cuts straight to the heart of the matter without unnecessary fuss. The power of story lies in its simplicity.
How we use storytelling in research
We use data to bring our stories to live in lots of ways. They help shape our thinking about research projects and they help us explore the most interesting insights. One way that they are particularly effective is how we apply them to whitepapers. As an example, take a look at the whitepaper we worked on in collaboration with Henley Business School: The Side Hustle Economy.
Too often the insights from research can be delivered in an academic way that alienates the reader. We prefer to approach content as a story worth telling, and that’s why we ensure we use storytelling devices throughout.