The Failure of the Story Paradigm #MRX


People love storytelling. Once upon a time is a great way to learn to be nice to other children, that selfishness isn’t the best way to run your life, that if you kiss a frog you might get a prince. But in the market research space, this paradigm  needs to die a quick death.research story puzzle

Sure, telling a research story is heartwarming and gives you goosebumps. To travel in the day of a life of a single person gives you a more meaningful understanding of a brand. But the Story Telling Paradigm is a gross misdirection. It’s like leading someone through a puzzle with blinders on and only showing them the pretty coloured pieces you want them to see.

Story telling means you find interesting tidbits in your research and piece them together into a cool and memorable story, preferably one that creates goosebumps and makes people want to jump on the bandwagon.

In all honesty, I could take ANY research project and weave together ANY story you want me to tell. Want to prove that people like a particular shoe? I can create that story. Want to prove that people hate that exact same shoe? Well, I can create that story with the exact same dataset. If I only show you the pieces of story that create the story I want to tell, you’d never know it. You’ll have written the business plan, shot the commercial, and be staring at financials that don’t make any sense just a few short months after my emotionally inspiring story landed on your desk.

What storytelling misses are opinions and life experiences from the other seven hundred people whose story didn’t suit the cause. It doesn’t tell you about the interactions with other variables.research puzzle story It doesn’t tell you where there were no differences between people or slight differences between people. It doesn’t tell you about the exceptions or the unusual cases or the seven other stories that were just as important but not nearly as entertaining. A ten slide story presentation absolutely cannot describe research results in sufficient detail to make a quality research decision.

What does story telling do? It gets you just interested enough to want to read the full research report, to see all the missing pieces and understand how everything fits together as whole. So if you’re preparing your story as an introduction to the full research report, more power to you. If not, don’t waste your time doing the research. Just write the story you were planning on telling anyways.

2 responses

  1. I think you’re being a bit unfair to storytelling. What you’re talking about is cherry picking, which is obviously bad research. But a good story can help to engage an audience and let them connect to data that would otherwise be quickly forgotten and ignored. Story telling is about being conscious and creative in the delivery of good content and is not about being creative about what content you select to show.

    1. Perhaps, perhaps. People need to connect with research results to end up taking action on them. But, I think people are getting more caught up in telling a fun story than telling the full story. The full story is never ten slides long including clip art.

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