This post was originally published on the Sentient Decision Science Blog.
The Schwan Company’s manager of consumer insights and analytics held a fun workshop called “Your Voice—the Power to Slay the Two Dragons of Storytelling.” By leading participants in two creative writing exercises, she encouraged market researchers to ditch the corporate speak that plagues our presentations and find our own human voice.
If it sounds like Saulsbury didn’t know her audience, be assured she did. She addressed the certain skepticism held by any data analysts or behavioral scientists in the room by conceding that the type of presentation should depend on the client.
“A client once told me before a presentation that if I showed him one number, he’d walk out,” an audience member offered.
Saulsbury nodded, asking audience members to cut down on the slide decks and get to the point faster.
“When putting together reports we’re often afflicted by the No Data Left Behind Syndrome,” she said with a laugh. “Less is not lazy.”
Big Data Dominance
Are executives so exhausted by tables and charts that they’re letting data die? According to Alec Ross, there’s no way. As data becomes more abundant, industries become more efficient.
And data is incredibly abundant.
“Ninety percent of the world’s data in the totality of human history has been produced in the last two years,” said the former senior advisor for technology and innovation at the State Department.
“The sum of all the data from paintings on cave walls to 2003, we now produce that amount of data every two days… over 16 billion networked devices.”
So how do we leverage that?
In “We Are Not in Kansas Anymore—Consumer Insights in the Age of Big Data”Walmart’s Senior Director of Consumer Insights and Analytics, Heiko Schafer, admitted it can be overwhelming.
“Big CPGs are under tremendous pressure,” he said.
Schafer quoted Ross’s note about how 70,000 data points are available about all of us. The pressure comes in reconciling these new data streams and business models.
Companies like Walmart use the newly available data sets to integrate things like geolocationing, sensors, and digital media into their skill set. The result can be incredibly informed, targeted marketing.
Data as a Storyteller
We urge our analysts at Sentient to also highlight conflicts between data and its context. Those conflicts might reveal important insights the client wasn’t even looking for.
Saulsbury suggested that researchers begin presentations with the most compelling findings. “’Don’t bury the lede,’” she quoted.
Schafer illustrated with a study about the sales of colored pencils.
Data in graph form showed peaks in colored pencil sales where you might expect them—Christmas, Easter, and at the start of the school year—as well as a general increase in year-over-year sales.
Researchers could have accepted the numbers as they stood, but they knew something was off. Birth rates in the United States had dropped off in the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and so there are actually fewer school-age children enrolled in the areas they were looking at.
“What is going on [with the data]? What’s driving this? Why is it happening?” Schafer posed.
As it turns out, the reason colored pencil sales are going up is because the sales of adult coloring books are going up. Why was that happening? Researchers then looked at social media conversations and Google Trends and saw that a lot of adults are stressed out. They’re looking for creative escapes.
Where the data says sales of colored pencils are up, the true story is that sales of colored pencils are up because burned out adults are looking for catharsis in coloring books.
Imagine how much money could have been wasted on marketing to the wrong demographic.
Truth Is Important; So Is How You Share It
If data equals truth, truth should trump all in market research, right? Not if no one is listening to it.
That’s why storytelling is part of Sentient’s DNA.
Yes, we are a company that’s expert in advanced implicit research technology, the consumer subconscious, and quantifying the impact of emotion on choice. Our technologies are coupled with deep knowledge of behavioral economics, emotional branding, and quantitative models of the drivers of human behavior.
But the value of our insights comes from the stories we tell about data.
People support and share ideas they have an emotional connection to. By crafting our insights in a way that inspires emotion, we give data a better chance to resonate with our audience. We don’t just reel off numbers, we help clients understand why they should care about those numbers.
Facts and data don’t have to die. We can use stories to help keep them alive.