As a market research supplier, we work for a large variety of clients across many different industries. A progressing trend that we’ve come to realize not only with our clients, but within our own organization, is businesses need to get more done in less time. Some would argue that’s always been the case. Our clients’ “to-do” lists continually expand with each new priority being more important than the last. Although we never want to see our market research play second fiddle with our clients, it is sometimes a reality because of their other pressing issues their business faces on a daily basis.

Therefore, rather than accept this fact and not change our methods, it’s critical for market researchers (like me) to evolve and find ways to break through the clutter and deliver our findings in a quick, clear and decisive manner. This must often be delivered in a forum such as a presentation to board members, decision-makers and other client stakeholders. These might be presentations to busy people who may have short attention spans and want a straight-forward story. In fact, there was actually a mini-session at TMRE titled “Treat Your Clients Like Kids.”

storytelling wordle

Here is a situation all of us market researchers have probably faced or come close to facing. The alarm goes off again at 6:25, and you’ve already hit snooze twice. Over the past three months (which seems to you like three years), you’ve been working on this consumer insights market research project to explore point-of-purchase (POP) decision-making factors consumers consider while buying products in your client’s retail store. You’ve spent countless hours working through the proper methodology, observing customers in the store, designing intercept survey scripts, managing the fieldwork, quality checking data, sifting through thousands of pictures and video captures of POPs, and spent every waking hour of your last two weeks compiling all of the data and its findings into a 178-page PowerPoint report. You have an endless amount of key takeaways from the market research and can’t wait to deliver these results to your client at your meeting this morning at 9:00. You are running on little to no sleep because of all of the last-minute tweaking and additions you’ve made to the file just a few hours ago. Come the time of your presentation at 9:00 a.m. in Conference Room 4, all that is keeping you standing is the $2.65 large coffee you bought at the drive-thru in the morning. As a market researcher, we can probably all relate to a similar scenario.

What if you find out that the management board you are meeting with only has five minutes to listen to your findings because their prior meeting ran over and their next meeting starts in a matter of minutes? Storytelling forces you to condense information and deliver key takeaways in a fluid and memorable fashion. It forces you to take three to four months (or more) of work and summarize the key points to only reference parts that are worth mentioning. As an analyst in market research, it’s not our job to show off our skills making 100-plus pages of fancy charts and graphs. It’s our job to interpret and condense those 100-plus pages of fancy charts and graphs into a story. Most anyone can make a chart from a survey question, but good analysts can interpret that information, connect it to other data from the survey and use their knowledge to tell a story about that same chart.

Here are five tips to tell a better story using market research:

  • Set up your story. If you don’t engage the audience and grab their attention in the first 30 seconds, you have likely lost them. You’ll continue on with your presentation but the only eye contact you’ll get is off the reflection from their iPhone or Blackberry. Use the objective of the market research project to pose a question or create conflict for your listeners. The use of hand-puppets here is not strictly prohibited.
  • Use a dashboard. If you still can’t quite let go of key statistics in your report, try to condense them into a one-page summary dashboard. This is a simple tool for quick reference for your audience and draws their attention to the numbers that matter.
  • Use themes. Once you have your charts and graphs populated, take a step back and try to make inter-connections with the data. As you tell your story and move through your chapter headlines, feel free to use supporting data to back-up your claim.
  • Apply the five-minute rule. No matter how long a market research project took or how many pages your report is, force yourself to summarize the data in five minutes or less. What core takeaways do you want your audience to walk away with? What do you want them to remember? That needs to be your focus.
  • Utilize the appendix. More and more market researchers are placing charts, graphs and other types of analysis in the appendix of reports. This is not to devalue the work but rather ensure that the reader focuses the important context found in your report before the appendix.
5 Tips to Tell a Better Story Using Market Research

George is seen here giving his story recap on the Van Westendorp pricing sensitivity meter and its ramifications on the CPG industry in Portugal.

George Kuhn is the Director of Research Services at Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS), a market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. RMS specializes in market research for the healthcare, education and finance industries. 2012 celebrates its 10th year in business.