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A complete guide to storytelling in market research

Are your research reports boring people’s pants off? It happens. All that data – a confluence of facts and figures – with nothing to bring it to life. No magic. No pizazz. No WOW factor.  

That doesn’t really matter though, does it? Your market research isn’t meant to be entertaining, right? 

Perhaps not, but it does need to capture the attention of your reader – otherwise, what’s the point? You can have the most insightful findings in the world (go you!), but if people are skipping over them to get to the good bit (that never comes), your data is going nowhere. 

So, what do you do about it?  

Tell a story, of course. 

Market research in the modern world  

Ah, the modern world. A place of digitally-driven wonder and neuroscience-inspired marketing; of waning attention-spans and perpetual short-form distractions. In all, a troubled terrain where vying for even a glimmer of that attention calls for far more effort than it used to.  

The insights brought about by neuroscience have confirmed what we always suspected: that storytelling lies at the very centre of human connection, understanding, and interpretation. In fact, Neuroscientist Paul Zak, Ph.D. – a straight-up pioneer in neuroscience and storytelling – found that stories literally make our brains “light up” with the release of oxytocin. 

Why does that matter? Well, this release is a natural indicator that the story you’re telling has had an emotional impact on your avid reader, with their ‘story-friendly’ human brain; it also means they’re far more likely to remember what you’re telling them. 

As market research evolves to value quality insights over quantity, and organisations become ever more customer-centric, the need for researchers to understand customer behaviour – and weave that understanding into a relatable narrative – is growing. It’s about understanding the human experience.   

We can see that it’s no longer enough to gather dry data and present it with apathetic indifference. Nope. Because in the modern world of market research, you’ve got to bring that data to life. You have to tell the human experience story. 

Importance of storytelling in market research 

Much like Victor Frankenstein on that fateful, stormy night, you’re now tasked with injecting sustainable life into something that’s disparate and dull on the surface, but full of promise far beneath – with the right approach, of course. 

So, why does storytelling matter so much? 

Market research is all about understanding your customers, but if you want to elicit insight from your data, you need to really listen to them and get to the bottom of what drives their behaviour. Once you have this insight, you can start to craft a story.  

Sharing powerful, data-driven customer stories with your stakeholders allows you to grab their attention, illustrate key findings, and contribute to customer-centric decisions. 

Without stories to bring statistics to life, fact-fatigue sets in. People are not machines, and not many of us can handle an onslaught of figures without switching off. It’s difficult to draw conclusions from data – or find meaningful takeaways – if the narrative is lacking. Our statistics, facts, figures and data need to leave readers in no doubt of what you’ve found, and why it’s important.  

A study from McMaster University  found that our brains relate best to character, which means – regardless of narrative format – your content will have more of an impact if you construct characters. In the case of market research, your protagonist should be your subject – because if your stakeholders can see their customers in the story, they’ll connect with the message.  

How you can use storytelling in your market research 

  1. Deal in visuals: Did you know that our brains can process an image in as little as 13 milliseconds? Whether it’s through words or visuals, the best stories ‘show’, rather than ‘tell’. That’s because when stories set a rich scene, we find it far easier to process them, and we tend to become more engaged. Using visuals then will help to bring your story to life and make your narrative stronger. Ultimately, you want to take steps to ensure your research report is easy to understand, and effortless to recall.  
  2. Get your graph on: If we’re dealing in visuals, then diagrams, graphs, charts and images should form the centrepiece of your report. We’ve already established that people have a shorter attention span these days, and busy readers are likely to flick through your report looking for visuals – meaning that they must convey a clear message. You might have a full-blown story in your text, but if your visuals don’t carry the same narrative, your conclusions are likely to get lost. Graphics are great for structuring your story, with charts as their evidence-based backbone.  
  3. Cut the waffle: If you want to tell a great story, your editing game has got to be strong. You’re trying to engage your reader here, so you need to cut anything that acts as an attention blackhole. If it’s distracting and adds no real value? Cut it out. To support your readers’ ability to recall key info, be ruthless with repetition, unfeeling with unnecessary text, and nonchalant with non-results. In other words, get them gone!  
  4. Focus on insights over info: If your research isn’t helping stakeholders to understand something better than they did before, what’s the point? The narrative contained in your study should be primarily focused on providing insights and presenting solutions rather than problems. It’s about giving your reader that moment of comprehension, when something finally clicks into place.  
  5. Make the story accessible: You can only tell a great story if people can give you the insight you need, and in our modern world of market research, you need to work hard to make that easy. The customer story needs to be accessible: MRCOs (market research online communities) and mobile ethnography (studying real people in real life, but without the haunting presence of a researcher in your house) helps you to gather the most important components of your story, straight from your characters’ mouths.  
  6. Engage your stakeholders: Data collection might be front and centre of market research, but you’re setting out to solve a problem, answer a question, and make change possible. You therefore need to tell your story in a way that makes stakeholders sit up and take notice, without having to decipher reams of digits to get to the point. Mobile ethnography is great here, because having a video to watch from a real-life customer brings insight to life in a way that old-fashioned reporting never can. 

Rules for implementing storytelling in your market research  

If you’re going to embrace the art of storytelling in your market research, there are a few things you ought to keep in mind before getting started.  

  1. Create your context: Before any research study can get underway, it’s absolutely imperative to have a clear understanding of everything that feeds into, affects, or hinges on that study – from the current status quo, pain points and stakeholder interests, to overarching business objectives, and the use to which your research will be put. You cannot hope to plan and design a powerful study, or engender a clear narrative, if you haven’t first gathered all available information on a business and its needs. 
  2. Consider the end: The reason it’s so important to get your head around business objectives before getting to work, is because you should always design your study with the end in mind. So rather than work from beginning to end, flip that whole approach on its head and work backwards. You need to consider the business objectives, then design your study in a way that will deliver everything you need to meet those objectives – including survey instrument and sampling frame. 
  3. Uncover your story: Your study is compete and you’ve got your hands on loads of rich data. Now the fun can really start it’s time to review the data, and uncover the story concealed within. The discovery phase is the most crucial when it comes to storytelling in market research: instead of offering up an endless list of facts and figures, question after question, you’re going to find the story that speaks to the business objectives; creating a coherent story that captures your readers’ attention and answers their most pressing questions. 
  4. Communicate your narrative: Your story will live or die on the strength of how you choose to communicate it. That’s why the techniques outlined above (using visuals, cutting the waffle, and making the story accessible) are so important. Unless you bring your story to life, it ain’t ever gonna be a best-seller (in other words, you could completely bypass the business objectives you’re working towards). 

How can Forsta help?  

Market research shouldn’t be mystifying. If you need a little help in mapping your market and uncovering your story, our Market Research Survey Software lifts the lid on the whole process, asks the big questions, and gets to the heart of the answers you’re after. 

We help you to walk in your customers’ shoes, and capture consumer insights in a way that will make your narrative easy to articulate.  

Starting with planning, we can work with you to fathom out what you want to investigate and plan a market insight project to match. And because we know the value of gathering stories first-hand, we’ll employ everything from video surveys and social media monitoring, to on-the-ground investigations and deep-dive desk research – before analysing the data to create crystal clear stories and helping you to turn that insight into action. 

Ready to unmask your market and get to the beating heart of its tale? Request a demo (You won’t be disappointed!) 

It’s storytelling time! 

By now, you should have a pretty good grasp of why storytelling in market research is so very important. Whether you pass the time with weighty tomes or lose yourself in the sea of social media newsfeeds, you’re drawn by narratives. We all are.  

So, stop weighing your readers down with dreary data and stale stats, and bring all of that meaty messaging to life through the power of stories. 


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