Data without context only tells half the story. Businesses are continually investing in data, people, and technology, yet according to research firm Forrester, last year fewer business decisions were made using data (45%) than in 2016 (49%).
The problem for most companies is the “insights-to-action gap.” How can you take the leap from collecting customer feedback to delivering actionable results?
Whether you’re a market researcher, marketer or simply need to communicate a solution to your stakeholders, you need to be able to construct a clear and compelling story—otherwise, you risk losing their attention and the chance to be seen as a strategic partner
Learning how to frame your research and presenting it in a compelling way is essential to move from insight to action. Below are five tips to create a structured story that can help your data have an impact.
Identify your key message
Market research tools can deliver in a host of interesting data points. While it may be tempting to cram in as much information as possible into your presentation or report, research expert Ray Poynter advises against this approach.
Instead, he suggests identifying your key message and using one or two key data points to clearly highlight the business problem and provide a solution or direction. Using a surprising or stand-out statistic is more memorable than cramming in multiple research points. For example, when Grant Thornton published its study on women in corporate leadership, it prominently noted that close to a third of companies have no women in senior management.
Not sure which statistic to highlight? Start with “why.” Simon Sinek is an ethnographer, TED speaker and leadership consultant who delivered a popular TED talk and wrote a best-selling book on this topic. He argues that successful business leaders can motivate themselves by understanding why what they do is important and use this same approach to catalyze their teams.
You can use this framework from a research perspective too—consider, why does this research matter? What problem are you solving? Providing context before diving into your results helps your audience understand why they should be paying attention at all.
Humanize your results
You may have all the data in the world, but if you can’t connect with your audience, you might as well have nothing.
Nancy Duarte, TED speaker and best-selling author on visual storytelling, is a strong advocate of building emotional appeal through examples and anecdotes. In her book Resonate, Duarte gives the example of tech giant Cisco Systems. The company’s salespeople became much more successful when they stopped delivering fact-heavy presentations to promote their products and started telling stories. For instance, the story of a struggling, small business owner who grew his company and managed it more effectively using Cisco products is much more relatable than simply hearing about all the latest features.
Key to this strategy is identifying your audience and understanding what examples will resonate. If you have an , one way of doing this is by going through past activities and compiling responses from customers to add color and context to your story.
Create a narrative
You’ve got the numbers, identified your audience and collected relevant anecdotes. Now, how can you deliver the story in a compelling way? It helps to develop a narrative structure.
Poynter suggests building a narrative flow that has a clear beginning, middle and end. In this way, you can borrow the same techniques that some of history’s greatest storytellers have relied on—a story arc that features a relatable protagonist, reminds the audience of the status quo and then reveals the path to a better way.
Using this structure, you can create a cohesive story—preferably one that inspires action.
Make it visual
Humans are visual creatures. Even if you’ve written the best data-driven story you can find, you risk losing your audience if you present a wall of text. Figuring out the best way to present your results is important to avoid getting lost in the noise.
Consider using infographics, slideshares or simply including graphic elements that can support your narrative and make it easier to digest.
Tell people what to do next
Create identifiable next steps for your audience. Some brands already understand that research can be create a good story and deliver actionable insight. For example, OkCupid uses data from members of its dating service to create insightful, data-driven blog posts. One popular post, “Don’t Be Ugly By Accident” uses research to explain how to create a successful profile picture for online dating.
The post follows the steps listed here—there is a key message, real examples, visual elements and clear next steps—to be entertaining and useful. And arguably the takeaway is applicable to anyone who uses any kind of social media, whether it’s a dating site, Facebook or LinkedIn.
Data without a story isn’t compelling. Make an impact by delivering data in a way that makes sense, and compels your audience to action. By creating a story arc that your stakeholders can relate to, you can transform market research from a tactical tool into a strategic corporate asset that can enhance decision-making across the enterprise.