It all began in Kindra Hall’s high school physics class. She had to write a paper–five pages, to be exact–on her favorite physics topic. She chose gravity. But even with all the data, her paper only reached four pages. She decided to add a story about sitting on a roller coaster and feeling the effects of gravity. The physics teacher gave her an A, with the following comment: “excellent application of information to real-life situations.”
This was the start of Kindra Hall’s lifelong passion for storytelling. In her keynote at the North American Customer Intelligence Summit, she spoke about why stories work, how stories are built, and a few strategies for approaching market research storytelling with a strategy in mind.
Why it works
Humans could be called “the storytelling animal”. We want to hear stories. Stand-up comedians, books, movies, television: all are telling stories, and the most successful ones can influence generations.
Hall noted that there are physiological reasons for this: stories cause increased levels of cortisol (for attention) and oxytocin (trust and bonding) in the brain. No wonder then that stories catch our attention and make us feel connected to the people in it.
Stories are also memorable. They are definitely easier to remember than a list of bullet points. This is because storytelling is a co-creative process: when we hear a story, we make our own images in our head. It’s also memorable because it elicits emotion, and our memories are better at remembering emotional moments.
What is a story?
A story is a particular kind of communication. In business, we use a lot of different types: bullet points, personas, data, and principles. But none of these are stories. Market research stories work in ways that are different from other kinds of communication.
Hall explained the basic components of a story. First, it happens at a specific moment and a specific place. It has a beginning, middle, and end. It also involves emotion, rather than just information. It has characters that we care about, and there is something at stake for them.
These elements are what differentiate stories from other types of documents or communications businesses produce.
Strategies for storytelling
Hall shared a few strategies for doing business storytelling well. First, she says to focus on nouns: people and things guide a concrete story rooted in events, not vague ideas or principles.
A story also follows a certain rhythm: it begins with a “normal” state, goes through an explosion (a conflict or an event that changes everything) and then settles back into the new normal. It uses identifiable characters, strong emotions, and focuses on specific moments and details.
Finally, Hall mentioned typical times when telling a story is a good strategic choice: in meetings and presentations, in digital communications, and of course one-on-one. But she also warned that you must choose the right story: making the wrong storytelling choice will not help you carry your point across.
Your data tells stories
For people in your organization to make sense of the customer intelligence data you gather, you must learn how to present market research in a compelling way. Since stories connect with who we are as human beings, they are possibly the best way to do so.