Why I told a story
Last November I presented a study at a meeting of the Advanced Analytics network of the British Market Research Society (MRS) in London. I had turned the study into a story with two intertwining story lines. One was about the adventures of Astrid the Princess and her use of a booking site. The other was about a clash between Charlotte, interaction designer and Oscar, business manager at the booking site that Astrid used.
— Insert image 1 Curtain call for the three actors —
Why did I do that?
Because stories are more engaging
First, I considered a story to be more engaging than an academic-style presentation. The study was based on conjoint analysis, a complex quantitative market research approach that is usually hard to grasp for an audience. The work had been published in two peer-reviewed papers in academic journals, but a direct translation into an academic presentation format would have been boring. It would be more engaging if we were to package it as a story and present it in about 15 minutes: the audience would have understood me better, they would remember the contents better and they would be more likely to act upon it.
— Insert image 2 Understand, Remember, Act —
I call stories like these “business stories”. They have been born from a notion that research studies often don’t have the impact on businesses that the results justify, being ignored after the initial presentation of plain results and ending up in a drawer. It may have to do with the way they are presented to the business. A story takes the audience for a ride. I used the Pixar format in this story (once upon a time …, every day …, one day …, and then …, until …) but there are other formats that we can try to see how they work.
Because stories can help to see the effect of change
Stories help the audience to see the effects of a change which may make it easier to buy into it. The Pixar format is idea for that. Research-based business stories help you learn something from the data that may bring the business move forward from the current state into a desired state, showing what the future looks like. From our early youth we have learned that stories are a great vehicle to present an aspiration, an alternate reality that we create to get closer to an ideal state. That’s why I believe that stories can activate business stakeholders to accept change, seek it or buy into it.
— Insert visual 3 buying into change —-
Because stories help to see it from various perspectives
I used various characters representing different business stakeholders to see the effect of a change from various perspectives. The protagonists are Astrid the Princess and Charlotte the Interaction Designer, where Charlotte represents Astrid to the business. Designers and market researchers are often seen as representatives of the market and as the conscience of the business. Oscar the Business Manager is the antagonist and representative of business interests turned into Astrid and Charlotte’s common enemy.
— Insert visual 4 conflict between stakeholders —-
The distinction between a protagonist and an antagonist helps to show the conflict of interest between a change agent and others, which again may make it easier to envision a course of action. Change often meets resistance because stakeholders have different interests. Charlotte is a change agent who wants to change the interface design of the booking site in the interest of the consumer (Astrid) and the real estate value of the site as a whole. However, her changes to the interface design may disrupt Oscar’s revenue model so he resists the change. In this version of the story, the study results did not help to identify a solution to the conflict of interest so we leave it at that. In a future story, we may be able to describe the longer-term effects of changing the interface design, making the audience buy into the design changes.
Stories are engaging and a great way to see the impact of change from various perspectives, and thereby they more likely to inspire action than other presentation formats. I used a Pixar format to describing the path to change and I made a distinction between stakeholders divided into protagonists and antagonists to show the responses to change. Before doing this, it is smart to create a stakeholder map to identify conflicting interests and create personas to describe the stakeholders and their attitudes and behaviors anticipating change in more detail. Try it: look in your repository of studies to see if there is one you can turn it into a story for a conference or another business or client engagement and see what happens.