Tell Me a Story: How MR Can Leverage the Power of Narrative

Sometimes old habits die hard. Take market researchers, for instance. They used to take comfort in the assumption that they were in control of their brands and the stories told around them. It was driven and steered by MR, with an assured direction for which to navigate. Brand messaging would be beamed to audiences, and follow-up surveys would tell researchers what was working and what wasn’t. That was then, but this is now. The world has changed.

We live in an “always on” brave new social media ecosystem, where end users have the power to talk back. Their messages are shareable and spreadable like never before. It’s a new, tornadic spin on “word of mouth” news. The simple facts are that marketers do not have nearly as much control of their brands’ stories as they used to think. Consumers and customers have a voice. They are now participating in a dialogue that, due to the nature of the Internet, automatically gets woven into a brand “official narrative.” These ancillary stories are only a hashtag away from spreading faster than a brushfire.

The sooner MR grasps this reality, the better. What is in order is a change in strategy, something that can put in plain and simple terms: find out where your target audience is telling their stories about your brand online, and listen to them. Carefully. Listen and learn.

The World Is the Network

Think about the effect the Internet has had on our lives. We all have direct access to one another like never before. Business to business, marketer to consumer, consumer to consumer. The Net is built for fast and wide dissemination of content. Content delivery is no longer a one-way street. Traditional gatekeepers don’t wield the power they used to, and boundaries have been effectively eliminated.

What’s Your Story?

It’s not just the fact that we’re hyper-connected that’s relevant. It’s also what we are doing when we reach out and connect to one another that should be noted. We are sharing our lives, often in the form of telling stories around the stuff we own and use.

Storytelling runs deep in human nature. Ever since the invention of fires to gather around, people have been sharing stories. We love telling tales. We love listening to them. Stories tell us who we are and what matters to us. So it should be no wonder that people, once given social media access, would use the medium to speak of relationships to their products over time.

When Story meets Big Data

While the Internet and Mobile Communications have altered the power balance between brands and consumers, there is another just as momentous change brought on by technology. MR is swimming in big data. What we buy, how we use it, how we browse, it’s all trackable. Big data generated the need for massive data analytics, with the aim of answering all the who, what, where, and when questions about a customer base. We know more about customers than we ever did before. But can big data tell you the “why”?

That’s where storytelling comes in. If you want to understand why customers behave the way they do, you obviously will survey them, but you can listen to them online, too. It is absolutely vital to devote resources to the analysis and interpretation of this feedback. A two prong strategy can help you get a handle on what you are gathering from the most subjective of spaces.

First, survey respondents where they live online. It is quite likely these days that email might not be the best source. Technology changes rapidly, and you have to hit them where they hang out. Would in-product surveys or text messaging produce higher completion rates? Otherwise, you’ll be getting lower response rates and less reliable findings.

Secondly, implement a process to monitor popular social media spaces like Facebook, Twitter, “right” feedback is going to be finding an optimal signal to noise ratio. Social media can be a noisy space. Are all voices valid? Can they all be trusted? Are some more trustworthy than others? Caution is advisable. It will take nuanced analysis to sift through and tune into the authentic stories out there.

The Pay Off: Better Reporting

A holistic listening strategy merged with big data analytics means your reports are going to become more insightful and interesting. Think of the ways you can make your next research presentation “pop” by incorporating the actual voices of consumers, sharing their stories. What can’t be captured in a PowerPoint slide? The story. That’s the one you need to tell.


For more insights, see Jamin Brazil’s article Human Experience Takes Center Stage, at greenbook blog

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