The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 6 Issue 3   June 2010


Facts are hard to argue with. Many times, however, it’s the well-told story that does the persuading and makes the case.

Today’s newsletter looks at story-telling, and in particular, how researchers can combine this with data to paint a compelling picture.

Best wishes,

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Every Story Tells a Picture
Here’s a true story that you may find familiar…

Over the past year, my family struggled with the terminal illness of its matriarch, my cherished Aunt Mary, who turned 90 this past February and passed away two short weeks later. While 90 years old is generally in the age bracket where mourners console each other with phrases like, “She had a long and happy life,” it doesn’t make the loss any easier.

This is particularly true for my Uncle Mike, three and a half years her senior and Mary’s husband of over 50 years.

To say he is lonely would be an understatement. The TV is on constantly to fill the lack of sound. The room where her hospital bed had been is used for storage. He visits family for nearly every meal, to avoid having to eat alone.

And the bills! Despite medical coverage of all kinds, they keep coming and coming, even months after her death. Her year-long struggle with cancer left what feels like an endless stream of invoices related to tests, transportation, medicine, funeral services, etc. A lot for a widower to handle under any circumstances, but especially for a man in his nineties.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

But what if, instead of telling you the very real and personal story of Uncle Mike and Aunt Mary, I had simply given you some statistics?:
  • 95% of white American women die before reaching the age of 90. (CDC)
  • Spending during the last year of life accounts for 27.4% of total Medicare spending. (Wall Street Journal)
Which do you think would have a greater impact on your beliefs regarding the importance of life insurance for seniors — the story or the numbers? I’m hoping you said “the story.”

Consider this: In their best-selling book, Made to Stick, brothers Chip and Dan Heath explain that not only do stories tend to “stick” in the minds of those who hear them, when vivid detail is included, the stories themselves seem more credible. In this case, phrases like “hospital bed,” and “visits family for nearly every meal” have impact.

This has important implications for anyone who’s in the business of convincing others.

For example, while I don’t sell life insurance, it seems clear that if you do, you’re more likely to convince a prospective purchaser of the need for said insurance by telling my uncle’s story than by simply piling on statistics.

(An extreme example of this, if you are or were a fan of The X-Files, is the character of Clyde Bruckman, the life insurance salesman with prescient powers, played by the late Peter Boyle; we’ve reproduced one of the show’s more memorable exchanges in our sidebar.)

Here’s the Twist: We’re market researchers, just like you, and we love clear, compelling, well-ordered data. But (just like you), we’re also human beings. As such, we are heavily influenced by accompanying anecdotal evidence.

Particularly regarding topics that are uncomfortable to think about (like death), the stories you gather in your research can paint a very human picture, powerfully conveying messages that statistics alone cannot.

— Julie

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As mentioned above, stories have impact. And qualitative research is an extremely useful tool for gathering the unbiased, illustrative anecdotes you need to make your research findings credible and memorable. Here’s what we recommend:

  • In-depth and open-ended. At the end of a web-based or similarly large-scale survey, there usually emerge several key “take-aways.” Often, and somewhere within that large database, there are several participants whose responses closely mirror the exact key findings we believe our client should hear.

    By engaging those individuals in a targeted, in-depth, open-ended conversation after the fact, we gather stories by giving participants the freedom and space to elaborate on their experiences.
  • Telephone-based. While there certainly are people who are able to convey themselves well and fully in written communications (such as in response to open-ended questions in a Web-based survey), telephone interviews will always prove more useful.

    Not only do they allow for more expression, the ability of a trained interviewer to follow up to participants’ comments through attentive questioning results in more powerful feedback than what can be gathered in a one-sided survey.

    In addition, the privacy and intimacy that phones offer nearly always results in deeper and more candid information than what can be gleaned through other qualitative methods, such as in-person or on-line focus groups.
  • Recorded. Listening and writing at the same time is hard to do; the average person speaks much faster than any of us can write or type. An interviewer who relies solely on note-taking, therefore, must choose between artificially slowing down the conversation for the sake of accuracy, or leaving words out and summarizing on the fly for the sake of keeping things moving.

    Note-taking is a form of filtering, subject to each interviewer’s hearing, mood, interpretation and skill. By necessity, only a portion of what’s conveyed is captured, often making unrecorded interviews less representative and reliable from the start.

    Whether used for the inclusion of sound snippets as part of the final presentation, or simply as a means of verifying what was said, a recording serves as an accurate record of the original conversation.


Every Story Tells a Picture

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

And speaking of Made to Stick, be the third person to send us an e-mail with your request and we’ll send you a free copy!

Made to Stick

“You don’t get it, do you, kid? Two years from now, while driving down Route 91… coming home to your wife and baby daughter… you’re going to be hit head-on… driving a blue ’87 mustang…”

“Mister… you really need to work on your closing technique.”

— Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, The X Files, Season Three

Problems? Click here to send us an email with your request.
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result, our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.

Understanding What People Really Think

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