Today’s world is awash with vast quantities of information. Meetings, instant messages, telephone calls, text messages, e-mails, everything and anything on the Internet all vying for our attention.

Insights reports add to these competing materials and, despite the best efforts of all involved, delivering findings that provide immediate impact to the C-suite and key stakeholders can be an elusive goal. The time-strapped audience often speeds through the material and the message can get lost.

In this environment, storytelling has never been more important. But while there’s been a lot of buzz around this term, it is unclear what it really means in context of insights reports. Is it the ability to condense key findings into a cohesive narrative? The structure of the report? The visual representation of the data? Or maybe it’s all about the presenter’s delivery of the results? In truth, all of these elements are important. However, there is an additional crucial requirement: connecting the audience to the data.

Stories, according a Harvard Business Review article (O’Hara, 2014), “create ‘sticky’ memories by attaching emotions to things that happen.” Relating this to insights, even though we are reporting data we still need to engage the emotions of our audience. We can do this by humanizing the numbers or the themes to enable the findings to connect, resonate and in turn become memorable. In her 2010 TedTalk, Dr. Brené Brown said, “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.”

How do we do this? Through small data. While big data can feel unapproachable and abstract, small data tells the human story about how people live, the products they use, the way they use them and so on. Small data helps convey the point and create a sticky memory.

Quotes are good. Images are better. But video is perhaps the most powerful way to create those sticky memories. Cognitively, it is easy to digest. A recent MIT study (Trafton, 2014) found that the human brain can process a single visual within 13 milliseconds, so imagine how much we absorb watching a short video. It is also undeniably authentic. Seeing faces, hearing voices and understanding emotions creates a different level of connection and empathy.

Within research today, there are multiple sources of video data available, from focus group recordings, online communities and mobile ethnographies to Webcam interviews and video open-ends within surveys. (Figure 1)

Historically, it has been extremely cumbersome to manage. The need for secure storage, hours of ploughing through footage and using video editing tools to create clips was burdensome beyond the means of most researchers. Fortunately, research technology makes it easier to harness, with enhanced analytical capabilities, easy clipping and sharing. (Figure 2)

So it is now feasible to collect the video data, analyze it, create clips and share with stakeholders. However, simply having the highlight reel is not enough; the video needs to be used thoughtfully and as part of your overall story.

Here are a few areas to consider to get the most out of your video.

  1. What is the overall story structure?

Determining your overall story structure is the essential first step. What is your narrative and what shape are you going to put around it? It can be a simple three-act structure (beginning, middle and end) or a less linear path, such as the hero’s journey or Nancy Duarte’s “what is, what could be” (see Duarte’s TedTalk “The secret structure of great talks” for a good overview of story structure). Here you’ll also want to think about how you’ll humanize the data to connect the audience with it. You may open with a nugget that sets the scene and then broaden out to the trends and themes found in the data. Another approach is to start with a summary of the findings before diving into the details, layering the small data in at various points. Mapping the story on paper (or computer!) is helpful in organizing your thoughts and putting the structure in place.

  1. Where does the video sit within the overarching story?

Closely tied to your overall story structure, you next need to consider at what point(s) your video will appear. Is it part of the opening act, a mid-proof point or an end summary? How does the placement tie with the purpose of the video – does it frame the problem, deliver a proof point or summarize the findings? How will this positioning create maximum emotional engagement and impact?

  1. How will the video be included?

Will you use multiple short clips or one long one? This will of course depend on your overall structure and use of video within that. Beyond this, you need to balance length and attention. Too fleeting a glimpse can be irritatingly short. Too much can become a blur. According to Wistia (2016), viewer engagement drops off after two minutes so as a rule of thumb aim to stay below that mark. Just like each slide in your report, slim down your video so that only material essential to the narrative is included.

  1. Is the video (intended to be) shareable?

Is the video only being used as part of the presentation or will it be shared after? Either way, it is essential to have the relevant respondent consent for how it will be used. Permissions are fundamental. It is a foundation of research ethics, as set out in the 1947 Nuremberg Code and expanded upon within the 1964 Helsinki Declaration. Today, legislations such as the implementation of GDPR in May and the California Consumer Privacy Act add legal obligations to the ethical ones. Under GDPR, individuals can withdraw their consent to appear in a video at any time, even if they gave their initial approval. It’s therefore crucial to review your company’s privacy policies to ensure that you have the ability to take down published videos wherever they may be located when participants no longer want them to be in use. Research technology solutions are an important mechanism to facilitate viewing and sharing of video data while keeping it secure and facilitating legal compliance.

In the highly competitive business world, the measure of success for insight reporting is not simply the delivery of findings but the telling of stories in ways that emotionally connects the findings to the audience. This connection provides urgency in the call to action, facilitates recall beyond the meeting room and empowers faster decision-making. Stories and the video journeys that illustrate them become memorable and are filled with emotions and non-verbal information. When connected back to research questions, central themes can emerge through video, becoming tangible, clear and diverse.

 

References

Brown, B. 2010. The Power of Vulnerability. TedxHuston https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability#t-66625 [retrieved July 2018]

Duarte, N. (2011). The Secret Structure of Great Talks. TedxEast https://www.ted.com/talks/nancy_duarte_the_secret_structure_of_great_talks [retrieved July 2018]

Fishman, E. 2016. How Long Should Your Next Video Be? Wistia https://wistia.com/learn/marketing/optimal-video-length [retrieved July 2018]

O’Hara, C. 2014. How to Tell a Great Story. Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2014/07/how-to-tell-a-great-story [retrieved July 2018]

Trafton, A. 2014. In the blink of an eye. MIT News. http://news.mit.edu/2014/in-the-blink-of-an-eye-0116 [retrieved July 2018]


Zoe Dowling, Ph.D., is lead research strategist at FocusVision where she uses her research expertise to help clients best apply FocusVision’s technological solutions to their research needs. She is an expert in Internet and mobile research, specializing in respondent engagement as well as online and offline qualitative approaches. Previously, she was at Kantar Added Value for nine years, most recently as SVP, R&D and global mobile capability leader.