The art of storytelling – The role of knowing your audience

Insight Communication, Market Research, Qualitative Research


A major part of creating actionable insights for clients is making sure we, as qualitative researchers, communicate research findings to them effectively – and a good way of doing this is through the art of storytelling. There are a number of elements that need to be considered to make sure your story makes an impact, including structure, timing and language, as well as the medium used to tell it. But all of these factors are subjective to your audience. As a market researcher, you know that understanding your audience is a key ingredient in marketing, but it’s also integral to the storytelling process in research; a non-tailored message will likely be ignored.

So, storytelling is an essential skill for the researchers of today. And clearly, before crafting your story you need to define your audience. Find out how much the people you are creating a report or presentation for know about your topic, and where there might be barriers present in their engagement. Ask yourself what team they’re on (are they a marketer or a market researcher or in IT?), what sector your client is in (automotive vs. finance), and how much experience they have (are they C-Suite or non-management?). Once you have a firm idea of who you’re communicating with and what they want to hear, you can think about how to tailor the story to resonate with them.

Good storytelling involves structure. The reality is that if your audience is in the C-Suite they’re going to be busy and will not be able to engage with every element of your story. In this case, you must make sure the essential takeaways are upfront, so carefully plan your structure to exclude any unnecessary details. CEOs should never feel overwhelmed by data and information, and instead should be presented immediately with the main findings – the insight that will inspire them to take action.

Your audience will also shape the language of your story. If your audience has little knowledge of qualitative research, they’re unlikely to understand any technical terms – so lose the jargon. Some of the technical specifics of research may also be lost when talking to client-side researchers and marketers, so instead, use clear and simple language to define your points. Use of language is especially important if you’re speaking to the C-Suite. Make sure to use their language, as they won’t have time to spare interpreting what you’ve said or asking questions later on.

Language also comes into play when you set the scene for your story. When speaking to clients from specific industries, like automotive or finance, try to tap into the language they speak. This effort to relate to your audience and provide a snapshot of their industry will suggest your expertise in the field and will help gain your client’s trust.

The medium used to convey your story is also dependent on your audience. Has the client asked for a presentation, a full report, or just a top-line summary? The key is to optimize the options at your disposal. If you’re doing a presentation, keep it short, and then provide a follow up document with more detail. If you’re doing a report, make sure to include a summary or an infographic.

But no matter who your audience is, you need to make sure they’re full engaged with the insight and what it means for them. This can be done by combining the insight or data with visuals such as infographics, photos and videos to provide grounding examples of reality that the audience can relate to. Visuals are important when communicating insight because large quantities of written information can be overwhelming and become meaningless. Small data is especially useful when communicating qualitative research; video in particular really brings the respondents to life and allows clients to understand their customers first hand. It brings clients right into the focus room, helping them to feel invested in the actual research, and really hear what their customers are saying.

So, when telling a good story, you need to ensure your message is suitably targeted so it won’t be given the cold shoulder. Knowing who you’re speaking to will allow you to design a story that uses an approachable language style, structure and form, and that is contextualized around what the audience already knows about your topic. Ultimately, we tell stories to encourage a response from the audience, and this is no different in research, where the goal is to deliver actionable insight right to the decision makers.

If you’re interested in learning more about building impactful communications through storytelling and finding the golden thread in the information, check out our white paper on insight communications or watch our recent webinar on this topic.