Insight and the Art of Storytelling

A couple of weeks ago I got involved in a bit of a Tweet-off with Ray Poynter. Ray argued (and I’m paraphrasing him slightly here) that our business was to uncover insights and that our clients would generally be indebted to us for our provision of these insights.

I, on the other hand, argued that insights are not much use unless they make a real difference to the client’s business and that storytelling is one of the key skills that can ensure this happens.

Ray responded with a blog post and, later, with a new discussion topic in the NewMR group on Linked in. In writing this short article, I suppose I’m taking our Tweet-off into something of a Blog-off, but I think its important to be clear what is meant by storytelling and why this is important. As Ray says, it’s hard to do that in 140 characters on Twitter.

Some people have tried to argue that the provision of insight is more important than storytelling. This is a bit like arguing that ingredients are more important than cooking. Sure enough, you can take the ingredients and chuck them in a pot and hope for the best. And you might get lucky. But as a client-side researcher for quite a few years, I sat through at least a hundred research debriefs, and sadly the majority of them were very badly cooked indeed.

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Re-branding or re-thinking?

Our new Director of People blogged last week about the relabeling of ‘HR’ to ‘People’. ‘HR’, rather like ‘Health & Safety’ does seem to carry some pretty unwelcome baggage these days. So, gradually, HR departments have been become ‘People’ departments.

Of course there’s much more to this than a re-labelling. It reveals a deeper cultural shift from the days of ‘Personnel’, who hired, fired, and made rules, to ‘Human Resources’, which to my mind always recalled the Hawthorne Experiments, to the more professionalized world of ‘People’ where the focus is on empowering and enabling.

Of course there’s been a similar rebranding in the research world where, fuelled by years of conference-inspired self-loathing, even the most unremarkable research practitioners have reinvented themselves as ‘Insight Managers’.

But whether our industry has really experienced the accompanying cultural shift is open to debate. Still there are Insight Managers who wouldn’t know an insight if it smacked them in the face. Maybe there are even Directors of People who don’t really like people very much.

In the end, as countless branding consultants will tell you, a brand is a promise. It’s who you are, it’s what you do, it’s the experience you deliver to your consumers. If our industry spent half as much time worrying about this as we did worrying about what to put on our business cards, we’d be dangerous.


Digital Switchover is here. Don’t panic! DON’T PANIC!

Digital UK, as you probably know, is responsible for managing the smooth transition from analogue to digital TV in the UK. With the help of their robot mascot, DigitAl, they run communications campaigns helping to build public awareness and understanding of digital switchover (DSO). This activity gets ramped up in the regions that are about to have their old analogue transmissions switched off. Like here in London.

There are only 5% of homes that don’t yet have digital TV, and nearly half of these viewers are aged over 65. (According to Ofcom) The vast majority are not particularly tech-savvy. It’s a particular concern of Digital UK’s that these viewers are not confused or alarmed by DSO. So if you’re talking to an elderly, potentially confused audience about the impending switchover, you probably wouldn’t want to put up posters like this across London:

Switchover Apocalypse

And yet this is exactly what Digital Uk has done. You’ll note DigitAl, grinning robotically at the fuzzy blank TV screen.

Now, in the pantheon of fear-inducing public service announcements, I reckon this is pretty much unparalleled. With the possible exception of this one:

Certainly in peacetime Britain, it’s hard to imagine anything more alarmist. Even the Daily Mail would struggle to inspire quite this degree of angst and rabid self-doubt.

My TV channels are going to DISAPPEAR?! In APRIL?! Even ITV?! Even the ANTIQUES ROADSHOW?! These spending cuts are out of control!! They can close the swimming pools and the public loos but we won’t let them take Fiona Bruce off our screens. We’ll march on Downing Street! We’ll have a bloody riot!

I think I’d better ring my gran.

I consider myself… excluded

For a while now I’ve been wondering why I don’t seem to watch anything on BBC One. (Except for the news, and Match of the Day, and HIGNFY, and the Natural History stuff – obviously.)

I’m surely in the target audience. And there’s probably some programmes on that I would like. Sometimes I hear about them, when it’s a bit too late. (Spooks, Outnumbered, Mistresses, the occasional one-off drama….) For which, of course, there’s the iPlayer, so long as you get there in time.

I miss them because I’m watching things on V+ that I know I like: Boardwalk Empire, The The Killing, something interesting on BBC Four, America’s Next Top Model. That sort of thing. So it’s partly my own fault. And because I know this, I try to venture back every now and then to see what I’m missing.

And that’s where it all goes wrong.

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Making surveys less rubbish

Research Live has returned to the topic of poor research surveys again today.

And all credit to them for keeping the topic alive, as rubbish surveys continue to give us all a bad name. The ‘respondent experience’ is so central to everything we do, yet so widely overlooked.

But I’d take issue with a few points.

Firstly, it’s wrong to correlate the quality of the questionnaire with the amount of time spent preparing it. Some of the very worst surveys are those that have been continually revised by committees of ‘stakeholders’ over weeks. These are often the same surveys that lose sight of the people who matter – the ‘respondents’ (or users, as other industries would call them.)

Secondly, the idea that there is a straight choice between surveys and online communities is totally misguided. It’s like the old quant v qual debate all over again. Used well, each are important tools in our toolkit, delivering very different types of consumer knowledge and inspiration. (And used badly, both can be a complete waste of money.)

And thirdly, gamification is one of the things we can do to improve engagement. But it’s not the only thing. We now have so many new ways of making surveys engaging and – dare I say it – enjoyable, it’s a bit depressing to see the old researcher lemming effect kicking in again.

One thing we all agree on – as an industry, every rubbish survey hurts and shames us and we must do better.

Mobile: better than telly?

Interesting report here from Ofcom that has been picked up by quite a few publications this morning. It’s easy to see how at face value this could read “teenagers prefer mobiles to TV”, sending TV channel controllers all round London into a panic. But I suspect that there’s no need for hysteria.

While the TV device may now be less vital for younger audiences, this doesn’t mean that TV content is.

If you ask tech-savvy teenagers to choose between a TV, a mobile and PC internet (as the survey does) many of them will quickly work out that if they choose a laptop or a mobile, they could do many things on it: talking to friends, listening to music, visiting websites, keeping up with people on Facebook, playing games, following celebrities on Twitter, sending partially-clothed images of themselves to school friends. And watching telly. The TV, on the other hand, looks rather one-dimensional by comparison. Logic, innit.

via Mobile: better than telly?.