Story telling: What is it?

We are told that we should not regurgitate numbers, but “tell a
story”. But how does one tell a story? And what exactly is “story

Let me start with an example. Let us say your client
is a liquor store. The client wants to find out the impact of banner ads
on customer behaviour. Your research shows that only a third of
in-store consumers recalled seeing the banner ads, let alone motivated
by them. Even among those aware of a banner ad, three quarters said that
the banner ad was irrelevant to them for making their purchase
decisions. The study also found that customers who did not talk to any
store employee spent an average of $16 on wine. Customers who asked an
employee for advice spent on average $32. But even more interesting,
when an employee proactively engaged a customer in conversation and
suggested different wines, the average purchase total increased to $61.

If you were the researcher presenting the above results to the
client, how would you present them? Before going ahead, take two minutes
to think about how you would present.

Most research presentations would probably go something like this: 

Banner ads
33% of the visitors to our stores recalled seeing a banner ad. Even
among this group, a large majority of customers reported that the banner
has no bearing on their purchase decision. 


two-thirds of the visitors had not even noticed the banner ad and even
those who did felt it had any impact on their purchase decisions, it
appears banner ads are not very effective.

The Impact of Employee Interaction with Customers 

customer who did not talk to any employee before making a purchase
decision spent on average $16 on wine. Customers who asked an employee
for advice spent on average $32. However, when an employee proactively
engaged a consumer in conversation and suggested different wines, the
average purchase total increased to $61. 


the above tell a story? In my view, not very effectively. The
researcher has understood what the data said but the presentation just
states the facts along with a brief interpretation of the charts

1. Two-thirds could not even recall the banner add. When they did, they felt it had no impact on their purchase decision.

2. This indicates that banner ads are ineffective.

3. Those who interacted with an employee bought more.

4. Employees play an important role.

data and the interpretation are not woven into a story. If management
were to use this report, they would have to figure out how the data and
the interpretation are relevant to their decisions.

What would you do? Think how you would present the results for maximum impact. Write it down if you like.

is what the researcher responsible for this study did. He walked into
the client meeting and declared “My entire presentation today consists
of a single slide” and put up this slide:



statement had drama but was based on research data. Which management
would not be interested in increasing their sales three-fold? The
consultant continued his talk: “When an employee talks to a customer,
the customer is likely to buy $61 worth of wine. When visitors are on
their own, their average tab falls to $16. So my recommendation is to
train the store employees to approach customers proactively.”

When the client queried what else they could do, the consultant
suggested that the store layout could be changed such that the employees
were in the middle making it easier for them to approach customers or
the other way around.

He added, “We can also call the employees wine consultants so customers don’t feel pressured into buying things”.

presentation was so convincing that the client subsequently implemented
the consultant’s suggestions, revamped the stores and recruited and
trained consultants. The result? A dramatic increase in sales.

first presentation with pie charts and bar charts stated the facts.
Even though it contained an interpretation of facts, it would not have
caught the attention of management and would not have resulted in any
action, because it did not tell a story. The second presentation
actually went behind the numbers, said what it meant to management, and
how they could benefit from it. It told a story.

The above is not
a made up story, but is an actual case study, although the client name
is withheld for confidentiality reasons. Just in case you were wondering
who the researcher who presented a single slide as his sole
presentation was, it was none other than Jean-Marc Leger.

We may
not always be able to tell such a powerful story with such flourish,
but we can do a lot more than we do now to increase our ability to tell a
story. In the next few blogs I will explore what story telling is and
how it works.

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