Using Narratives in Market Research

In market research, you’re tasked with uncovering the motivations of consumers to develop a product that meets their needs. Of course, you can always rely on common sense to determine what people think. However, that’s not going to cut it when thousands of individuals answer questions about their likes and dislikes, what they plan to do in the next few weeks, and so on. This means you need to find a way of talking about your observations that make sense within the context of other things people generally care about without making your respondents think too much. This is where narratives come in – they’re stories used as part of a larger discourse or discussion to explain something or give meaning to something else. In short, they provide context and understanding.

A narrative technique organizes your data and insights to make sure that everything you’re trying to say makes sense. For example, when doing market research, your surveys will often ask people about their thoughts and feelings on a certain topic. When people can explain their responses with some narrative, they can more easily relate them to a set of experiences and memories. Narratives also make it easier for respondents to remember key points because they give them an anchor or framework that makes sense of what they’ve just said. A narrative technique mainly provides better context for the information you’re trying to draw out from individuals.

Creating A Research Narrative: Knowing how to tell a compelling story is key to marketing if you want your product or service to stand out. There are many ways that narrative can be used in market research, and it’s important to make sure that your narrative tells a consistent and credible story. To do so, you need to figure out your narrative’s focus.

  • Is it about the product?
  • What makes it different from other products on the market?
  • Is it about why people buy this specific product?
  • What benefits does it provide for the buyer?

Remember – you’re telling a story with your market research narrative and should have an answer at the end of each section that gives insight into what you’ve learned from respondents. For example, when conducting a focus group, ensure you know what questions you want to be answered throughout the process.

  • Are they trying to understand reactions to certain features of the product?
  • Do they want insight into why people prefer one brand over another?
  • Does this particular group of respondents care more about one element than another – such as price or design?

Taking into account the three Narrative imperatives: Research, Pragmatic, Myth: The three narrative imperatives are Research, Pragmatic and Myth. Mythic represents a story that provides an anchor for people’s responses to your question.  (Kleiner, A., & Roth, G. (1998). ( How to make better use of experience in the company. Harvard Business Manager, 5, 9–11) and cited by Erlach, Christine; Müller, Michael. Narrative Organizations (Management for Professionals) (p. 199). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.) This is useful in market research as it helps people relate their experiences to something meaningful without having to answer too many questions. The myth can have many interpretations, but at its core is a story that illustrates the problem or situation you’re asking about. Pragmatic narratives provide insight into how people feel about something they know nothing about – this is useful when you want to get an educated opinion on something before developing it further. Research narratives provide the data that backs up the story or moment of the understanding you’re trying to create. These stories can be used in marketing campaigns and help people connect with your brand and product even more deeply than if you had not told them a story beforehand.

Conducting Narrative Interviews: Narrative interviews are a form of qualitative research in which the researcher uses stories or anecdotes to elicit information from their study participants. In the interview, there is an assumption that people will share things with you freely and openly when they feel comfortable enough to do so. This type of research allows insight into how people make decisions about brands and products, what influences these decisions, and what steps people take to get them. The benefit of conducting narrative interviews is that it allows the observer to understand the motivations behind the person’s actions, thought process, and personality deeper than traditional market research methods such as surveys or case studies.

If you want to understand what people are thinking, you should focus on influential customers’ narratives. These individuals represent leading opinion leaders in their respective markets and can be used as a proxy for how the general public would respond. Of course, this is not always possible – after all, if you were starting a new product line and wanted to understand how consumers would receive it, then there’s no way these influential customers could be present from day one. But that’s okay because there are other ways of getting the same information without having to wait for your insight-rich market research respondents to appear on your doorstep. For example, you might conduct focus groups with potential customers to use them as surrogates for what other people might experience or think about your new product line. To ensure that your narrative doesn’t go off the rails or become too complicated to understand, ensure that your focus group discussion stays focused on individual responses rather than branching out into an extended discussion about how they feel about things in general. This will help give your story more coherence and provide clarity so that participants don’t get too confused or overwhelmed with the minutia of what they say.

Delivering the Current Narrative: The goal of the narrative is to clearly and concisely tell a story about how a customer’s experience of your product could be improved. This can be done by asking what you would do if you had more control over certain aspects of the process or thinking about your customer’s needs and translating that into a story. An example might look something like this: Imagine buying a new car. You need a reliable and comfortable car that will last for years. After some research, you find exactly what you want – an SUV with all-wheel drive, beautiful leather seats, heated seats, voice-activated navigation, and so on. Imagine that instead of buying it from the dealership, you bought it through Amazon Prime delivery! The process would be just as easy as the dealership – no long waits in line or hassle driving off without the car. Instead, you get the new car delivered right to your door in two days! Another important part of this narrative is deconstructing the current experience to show why it doesn’t meet customers’ needs. This might involve pointing out where they feel something is missing or not enough – perhaps they don’t enjoy driving their new vehicle every day because they can’t use voice-activated controls while driving on busy city streets.

Creating a Future Narrative: We are all familiar with the idea of writing a narrative. For some people, it could be their autobiography or a short story from their childhood. For others, it might be an even more recent story about their experience with a product. So to create a successful market research project, you need to take your insights and make them into a narrative with context and meaning so that you can explain what happened without making people think too hard about how they perceived something before. If you’re trying to answer the question of how much money someone would like to spend on something specific, this is where you would use a narrative approach rather than a quantitative one – “I remember when I bought my first car and how much I spent on it.” This way, instead of relying on your memory alone and having significant gaps in the data collected, you give context by explaining what happened in the past.

Presenting the Narrative: An important step in using narratives to present your findings is reaching out to stakeholders. Of course, you don’t need to do this by yourself. Instead, you can make it a regular practice to enlist the help of your colleagues and other stakeholders’ experience working with market research and audience insights. This could be as easy as asking them for feedback on what they think might be important for your project – or it could be more extensive and involve a series of meetings throughout the process. Whatever you decide, make sure that everyone involved understands the purpose behind having a narrative in place and that they believe the work is worth their time. This will help ensure everyone stays committed to the job and is vested in seeing it through to completion. The importance of good digital marketing is growing every day. With an ever-increasing number of people engaging on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, savvy businesses are learning how to harness these platforms for advertising purposes that yield higher conversion rates than traditional methods like print ads or billboards. On top of this, marketers are also finding new ways to reach target audiences with creative digital campaigns that provide a better user experience for consumers than isolated text ads would offer.

Reference: Narrative Organizations: Making Companies Future Proof by Working With Stories (Management for Professionals) 1st ed. 2020 Edition, by Christine Erlach (Author), Michael Müller (Author), Karin Thier (Contributor)