Storytelling: Demonstrating the ROI of Data

Emily James

Ingredients for a Successful Consumer Segmentation

Actionable insights from relevant samples are crucial to making decisions within a business. As insi...


Sophie Grieve-Williams

    Demonstrating the return on investment on anything within a business can be hard, but especially with market research. By 2020, it’s predicted that 1.7 megabytes of data will be created every second for each person on the planet, so with all of that data to sift through it’s hard to find the purpose for generating more. However, there is a significant return on investment on each research experience that business professionals need to recognise.

    There are many storytelling techniques that you can employ to create a compelling narrative and make the presentation of data and insights engaging and enlightening in equal measure. Turning data into insights is one good starting point, so it will be easier for the audience to appreciate the subject of the report and to better understand the impact it will have on the business. After this, there are some considerations to take into account in order to fully engage the audience with your ROI demonstration.

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    You can't tell a good story without knowing your audience - their role within the business will drastically dictate how you pitch the value gained. Find that relatable angle for the best chance of demonstrating ROI.

    The Importance of Relatability and Relevance

    It’s crucial that you know who these insights are going to, because you can’t tell a good story without knowing what your audience wants and needs. ‘Good’ is subjective, and in order for you to tell a good story, knowing who your audience is is the essential key that will allow you to tailor your story to their interests and thus have a greater chance of engaging their interest. In terms of data storytelling, angling the story so that it’s relatable to your audience is going to be one of you best chances of demonstrating ROI.

    For example, if these insights are going to the c-suite officers, then exploring the tangible benefits as well as the intangible ones will bring a level of reality to the table; graphs, charts, and tables on their own are essentially meaningless without explanation; so examples of how data will physically affect the structure of the business, the speed of revenue generation, of the cost savings that can now be made safely without the crippling risk because of this new data will put everything into perspective. Within each of their roles, they will of course have differing priorities. So, making sure to pick up on these priorities and mention how this data relates to them will personalise the experience a little more successfully.

    Build a Narrative

    It’s important to remember, that there is no one story. There are typical story structures such as the three- or five-act structure, but those are the overarching stories that contain a number of subplots that all tie in together across the way too, which create depth, a sense of reality, and establish the relatability of key characters who drive the story along.

    There are a good number of useful data storylines you could use to create a narrative flow to your data report:

    • Uncovering hidden competition within the industry

    The data for this is brilliant for bringing clarity to your organisation as to who they are in competition with (creating an attention-wresting tension to your narrative), and the ROI will come directly from keeping and eye on the innovation that occurs within the industry and trying to keep one step ahead of the game.

    • Discovering the voice of the customer

    Building a character is hard, however, with data directly from your customers, you don’t need any imagination to create these ones! Give your narrative some depth with contextual data that forms your customers’ characters and informs the audience. Any data that is derived from VoC research will ultimately help the business realign itself with consumer need, and design a better service/product that is more likely to be successful.

    • City-level granular insights help business development

    Characters don’t have to be singular; you can build up characters based on location, and use stereotypes to your advantage here. For example, if I said, “she was a typical new yorker” you would already have some sort of idea of what sort of person she would be. Any detail after this fact would deepen the image you have in your head and help you build a more personal connection to them. An international organisation will find this immensely helpful. For example, city-level insights will help pinpoint what their customers want at different locations, and as such they will be able to better tailor the service they provide, and bring in more custom as a result.

    • Seasonality or industry trend-themed timeline

    This is very similar to the city-level insights, but with a different theme to follow. Even single-nation businesses will be able to take advantage of seasonal or trend-themed insights, and use them to tailor their services or communications as much as possible, building a more necessary brand as a result. In the case of seasonality, we already know that gas and oil businesses will make more money during the winter months from their primary product; but in the summer months, they could instead create a new service or product that they feel customers would use more, for example regular boiler maintenance to make sure it’s still working properly for when it comes to winter-time.

    • Case study stories

    Angles are your new best friend when creating a relatable and relevant data narrative, and you can use them to showcase the many different impacts data can have on the different areas of the business. My colleague Heather Wendlandt wrote an article on how insight professionals contribute to revenue growth, which shows brilliantly the ways we ourselves make a difference within an organisation through the data we produce.

    In this article, Heather took the case study route to data storytelling, with examples such as a North American car dealership who realised a 750% return on research investment through customer satisfaction surveys alone. But ROI doesn’t have to bring in a monetary investment directly, indirect ROI is just as valuable, if not more so; Heather looked at another example, Isagenix, who realised a return on investment through the uncovering an entirely new product line.

    Choose the Right Presentation Medium

    For years, we have been sending lengthy written reports full of data tables, graphs, verbatim quotes, and charts that all lose a good deal of meaning after the 50th PowerPoint slide. Where is the creativity and innovation that can transform research reports and make it easier for us to engage stakeholders in our work?

    Don’t be afraid to get creative with this part of the reporting process because creativity will ultimately spark more engagement at the end; but be careful to choose a medium that also reflects the data you’ve generated. This needs to be engaging to your audience; if you were actually writing a story, it would be like choosing between poetry, a script, a short story, or a novel; each one has their own demands, and each medium will drastically affect the delivery and outcome of the story.

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    Choosing the right reporting medium is more important than you might think - engagement in the data ROI demonstration is crucial if the audience are to fully recognise the value data can provide for a business.

    Thinking outside of the box will only enhance the engagement you get as a result. For example, here as FlexMR, we’ve been experimenting with qualitative insight reporting, and we needed something to represent very descriptive but personal insights. So, we went for the postcard: a very personal medium, composed on a larger image and a smaller space for text, typically sent by those who wanted to communicate a very broad range of emotions in a short space.

    Demonstrating the ROI of Data

    Finding a good way to demonstrate ROI of data each time will be tricky, but if we take the time to tailor the story, tailor the delivery method, and tailor the angle to the audience, the results will be increased engagement, and increased actioning on those insights.

    Recommendations have been a staple of research reports for years and are the valuable translated insights businesses need, however, they typically only take up a fraction of the report, with the majority of the pages focussed on informational data. Rethinking the way we report this data with storytelling techniques will help us better communicate the return on investment businesses stand to gain from their research experience.

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