Helping you understand your competition
 
 
QUICK LINKS

       Home
       News and Knowledge
            Press Releases
            Newsletters
            Knowledge
       Services
       Leadership
       Professional Affiliations
       Newsletter Sign-Up
       Versta Research Blog
   
 
NEWSLETTER SIGN-UP
 
   
   
LET'S TALK
   

Newsletters

DECEMBER 2009


Dear Reader,

There are two critical elements to top notch research. 

First, it has to be right, which means focusing on the rigors of research design, data collection, and statistical analysis.  Second, it has to be heard, understood, and used, and in our view that means turning data into stories.  In this newsletter we focus on what it means to turn data into stories, and we outline what you gain by doing so. 

Other items of interest include:

   Making sense of statistics, from the NYT Book Review
   PR execs highlight need for research and stories
   There are too many surveys
   Two ways to find data for a PR story
   Visualizing data: Six hints on using a pie chart
   When to use Survey Monkey
   About omnibus surveys
   A better way to get census data
   Focus on solutions in PR surveys

If your research feels like just a bunch of data, reading a little Mark Twain might be just what you need.  So please read on.


Sincerely,

The Versta Team


 Turning Data into Stories

 

"Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
– Mark Twain

Mark Twain was one of this country’s most compelling storytellers, and his famous quip about statistics points to a broad truth worth understanding:  numbers, data, and statistics can be used to tell powerful and compelling stories.  Why is it, then, that market research reports are typically dull recitations of numbers, percentages, convoluted sentences, and foggy charts?  Far from telling lies, most reports fail to tell any story at all.  What market research desperately needs is more art in its storytelling along with the science of research to help mangers and clients understand what matters and why.

Data Have No Meaning

Data never speaks for itself.  Is 97% a large percentage or a small percentage?  If it’s the number of businesses that need your new service, it’s huge.  If it’s the percentage of airplane engines that continue to operate when air born, it’s disastrously small.  If it’s the percentage of voters who support a new healthcare initiative in Washington – well, it’s probably a mistake. 

The verstehen method in social science (from whence Versta gets its name) emphasizes that all data gets its meaning from a complex web of language, context, history, and human intention.  Turning data into stories means extracting that meaning and making it explicit; it means moving beyond the numeric data and facts to gain a deep understanding of people’s worlds and experiences.  The volume and complexity of a data set may be daunting, but ultimately it is tied to specific issues you care about, to questions you need to have answered, and to problems that are puzzling you. 

How the Story Helps

Market research can be powerful if it is used well.  It can give you information and insight about customers, products, needs, pain points, and aspirations.  But often it sits on dusty shelves because the reports are too long and too focused on presenting data.  Turning data into stories takes the report off the shelf and helps it come alive.  The benefits are huge for you and your organization.

  •  Turning data into stories tells you what to do. There is nothing
     inherently “actionable” about data until it is embedded in a narrative that
     outlines the problem, the solution, and the options for what to do.  Your
     manager and clients will act based on the implications of a story, not
     based upon a set of numbers, charts, or data points alone. 

  •  Turning data into stories helps you integrate seemingly conflicting
     data
.
Every good research effort yields surprises, variation, and data that
     seems to point in multiple directions at once.  This usually means you have
     successfully captured the reality of what you are studying.  But the goal is
     not to replicate reality, but to interpret it and understand it.  Telling a story
     with the data will help you integrate and reconcile disparate streams of
     data.  You will be able to explain contradictions, make sense of variation,
     and highlight priorities so that your manager and clients do not get lost
     in a forest of details.

  •  Turning data into stories helps you avoid mistakes.  An effective story
     helps reconcile conflicting data, and it forces you to be attuned to
     contradictions and variations that may not fit and that may require revising
     the story.  Contradictions may actually be mistakes in the data, so you will
     find yourself wondering whether questions were asked in the wrong
     way, or scales were inadvertently flipped during programming.  Reconciling
     conflicting data means double and triple checking that the data are right to
     ensure that every apparent contradiction fits.  There are no surprises down
     the road with managers or editors saying, “This number doesn’t make
     sense!” 

  •  Turning data into stories gets your research heard and understood.
    
Like Twain, most of us are easily befuddled by statistics, especially
     if there are too many of them and they are poorly presented.  But
     most people understand and can relate to a compelling story, even if
     that story is about numbers and supported with data points.  What if
     instead of that last sentence, we had written: “98% of survey respondents
     indicated that they either strongly or somewhat strongly prefer receiving
     information via narrative methodology”?  Ugh.  That’s a sentence that will
     sit on a shelf.

  •  Turning data into stories helps you communicate research to
     multiple audiences
.
  The “facts” that come out of market research can
     and should communicate different messages to different audiences.  Your
     sales team may need stories about customers struggling and the specific
     ways your product will help.  But your management team needs to know
     how big the unmet need is, and what strategic opportunities it presents.

While Versta Research staff have deep experience in several areas—financial services, healthcare, technology, and business process services—recent work about a disease called “ulcerative colitis” provides one example of the ideas outlined above.  The data from our research compared physicians and patient attitudes about UC, with lots of numbers and measures about flares, levels of disruption to daily life, and so on.  But the story we developed from this data was this:  Patients with UC become so accustomed to pain that they under-report symptoms, and therefore physicians who are most attentive tend to underestimate the impact.  It was a compelling story that spoke to multiple audiences:  patients, doctors, healthcare media, marketing and communications teams, patient educators, and so on.  The research was heard and used at patient conferences, in scientific medical journals, on morning news shows, and beyond.

In future editions of this newsletter we will outline specific steps you can take to ensure that you create and capture stories in your data.  The best stories are embedded in the very fabric of the research, from beginning to end.  In the meantime we would be happy to think with you about your next project, or help you revisit current data to help make better sense of it.  Unlike Twain, we tell only non-fiction stories, but with the same passion and conviction that will capture your audience.


BACK TO TOP

 Recent Items on the Versta Blog

Here are several recent posts from the Versta Research Blog. Click on any headline to read more.

Making sense of statistics, from the NYT Book Review
Editors of the NYT Book Review remind us that statistics are essential in understanding the world, but always a challenge to communicate them in helpful ways.

BACK TO TOP



PR execs highlight need for research and stories
Five of Chicago’s top PR executives outlined trends in the industry that highlighted the ongoing need for solid research that turns data into stories.

BACK TO TOP



There are too many surveys
Companies who do too many surveys because it is cheap and easy teach customers to ignore them and they do not get insight. Here are guidelines to avoid this.

BACK TO TOP



Two ways to find data for a PR story
Journalists like news stories based on credible research and data. Two ways to get data for a PR news story are mining data or doing a survey.

BACK TO TOP


Visualizing data: Six hints on using a pie chart
The key to effectively visualizing data is to start with the basics. Here are six tips to using a pie chart when you want to tell a story with your data.


BACK TO TOP


When to use survey monkey
Survey Monkey is a basic tool that is useful if you have extremely simple needs, like asking just two questions. Other options are best for advanced needs.

BACK TO TOP


About omnibus surveys
Omnibus surveys used to save money by sharing data collection with others. But with recent changes in the industry you can get better value in other ways.

BACK TO TOP


A better way to get census data
Here is how you can get and use detailed, individual-level U.S. Census data for customized analysis and reporting.

BACK TO TOP


Focus on solutions in PR surveys
In crafting a PR survey it is critical to document both problems and solutions. Here is an example of what to avoid, and some tips to focus on solutions.

BACK TO TOP