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10 Billion Reasons to Improve Your Storytelling

Despite market insights teams being exhorted to come up with groundbreaking new market ideas, many executives fail to act on the recommendations; for the average big firm this can mean $10 billion of lost revenue over five years

Anyone who’s ever spent time as a professional researcher in any field – from microbiology to IT best practices – will tell you that pulling together some exciting new ideas is only half the battle. Research is worth little if those it’s intended for don’t make use of it.

The same is true of market insights teams at large companies, who spend a lot of time understanding their companies’ customers and markets, and crafting recommendations for how senior line managers can find new sources of growth. But, on average, only 37% of the potential benefits of a really “disruptive” insight are realized, according to CEB data.

As one vice president of market insights at a large consumer products company in CEB’s member-network of market insights professionals puts it, “Senior executives extol the importance of disruptive insights and innovation. But when we give them great insights that contradict conventional thinking or require change, they push back. It feels like they’re talking out of both sides of their mouths.”

The Cost of Inaction

And this failure to act on ideas that could transform a business can have a great cost. A CEB survey of senior strategy executives showed that the average company sacrifices 5% growth annually due to its failure to act on disruptive ideas. Over five years that’s a loss of $10 billion.

There are a number of reasons that senior executives across industries and parts of the world are failing to put all these good ideas to work, but one of the most significant is how market insights (MI) teams present those insights.

For the business to recognize the full value of market research, they typically have to do something, or change something, and the best way to encourage action or change isn’t through the logical, rational argument, but through emotion, and nothing taps into emotion like a good story.

Two Steps to Tell a Good Story

Fortunately, this isn’t as daunting as it sounds. Below are two of the most important things to remember as your turn your presentation into a story.

  1. Have a goal, not an agenda: People are often encouraged to walk into a presentation with a list of objectives, but the mistake many of them make is to outline objectives from their own perspective, as the presenter. MI teams might open presentations with objectives like:

    • Identify the winning product concept

    • Share customer feedback on each concept

    • Outline next steps to market

    Now, although that is a useful set of steps, it’s simply the agenda of the person at the podium, and it isn’t necessarily going to help an audience to do something in order to realize the value of our insights and start closing that $10 billion gap.

    Instead, set presentation objectives as goals for the audience to achieve. Ask yourself, what do you want them to do with your insights?

    For example, instead of the agenda above, the real objective is to convince the business managers in attendance to produce and sell the top product concept. As you craft your presentation through that lens, you will find yourself telling a much more compelling story. Your presentation will start to flow as a narrative that will tap into the audience’s emotion and drive that change.

  2. Build tension: A great story has to keep the audience’s attention throughout. You can have the best insights in the world, but it won’t amount to much if the audience has fallen asleep at slide three.

    All good stories juxtapose tension and release, in a regular sequence, back and forth, just like a pendulum. That’s what keeps them interesting. This is true of stories in all forms, television, films, books, plays… even music. Have you ever parked a car at home, but wound up sitting their for two more minutes until the song on the radio was over? That never happens with a song you’ve never heard, it’s always a song you’ve heard a thousand times; you probably know all the words and you’re probably singing along. And we all do this because the song builds tension and compels us to wait for that release.

    Using tension and release creates a need for the information before you present it. When you do this, you will be answering a lot of an audience’s questions before they have the chance to bring them up. As you create your story, be sure to identify a problem or complication to build tension, and then provide the information and insight as a resolution.

    And if you’re having a hard time thinking of a way to create tension in your audience, try telling them about the $10 billion they’re leaving on the table. That should work.

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