I am now back from attending this year’s The Market Research Event (TMRE) in beautiful Boca Raton, Florida. As always, TMRE produced a content-packed program that addressed a multitude of different topics, ranging from mobile and technology to shopper insights to ROI and measurement and even data analytics and big data. While I attended my fair share of talks focused on emerging and innovative methodologies, I was really interested in the consultative skill development track. This was a track that focused on discussing what client-side Market Insights (MI) Professionals have learned are the best practices for storytelling and data visualization.

One of the talks that I really enjoyed was by Brett Townsend of PepsiCo, whose talk title was aptly named “Treat Your Clients Like Your Kids — Tell Them A Story.” While this isn’t a new idea for MI Professionals — and he discussed well-known takeaways such as “If we can’t tell a story in 20 minutes, then you don’t have a story to tell” — one comment really struck me: Conflict is the engine that drives the story. Our primary goal as MI Professionals is to understand the conflict that consumers are experiencing in their daily lives and to understand what that means to the company or brand.

To focus on the conflict, Brett broke down the story-building process as if we were in the movie business and we were writers writing a script. For each project you work on, you need to understand the following factors:

·         Who is the hero? For our purposes, it will always be the consumer.

·         Who is the villain? It can be a number of things, such as the economy, time, responsibilities, etc.

·         What is the conflict? You need to understand the tension between what the hero wants/needs versus what others want/need.

·         What are the hero’s tools? This can be such things as the hero’s family and friends, but, most importantly, it should be your brand.

·         What is the hero’s mission? It can be things like achieving the hero’s needs with minimal guilt, meeting the needs of the hero’s employer, or even spending more time with family and friends.

·         What are the hero’s obstacles? These can range from lack of time to too many responsibilities, too much work, etc.

Clearly, it’s not easy to think like this; it takes a lot of trial and error to fully identify the conflict and convey it as a dynamic story to stakeholders. However, look at the alternative — horrifically long PPT decks crammed with data that would make anyone’s eyes glaze over. I think it is worth a shot to think about an upcoming project and build a story in this fashion. What do you think? Is focusing on conflict the right way to build a story?