Use Storytelling and Immersion to Inspire Action on Insights

At The Market Research Event in Orlando, Ruchi Varshneya and Lori Tarabek of Abbott Diabetes Care discussed the need for researchers to go beyond the report. After sharing a market segmentation of physicians internally, they realized that people weren’t taking action based on what the organization had learnt. This lead them to reflect on their “real job” – not to stop at discovering actionable insights, not to stop at communicating those insights, but to inspire action based on those insights. They have an approach that they now use to break through the three common roadblocks to action.

The first roadblock is when people don’t understand the data. The second roadblock is when people don’t trust the data. The third and final roadblock is when people don’t take ownership of the data and don’t feel connected to it.

To break through each roadblock in turn, the research team of Abbott Diabetes Care follows a pattern of Exposure, Immersion, and Application. This is inspired by the Confucian saying:  “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

To get past the first roadblock, focus on the story. Winnow the data down to address the key business questions. Structure the story to answer these and to anticipate and address tensions and objections. For the physician segmentation study, the focus was on what the segments are, how they differed from one another, which segments Abbott should focus on, and why. The story doesn’t end with the data: “Include the ‘So what?’ Facts don’t activate – conclusions do.” Visuals can help tell the story through context and focal points. Moving beyond PowerPoint is important: to convey the segments, different research members each took a segment and role-played it, down to wearing lab coats and stethoscopes. “This made it real in a way the presentation didn’t. It made it fun!” (Check out for tips.)

To get past the second roadblock, failing to trust the data, the research team made the data real by demonstrating it. “We invited two leading key opinion leaders, each representing a different segment, to speak at a commercial meeting – to show that these segments were real.” They also created a video with real physicians to make the segmentation come alive. The video demonstrated that these are fundamentally different types of people who will respond to different messaging.

Finally, to get past the third roadblock, not taking ownership of the data, the research team organizes workshops, typically at least half-a-day long. That much time is needed in order to expose staff to the insights in detail, get them to co-create, and then engage in “wargaming” and simulation exercises. “Encourage healthy competition between attendees: people are a little more invested in getting it right by participating in a competition, even if the rewards are small (candy and tchotchkes).” Games can include knowledge competitions like Jeopardy, which work well with large groups, to creating movie posters, and playing the “box game”. For movie posters, the research team asked their clients to create their own story from the data about which physician segment to target, asking each participant to select a cast, create an elevator pitch for the movie, and design a movie marquee poster. “This makes it real for them in a way that talking about it doesn’t.” (See Grove Tools for templates and ideas.) In the “box game”, players took items from a box and identified which segment each item would be associated with. “The best part isn’t whether they are right or wrong but why they choose what they did. But if they got it wrong, this is your opportunity to course correct, to make sure they really know the data.”

The more fun people have immersing themselves in the data, the more they will internalize their understanding of it. Ruchi and Lori encourage you to pick and choose from these types of tools to go beyond the report. Abbott Diabetes Cares gives a lot of credit for the successful launch of a recent product to this unusual approach to storytelling and immersion.

Jeffrey Henning, PRC volunteers as the president-elect of the MRII. In his day job, he is president of Researchscape International.

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