6 blocks with arrows
Strategic report stories benefit from these six guiding principles that help distill data into compelling narrative about data insights.

6 Guiding Principles to Deliver More Strategic Report Stories

Glenn Staada, Radius Insights, Radius Global Market Research 2021/10/glenn-staada-bio.jpg

by Glenn Staada

Senior Vice President

A storytelling approach helps insights and marketing leaders to optimally distill large amounts of information into the key insights required to drive brand growth, inspire product innovation, reveal customer service enhancements, build forward-thinking offerings, and inform targeted communications.

Over the last decade, the proliferation of new data sources and immersive techniques has provided brands with the opportunity to create a full 360 view of customer behavior.  However, the potentially overwhelming amount of data makes it critical for insights professionals to create a strong narrative for stakeholders who want a clear, actionable, and concise insights report.

Storytelling is one of the most effective tools to create these types of reports.

At Radius, we’ve developed a strategic storytelling approach that helps you deliver an insightful report to spark activation among your stakeholders.

Following are the six main principles we use for strategic report storytelling:


1. Draft a strong narrative framework

Strategic report stories rely on crisp narrative. Developing an early story framework is one of the first critical steps in the process and happens long before we open PowerPoint to start building the deck.

The narrative begins with the first collaboration we have with the brand team. We dig deep to understand the real problem and what’s at stake for the brand. This informs the approach we’ll take throughout the project, including which research methods are best. Often, we’ll use a Mixed Methodology approach to combine data with qualitative research that allows the voice of the customer to blend with the narrative.

Throughout the process, there will be twists and turns that might slightly change the direction of the story but establishing and approach to the overall narrative helps to create a through point for the report story.

The narrative begins with the first collaboration we have with the brand team. We dig deep to understand the real problem and what’s at stake for the brand.”


2. Know your audience(s)

Knowing who in the organization will use the final report and how they’ll use it is another critical step. We’re often working with a brand or research team, but we know that stakeholders throughout the organization might want to access the findings.

Once we have a clear picture of the audience, we can begin to frame our research and further develop the story we’ll tell. We frame a primary narrative that is directed to a senior-level audience and create supporting materials that can be tailored to meet the needs of the broader team.

This story report framework helps us remain audience-centric throughout the project.


3. Build story structure

Once all the data is in, we return to the problem the brand is trying to solve, consider the audience, and review the data to see how it informs the story report we’re writing.

We focus on a three-part narrative as an effective way to tell a strategic story. We are conditioned to expect stories to have a beginning that sets the stage, a middle where the conflict occurs, and an end that brings resolution. Framing report stories in this way helps the reader quickly grasp what’s at stake and understand the insights that the data reveals.

Another way of looking at this traditional storytelling model is:

  • What?
    What does the data say? What are the facts?
  • So what?
    What does the data mean, and what is the best interpretation for the brand/product/service?
  • Now what?
    What are the insights and how do they lead to recommendations about what to do next?

The What/So What/Now What model

The What/So What/Now What model is an effective framework for building report stories. It forces you to pare down all the data into its most essential elements to show the true value of the research.


4. Craft powerful visualizations

With data visualization, more is less. Data visualization should highlight the most compelling aspects of the research so that the reader can easily understand the conclusions that that data supports.

As we’re developing the visual aspect of our reports, we again consider the problem we’re solving and the audience we’re solving it for. Visuals that speak directly to the brand set the right tone and mood, acclimating the audience to relate to the story.

For example, if we’re working with a snack brand testing the popularity of chocolate chip cookies with kids, we can set the mood with imagery of a warm, inviting kitchen with kids just coming home from school. We can take the time to build a complex and accurate buyer persona based on the data, then bring that persona to life by showing an image of a parent with kids now in the background.

Now that we’ve set the stage, we can highlight the most essential consumer insights of our data story, by extending the metaphor. For example, if we researched satisfaction with the cookies on a five-point scale, our output might be a stacked bar showing how a hundred percent of the answers distribute across the scale. If the chart reveals that 90 percent of the respondents favored our cookie brand, there’s no need for the chart, simply show the number. Or better yet — display the brand’s cookie to allow 9 out of 10 cookies to represent the 90 percent figure.

Six guiding principles - visualization example

Concentrate on the study data that reveal the most important insights and spend time on highlighting those findings in a novel way. We’ve found that this approach leaves our audience with tangible and memorable insights.


5. Create strong implications

Make sure your story provides strategic direction and guidance on the path forward for business growth.

In great stories and films – my favorite is Star Wars – every action and plot point feeds the story line and ultimately the story’s conclusion. From the first moments in Star Wars where the scrolling text sets the scene, the story is driving forward toward the conclusion.

The other common element to great stories – they all establish a clear point of view. We know right away how we’re supposed to feel about the hero and the villain.

In report stories, it is important to have a point of view. To establish point of view effectively, state your case clearly, use an informative and authoritative voice, and write clear and definitive copy. Since people tend to scan the headlines before committing to reading a report, pay special attention to writing clear, definitive, and engaging headers throughout the report, and structure each slide so that it tells a mini story.

As you’re working on establishing a point of view, consider the following steps:

  • Establish a starting point by describing the business situation.
  • Reveal surprises or insights learned along the way to build tension and interest.
  • Land at the final destination by providing the strategic implications and resolution.

In report stories, it is important to have a point of view. To establish point of view effectively, state your case clearly, use an informative and authoritative voice, and write clear and definitive copy.”


6. Include an Executive Summary

The Executive Summary clearly states the most relevant insights the brand can use to activate in a product, service, program, or communication.

If you’ve done all the work, above, you have all the elements needed to develop a clear and compelling summary. Pull the insights into a mini-story format, use a compelling, engaging voice, plant a flag with a clear point of view, and write short but powerful headlines. Most importantly, highlight the insights you’ve discovered and offer a forward-thinking strategy for brand growth and activation.


It’s not as easy as it looks

I’ve been doing a road show lately talking about how to develop report stories. It’s a difficult skill to master, and requires thought, teamwork, and more time and attention than you might think.

Over the next few weeks, my colleagues will take a deeper dive into the topics I’ve touched on here. They’ll provide specific examples on building elements of strategic storytelling. View the stories and reach out to us if we can help you.