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Episode 31: Narrative Research With Leigh Caldwell


Sharday (00:12):

So I would love to introduce you first and foremost. So Lee Caldwell as a mathematician and an economist working on cognitive and behavioral theories and applying them to the world of economic decisions, pricing, and marketing. So Lee is a co-founder and partner at the irrational agency, a group of narrative discovery experts committed to exploring consumer world views and perspectives. So irrational agency uses behavioral science things like system, three technologies or methodologies, rather, which I cannot wait to dive into and many other innovative market research techniques to uncover non-conscious stories that drive consumer behavior. So Lee has also founded and built several companies since the mid nineties and everything from technology to economic consulting. He has also written extensively on economics and psychology on his blog knowing and And if you are a reader, like I AMS check out his book titled this psychology of price, which we will link down below. And of course, myself, I am Sharday, the creative and digital strategist at insightrix in Saskatoon, Canada, and your host for the stories of market research. So as I said Lee, I’m very humbled that to have you as a guest on the podcast, you have a really unique background as an economist and a mathematician, but I am curious what drew you to perhaps behavioral science?

Leigh (01:36):

Mm. So I, as you said, I started out as a mathematician. So I was, you know, as a kid, I grew up loving numbers, loving you know, algebra, like I’m sure many listeners will not identify with that as from their memories of childhood, but that was just what I loved since, you know, I was I was kind of a, one of these math kids who just loved that, all that stuff. And I like, you know, I went to university early when I was 14 and I kinda studied mathematics just to try and understand the world. And then I graduated from university. I decided, right, this is the internet I’ve heard of this. This is a, this is the new, big thing. It was about 94, 95. And I thought, right, technology is going to rule the world. I, and I, a mathematician I know about this.

Leigh (02:25):

I know how to, you know, create these tools and, and build this stuff that needs to be built to you know, for this new world. And I started building it and I kind of realized quite quickly that just understanding technology and numbers and mathematics was not gonna be enough to be successful in, in a business and indeed in, in the world in general. So I, I started trying to figure out, well, I gotta understand people. I gotta of know that people are buying my services. People are using my software. What drives them? What is it that I need to understand about what makes them tick so that I can, you know, give them value. And it, you know, you, you may have seen an episode of the big bang theory where Sheldon Cooper realizes that, you know, he wants to understand this thing called friendship.

Leigh (03:19):

And he starts sketching out on a whiteboard, this theory about how relationships are formed and how people talk to each other and what value they provide to each other. And, you know, I wasn’t maybe quite that bad, but that was me like trying to understand, okay, there’s the oldest psychology going on? And I, the tools I have are, are mathematical they’re, you know, I understand economic theory because that’s driven often by mathematics. But applying that to try to understand human psychology kind of economic theory, doesn’t really tell you about psychology. So I was building these models. I was working out the equations of of how people you know, how they’re motivated and what their goals are and how they seek their goals. And then I discovered this field of behavioral economics, which was already tackling these questions and where psychologists and scientists had been studying how people don’t quite behave according to the rules of logic or at least the rules that, you know, the, the, the rules that economists say they should logically follow. And I, I, you know, I found this whole world of people already doing this research, and that was really the, the big moment for me to, to find this community of people, this this research literature, and then immerse myself into start going to the conferences and start figuring out, okay, there are actually ways that we can use mathematics and, and science to model human behavior, but real human behavior, not the, the theoretical version of, of behavior of the economic studies

Sharday (04:53):

<Laugh>, and, and maybe what marketers kind of push with personas to some degree just <laugh>. But even I hear this a lot actually, where folks will come from all different avenues and land in areas of behavioral science you know, working or wanting to know more about humans in, in terms of their nature, I think is quite interesting. I, myself being in market research working on the marketing side of things, I think that’s why I ended up naturally kind of landing in the position I did. I just really enjoyed learning more about human behavior and then ended up kind of working in a market research field as a result. So that’s really cool. I wouldn’t mind knowing a little bit more Lee, like how did that you know lead you into founding as your rational agency?

Leigh (05:36):

Yeah, so I had I, I started to apply some of this learning in the world of pricing strategy and economic consulting. And so that was and that was around the time that I, I wrote the book that you mentioned the psychology of price, right? Because pricing was one of these things I’d always really wondered about as a, as a business owner. And there was no good you know, there was no one there to tell you here’s actually the real secrets of pricing because it’s not just supply and demand, you know, there’s a lot more to it. So I was in, in that area I was selling kind of consulting services, but then I started to meet a few people in the market research world, and I realized, well, there’s, there is this just, as you said, there is this whole group of people in business hungry to understand human behavior better mm-hmm <affirmative> and looking for better techniques to do it.

Leigh (06:26):

Because at that time 2012 you know, there wasn’t really a behavioral science movement within market research. It was still pretty traditional. So you would ask people questions, you might send a survey, you might interview them to a focus group, but pretty much it was, it was a bit surface level. So it was kind of here’s here’s what we want to know. We’re going to write a questionnaire, ask people, and the answers will come back and we’ll look, take that data kind of as the signal of truth. So I realized there was, there was something that the behavioral science world could bring to the market research world. And I, I met my co-founder, who was, who had kind of came more from the market research world, but had the same idea knew about behavioral science from the other side.

Leigh (07:12):

And, and we created this this agency together. So the I mean the name irrational agency is kind of making fun slightly of ourselves and slightly of the, the behavioral world. So you get books like Dan Ariel’s book, predictably irrational, which was one of the the popular behavioral science books at that time. And it’s all around the idea that, well, people are irrational. Now. They are, if you’re an economist, if you’re an economist, you say, this is how people should behave and they don’t. So that’s irrational. Well, of course, people do have reasons for their behavior. People actually behave that way. Because there are some, you know, in a way they have their own logic, there are human drives, there are psychological laws and universals and and, and psychological patterns that influence how people behave. So it’s, it’s not that we really think people are irrational but that’s kind of the like the default positioning. And so we we start by saying, well, you know what, let’s understand the, the rationality behind that irrationality.

Sharday (08:22):

So if I may maybe build on this a little bit, I lo I love that. And I think there’s just there, there’s such inherent value in learning about behavioral science and how it really does align with a lot of research methodologies that are currently being used. I, you know, in the past even few podcasts we’ve been working with folks who are, you know, anthropologists in, in, you know, their career set and they’re completely involved in market research, but they come at it from a complete ethnography pro approach. So I, I, I love hearing about these types of areas that can be brought into research, these types of sciences that can be brought into research. So I came across actually an umbrella term and please correct me if I’m wrong. But really we’re talking when we’re talking about behavioral science, we’re looking at, you know, the critical investigation of, of human action with things like psychology, cognitive science sociology, anthropology as mentioned. Neuromarketing another big one that we’re hearing in market research. And then of course, economics. So, you know, this is a really compelling breadth of research. So what is it about maybe behavioral science consulting that can help, you know, businesses that are looking at these types of methodologies and, and really are looking to maybe uncover the advantages for their brand?

Leigh (09:40):

Yeah, well, as you say, these, there are a lot of different approaches within behavioral science. And this is this because people have struggled with this question for so long of understanding human behavior, and they’ve used many different techniques and angles to approach that. So you know, the sociologists will look at how the structures in society influence our behavior. And we’re we’re of of course influenced by what’s around us. Neuroscientists look at how the, the chemistry and the geometry of the brain influences us and and measuring behavior through brain signals. And and as you say, economists, which is kind of where I come from look at things like the, the signals that are sent by markets and by prices and how those, how the information that we get from that ultimately influences our behavior. So behavioral science that I guess the breadth of it is very powerful in helping companies to understand their consumers from all of those different angles, because one method of study is never going to give you the the whole picture fundamentally in behavioral science tells you that there are ways to get evidence about human behavior, and those ways are not necessarily obvious.

Leigh (11:02):

There are not necessarily that basically people don’t follow the simple dictates of, of any particular behavioral rule. And so the science is about finding the, the evidence for how they do behave and how you can measure that. And, and then from a brand’s point of view, how you can influence behavior, because understanding is one thing but the, the point as, as Karl marks didn’t quite say is to change it is the, if you’re a brand and you understand why people do this, or you understand whether they’ll buy your product well, that’s only the first step. The next step is how can I make them, how can I influence them to buy more or to, to carry out the behavior that’s, you know, in my interest as a marketer, but of course, hopefully also in the consumer’s interest. And so finding those levers that you can pull is really essential to to a behavioral science approach.

Sharday (11:55):

I love that. And you’re, you’re literally speaking my language even as a marketer. <Laugh>, there’s so many of those techniques that we often employ ourselves when we’re looking at market research and especially understanding the consumer and marketing research itself, I think borrows or rather employs a ton of behavioral science techniques. And I, I would argue even in the past two years, this is becoming a lot more prevalent in consideration to how consumer behavior is even shifted in, in a digital transformation aspect. We’ve always been online. But I think there is a really unique we’re at a unique time in, in our society as everyone has been kind of, you know, mentioning. But I, I do think behavioral science is really becoming a, a much stronger point of interest between clients, as well as how market researchers are approaching consulting as well. So you know, on that note to what are maybe the types of behavioral science methodologies that you, or even a rational agency specializes

Leigh (13:01):

In? Yeah, well, just to, to pick a few examples one thing that has come up a lot over the last 10 years is the idea of nudging. So there’s a book called nudge that was published in 2008. And although that many of the case studies there were around government actions. So things like, how could you get people to I dunno, donate more lads or to save more money for their retirement. Nudge is also a powerful set of techniques that companies can use. And a nudge is a way of changing people’s behavior without having to spend a lot of money to change their incentives, the classic way of changing behavior. Let’s say, you’re, you wanna sell more soda is cut the price. But imagine you want to get people to buy more without having to slash your margins. Well, you can use nudges, which are subtle psychological cues that you can change the way that a choice is framed.

Leigh (13:56):

Show the price in a different way, for example, and you’ll be able to to influence their behavior. So nudging has been one, one big theme and, and using research techniques to design and measure what nudges are most effective is has been quite a, a powerful strand. Another is to look at ways to get onto the surface of people and people’s responses using different weights of measuring their answers and their reactions. So implicit tools is the the, the best known example of that. You will see research agencies using implicit tools, measuring reaction times for perhaps showing stimuli that are, that are indirectly influence people’s answers in order to measure things like their emotional reactions and the associations that they have. So that whole world of implicit tools has, has also been pretty important.

Leigh (14:54):

But what’s now emerging and what’s what we found really exciting and what’s been giving some really great answers to our clients recently is something called narrative research. So narrative research as you can imagine from the name is about stories and what we have realized, again, looking at the, the neuroscience research that’s been coming out recently, looking at the cognitive science world. We’ve been able to see that people are really driven by stories. They, they have their, you know, their, their, the, the brain, the way we interpret the world in our brain is driven by the narratives that we have about that world. And those narratives could tell us things like I’m going to enjoy this product, because I remember a story of when I bought it before and I enjoyed it. It could be something like I’m going to I’m going to recycle my my packaging, because I have a story about caring for the world and about the the meaning of my actions within that story emerge, both influenced by the scientific discoveries, but also what we’re, we’re seeing in the commercial world.

Leigh (16:06):

And ultimately the, if you can understand the stories that are inside the heads of your consumers and how those stories translate into their behavior, then you’re gonna be in a very powerful position to create a brand that will appeal to them. And so research methods that can uncover those stories understand the structure of them, understand their impact and behavior are becoming really, really powerful. And and that’s kind of the area where we’re we’re most active right now is, is that narrative research world.

Sharday (16:39):

That’s really cool. It’s so neat. I’m sure to be able to work with clients who wanna work on innovative cognitive behavioral studies and really great examples of such you know, so what are maybe the types of narrative research tools? Do you find work best with clients when it comes to maybe the more qualitative side of, of methodologies and techniques where I’m sure narrative research, you know, heavily relies upon?

Leigh (17:05):

Well, so there’s, there is a qualitative side and a quantitative side, both which obviously appeal to they, they work for different research questions, they appeal to different clients within the qualitative world. It’s about how you conduct interviews. So rather than having you know, a typical list of questions, a kind of discussion guide you’re really relying on the, the participant to open up and tell you their stories. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> and you might start by sharing your own story, because that’s really a, is a great way to, to build trust and to create that rapport and to, to set the expectation. You know, I might tell a story to an interviewee of, you know, when I went grocery shopping and, and what happens, and, you know, maybe I, maybe I have some kind of funny story to get people engaged.

Leigh (17:53):

And then I ask them to tell me their own stories. And so we’ll start with something quite open. And then, then we might drill a bit further in, and we, we, you know, you first, you, you probably get a story that is a bit surface level, so it’s, yeah, I went to the grocery store and I parked my car and I went to, I went in and I bought some diet Pepsi. And then I, I went to the tell and I paid and I came home. So then you, you get them to open up more. You get ’em to tell, tell more about what they were feeling about what’s that behind that maybe what memories came to mind when you, when you looked at the soda shelf and you, so you can drill into multiple layers of storytelling.

Leigh (18:37):

And then you can analyze the results looking at the, the kind of story arc. So there’s a, there’s a lot of work that people you, people who have done, for example, a storytelling workshop, you may have come across things like the, the, the arc, the, the three act structure or the, the hero’s journey these kind of different ways of telling a story. Well, those thing, things applied with your hearing a story you can look for those arcs within the stories that consumers are telling you. And every story is made up of cause and effect steps. So every there’s always a step and another step and another step, but everything happens because of the thing that happened before. So when someone tells you a story, they’re revealing their picture of causality, they’re revealing their beliefs about cause and effect in the world.

Leigh (19:23):

And that’s extremely important when you want to influence someone’s behavior, because you can see, well, if they have this view of what causes the the world to work, then you know how to tap into their their behavior and their mindset. That’s, that’s the, yeah. Yeah. That’s the, that’s the qualitative side. Now quality research is, is, is great and is, is really important for, you know, especially in that exploratory stage, but you, you meet in many cases to validate or to to be able to, to robustly test your hypothesis with a wider group of people. And so what we’ve developed recently are quantitative ways of gathering and analyzing stories. So we might speak to say 2000 people right now, we’re doing a study on health and wellbeing. We’re speaking to 2,600 consumers. We’re getting four stories from each of them.

Leigh (20:21):

So we’ll have about 10,000 in total, and we’re going to distill those stories down into the the core elements, the beginning, the end, the, the turning points, the you know, the who’s the who’s the hero or hero of this story. Who’s the antagonist, what are the, the triggering events that cause that drive the story forward? We can do that partly through automated grammar analysis and partly through using having the respondents, give us a guided word association response. So they will tell us a story and then they will in a way, boil that down for us into a structure and tell us, well, here are the, the five words that summarize the five steps of my story. And so that gives us this a map of what does this, what does this category, or this product, or this brand look like to those consumers?

Leigh (21:16):

How can you, how do those stories net together into a coherent world view? And that’s what we call the, the system three map. So this is a a tool called system three behavioral science fans will remember of course, system one in system two mm-hmm <affirmative> the division kind of popularized by Daniel Carman in, in the book, thinking fast and slow system. One is the automatic unconscious reaction that we have to things. System two is the considered logical reasoning that we, you know, the mathematicians brain, but system three is the imaginative brain. And that’s, what’s not really covered by either system one or two. It’s where our mind goes. When we think, oh, what might happen, if what would it be like if I bought this product, if I drove this car, if I drank this soda what would it be like if I went on a date with this person what would my experience be? What would my emotions be? You create a story in your mind imagining the outcome of your choices and that’s system three. That’s the, the, the imaginative part of the brain is powerful and is very important for certain consumer decisions. And so that’s what this tool is designed to, to understand and uncover,

Sharday (22:32):

I think lots of folks, especially in the retail world are going towards you know, a lifestyle brand where they really wanna want you as the buyer to focus on, you know, picturing what your life could be with, with their product or service. And I do find even as a marketer, when we’re, you know, approaching, trying to market these types of strategies, how often, again, that we’re kind of alluding to a lot of the things that you’re saying. So that the system three technology would be really interesting from the perspective of if you’re a sports fan and you’re, you’re asking them to, to purchase a Jersey Jersey, what would you be doing differently rather than asking them to purchase the Jersey, or really feeding them, perhaps, you know, everything that comes with it in terms of, you know, when you buy that Jersey, you’re part of the community, blah, blah, blah. Right? Yeah. So there’s so many really cool things that can be uncovered from the lifestyle perspective on the marketing side of things, when you’re applying these types of research methodology.

Leigh (23:31):

And so, yeah, I mean, every, every brand has its own different categories of story sports as a wonderful example, because every sports event is a story in itself, you know, it has a beginning, it has an end, it has turning points, it has excitement, it has tension, it has an unknown outcome. And the, the reason that sports is so appealing to people is because it taps into those same storytelling elements in our, in our brain, things that have evolved really over the last several hundred thousand years because humans have developed into a, a narrative species into a storytelling species. We, we relied on stories to, to survive in the early days of humanity. We still do. You know, I if, if my cousin could tell me the story of his cousin who was eaten by a SARE tooth tiger, then I might not have to go and learn by trial and error about a saber tooth tiger. And it could save many people’s lives. So the the, the, the brain, well, those of us who survived the SARE tooth tigers are the ones who were the people receptive to stories. And that’s that’s absolutely survived into today’s humans.

Sharday (24:45):

I, I love that really, it’s a stark example, but it’s true. It’s no different than touching, touching the stove, your sibling won’t ever touch it. Right. So exactly <laugh> carry on the tradition, but I, I find storytelling in market research, a, a, an invaluable part of the process you know, ourselves at insight, we really put a high value on ensuring that insights are reported in a way that clients understand, but also take, you know, the, this story behind it, you know, for many years, we’ve worked with experts like Ellen Eastwood. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with her work, but she’s a phenomenal story storyteller and market research. And, and again, a great consultant on, on this type of work as well. And I, I find, you know, working with individuals really understand the, the narrative side of research, you know, are, are making major impacts in, in our industry, but also within, within others. So I, I know recently irrational agency won the Mr award for new consumer insights. So first congratulations, it’s a, it’s a phenomenal award you know, and it’s being recognized with combined efforts with a partner of yours. Gameses so, would you mind maybe sharing a little bit about the project, perhaps what you learned and, you know, the impact that it’s having currently?

Leigh (26:08):

Yeah, yeah. So that project game sets is an online gaming company, and they came to us with a dilemma and the dilemma was that, you know, they are well, like there, there are several industries where companies have a tension between wanting people to use their products, but not wanting them to use them excessively or irresponsibly. So, you know, alcohol would be another example in the, in the gambling world, people want their customers to have fun and to, to game, but they don’t want them to become addicted or to become you know, to, to get to the point of doing the damage to themselves. And so the, the messaging in that industry was kind of like, you know, small print at the bottom of a contract. It was warnings, but it was, you know, don’t, you know, don’t go too far or make sure that you’re, you know, you’re only using money you can afford.

Leigh (27:03):

And then it was a little bit it was, you know, a little, a bit like talking down to someone a bit, a bit patronizing and a bit well basically it didn’t land, it didn’t resonate. And so they wanted to understand how can we make these messages work better? So we interviewed a number of people who were, were gamers across, you know many different kind of levels of engagements, but also, you know, people who were very recreational gamers had a lot of fun. And some people who had had real problems and who had, you know, lost tens of thousands or, or more of dollars or pounds we were, this was in primarily in the UK. But you know, some people who would, who would break down crying, talking about how they, you know, they lost the home that they lived in.

Leigh (27:52):

And we had to kind of listen to those stories, understand what was going on. Be of course, you know, responsible in the, in the research process as well. So that we’re, we’re not being exploited of people’s emotions, but we’re, we’re understanding and we’re supporting them. And we discovered that there are well, there are better ways to communicate these messages and better times to do it. So the results of the research found that there were there was a tone of voice that we needed to, to bring, and it had to be consistent with the tone of voice of the games themselves, because each game has its own style. You know, you, you will if you’ve used one of those services you’ll see that games have, it’s a bit like the, you know, the casual gaming on your phone, you could have very different styles of game that, you know, one of them might be a candy crush, which is very colorful and not much text.

Leigh (28:44):

Another one might be a role playing game where it’s, it’s a bit more, you know, combat and so on. So you need to, shouldn’t your messaging to the same tone of voice and to be consistent. So that kind of, when people are immersed in these games that it’s consistent and that it stands out for them, you also have to get it at the right time. So there are certain psychological triggers about that, that operate within gambling. There’s things that, you know, you’ve just lost a bit of money and you want to try and win and get it back, or you’ve just won some money and you’re kind of on a high and you feel like, oh, I can, now I can gamble the same money because it’s free because I won it. So it’s, it kind of is their money.

Leigh (29:23):

So it doesn’t matter if I lose it again, there’s, there’s various psychological phenomena like that. And by understanding those phenomena and knowing the times that they happen, then you can place these responsible gaming messages at the right time, as well as the right style. And so we we worked with the client to, to find these results. And then guess what, just as we were delivering it it was March, 2020. So the the lockdowns across the world came into place and the people stuck at home behind their computers, the prevalence of online gaming rocketed. And so you had a lot more people coming into the into the sector, spending more money and the these messages were there just at the right time to be able to help guide people and, and help protect people.

Leigh (30:15):

And so that’s that’s the story of, of the impact that we were able to help make there with, of course the benefit of an engaged client who, who themselves wanted to take that responsible approach. There are, you could imagine the temptation to just say, oh, we just take all the money that comes, but they wanted to do the right thing both for, because they’re human beings working in, in this client. And and you know, I’m sure it also is good for companies to, to in the long run, make sure that they are being responsible. Well, you know, they won’t be perhaps regulated. Like I know that in, in many parts of the, of the us there is no gambling because cause of regulation. And so these companies want to make sure they can do it in a responsible way. So they don’t end up in, in a situation where it is banned.

Sharday (31:04):

Yep. I do believe we are in a region in Canada as well. We it’s slowly becoming a being positioned by the government is something that’s not as bad as it used to be, but right. Even five years ago, you couldn’t even bet on sports mm-hmm <affirmative> so yeah, so things are changing, but I think as well as recognizing the responsibility that these organizations have to ensure such and transparency’s big. Right. So yeah, I think using market research to, to ensure that you’re advocating for a much more transparent organization is, is again, super invaluable. So to utilize these types of research to, to tell the real story I think is, is such a cool technique. Cool

Leigh (31:45):

Thing. Yeah. Yeah. I would say transparency is actually one of these can be a trap. And this is what, this is what happened in the in much of the finance industry. Interesting is that organizations, banks, lenders, they were transparent, but transparency can mean just throwing information at you. It can mean, you know, I, I give you 20 pages of every possible detail about my product and about the, the loan that you’re taking or the interest rate or what could happen or what could go wrong. But, you know, you’re not gonna read the a, the bottom of the 18th page realistically. And so actually transparency was thought to be the solution by traditional economists. But actually you you, that needs to be supported with an understanding of how to make the information land what are the important parts? What are the, what are the pieces of information that are going to matter to people and how can you frame those so that they notice and understand what they, as an individual need to notice and understand? Wow. So, yeah, transparency can almost be used as a, you know, a club to try to a marketing to solve a problem

Sharday (32:57):

Even to some degree. So. Sure.

Sharday (32:59):

Yeah. So, so I, I, yeah. Hmm. That’s interesting. I think, yeah, they, I, wow. I think to turn the table, that’s such a, a unique way to look at it. I think PayPal’s kind of an example of that where you, you know, you get sent their legal agreement every so often in reality, you’re probably not gonna read what they are changing, but to them it’s you know, being transparent, those types of engagements with your consumer you’re right. I think there is a level of that as a sophisticated shopper myself, I can sometimes really read into a lot of those things and maybe I don’t even take the time to be, you know, ensuring that I’m digesting this information because I’m being bombarded we’re in, you know, what we call the information era. So I think what you guys are doing at a rational agency is quite interesting in that, you know, we recognize that even ourselves market research firms, you know, behavioral science consultants, you know, there’s a lot of information that can go into the reporting.

Sharday (33:54):

You know, when we’re, when we’re working with huge data sets, you know, we’re pulling primary, we’re pulling secondary, we’re working on IDIs and we’re, we’re doing these recorded interviews. There’s so much data that we pull from being able to take that and, and drill it down to, to the narrative to the story, I think is, is a really unique skill set. So maybe to transfer into that a little bit, Lee, you know, from the business side, if you were, you know, say you’re talking to an up and coming market researcher who really wants to get into this side of the industry, you know, what would you suggest if someone wanted to learn more about these types of techniques?

Leigh (34:29):

Yeah, well, I, I was thinking about this just recently, cuz we, you know, we are recruiting right now and I, I would love to have six more people on, on the team to, to do this narrative work. So and I do, you know, do get in touch if you, if you’re interested. But I absolutely, I, I realized something, I actually, I I’m just writing a, a post about it, which you may, will probably be out before the, the podcast is out. So you re listeners might be able to, to find that sure. Market research, quant market research does combine these two skills that are often very, very separate. You know, you, you have the mathematical quantitative skill, you have the creative storytelling skill and you need to have, you need to have both you as a quant researcher, you need to be able to write a questionnaire, understand the logic of the, the rooting of the questionnaire, be able to read the data tables understand the base sizes, know what the what’s a significant difference.

Leigh (35:29):

You have to speak that language and you need to be able to turn that into a, a message that will land with a client that is meaningful and that can help them bring about change. And that’s, you know, it is such a a great and it’s an unusual combination of skills and it’s brilliant when somebody can bring those two together. So I would say the, if you’re, if you are a researcher who, who wants to make sure you’re really great at that you know, the, the quantitative skills in a way, you probably, you probably know how to learn those, right? There’s, there’s a bit more of a, a recipe for how you learn the quantitative skills. But the storytelling part, you really got to put yourself in the mind of a, of a client you need to if you can go work client side for a while if you can’t then at least, you know, read the wall street journal and the financial times spend as much time as you can talking to clients and listen to their stories about what’s important to them and the business challenges they face.

Leigh (36:31):

And then just be really focused on translating that quantitative data into the story. That’s, that’s meaningful to clients. You won’t always get it right first time, that’s you you’ll iterate with a client to, to get it right. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>, but in a way, that’s the, that’s the, the storytelling site. So the and, and that’s where you know, good researchers have over the last 10 years started to get good at that storytelling. And that is taking the data and presenting it to their stakeholders in, in an narrative form. But what the other thing we’re talking about is story hearing. So that’s about listening to the stories of consumers. So the, the skills there are partly about, just about asking partly about learning, how to prompt people to be open. And you will learn that from having conversations and from telling and asking for stories, but then you can translate those skills into say questionnaire design.

Leigh (37:26):

So there’s quite a, you know, there’s subtle techniques to, if you’re, if we were like writing a questionnaire, I mentioned the 2,600 people that we’re gathering stories from. We have to ask the questions in the right way to get them to, to open up to us. Cause otherwise people will, if you just say in a survey, tell me a story about when you went grocery shopping, someone’s gonna type in six words to say, you know, I, I, I parked and I bought my, my groceries and I went home. You have to take them through the, a process to get them to open up in the right way. So that is, it definitely is great to be call and quant because then you, you will be able to borrow techniques from qual conversations into your questionnaire design. But also I would say start to understand some of the theory of narrative.

Leigh (38:17):

So you’ll find books. There’s a, there’s great book called the science of storytelling. And by, I think will star I can send you that we, you can put the link in I’ve read it actually. Oh, well, perfect. Brilliant. Yeah. And there’s, there’s a number of other books that we’ll look at and, and papers and, and, and websites that will tell you about the structure of stories so that you can start to recognize when I hear a story what’s happening here, you know, where is the where’s the opening, where’s the inciting incident, or here’s the turning point? What are the obstacles? Who’s the antagonist what’s the resolution and, and what’s driving the action. And you’ll, you’ll recognize that even when a, a respondent tells you a simple story about when they went grocery shopping, but this time it’s not just, I parked and I bought my groceries, it’s I parked and I couldn’t find what I was looking for.

Leigh (39:09):

And I was really I, I was really desperate because I had to get home because the kids are coming back from school and the, the in-laws are coming round and I’ve gotta cook. I wanna cook this one recipe that I know they really love. And I, and the thing is out of stock and I couldn’t find the alternative. And so I and this is what, what I did about it. And this was the, the resolution and that kind of story is it’s still simple, but it, it reveals a lot more about how people shop than something very short. And so you want to get people to to tell you those stories and you want to have the right tools to analyze and break down those stories, and then turn that into quant data that you can say, okay, 2000 shoppers told us these things, and therefore we can draw some really strong conclusions.

Sharday (39:58):

That’s interesting. So what I’m hearing too, the questionnaire design is super, super important to this process as well. Do you, do you often change up the questionnaire design within the project, or is this a question questionnaire that you guys kind of run with throughout the entire project? Do you, and, and maybe I’ll restart that Lee because where what I was hearing a little bit, and again, just from my own inherent interest <laugh>, but from a questionnaire design perspective, is this something that you guys build right from the start?

Leigh (40:31):

Mm, well, we have I guess we’ve learned some techniques that work pretty well in designing these questionnaires. So one of them is that we kind of do a storytelling exchange. So we’ll start within the quest, even within the questionnaire by telling a story. So we’ll say here’s a story of you know, when I went shopping or when you know one of your fellow shoppers went to the supermarket and that’s, that’s a way to get people to open up. Then we, we give people some prompts. We say, so imagine you’re in this situation, and here’s a challenge you face mm-hmm <affirmative> or here’s a goal that you have. And the, that, that kind of opens them up to, to be a bit more creative and, and not just give you the, the basics. So we will, we have those techniques, but generally every the way that those play out for a different client and a different scenario is, is different because, you know, we might, one, one week we might be researching soda one week it might be TV viewing.

Leigh (41:32):

One week it might be people who are taking diabetes medication. Of course, all of those, the stories that will come up are different and the prompts are different. So there are, there are repeatable skills that you can learn. But every questionnaire does tend to be a little bit different, except I guess when we’re doing a tracking study. So sometimes we will track the narratives and say, we want to repeat this every quarter. And we, we want to say, are people saying something different about sustainability today than they did six months ago? And then you want to make sure that you’re giving, you’re asking the same way. So that, that of course is a repeatable questioner.

Sharday (42:08):

That’s awesome. Yeah, I, I, I think again, questionnaire design is such a unique skill set in the research industry and, and, and it’s expanding more and more in consideration to the fact that I think you nailed the point. People are engaging differently people in effort to get that story out of folks. To some degree, you gotta talk to them like they’re human and not really kind of play the Q and a aspect, even when you’re filling out an online survey. I’m sure there’s a lot more that you can do within the questionnaire design to ensure that you’re really eliciting the response, rather than getting an answer to the question. You know, myself being a background, I, I, a former journalist and that was, you know, my, my initial career path and then landing and marketing. I, I see a ton of parallel in, in even the knowledge that you know, we were, we were kind of taught in terms of how to, you know, bounce techniques off of folks in terms of getting the real story out of people and, and really learning.

Sharday (43:11):

And you mentioned learning on the client side of things, getting, putting their shoes on, getting to understand their industry, their organization. Sometimes that takes a, a week of diving into, you know, their, their world to some degree before even really nailing down that questionnaire. So I, I think a lot of that has a really great parallel in, in the, the work that journalists do, storytellers, natural, natural storytellers in the world. Right. So, yeah, I think this is, this is a really cool segment for me to be a part of cuz I, I see a lot of parallels, so

Leigh (43:43):

Mm-Hmm <affirmative> yeah. I mean, I, I, I love the variety of different backgrounds that people come to the research industry with. And I haven’t heard many people who were journalists, but I think that’s absolutely right. Is a, that’s a brilliant kind of set of parallels. And, you know, I’ve, I’ve met a couple of people who are anthropologists and people who you know, people who studied English literature and, and you can see of course, some of those different elements that come forth in, in the way people do research. But yeah, maybe, maybe if they, we keep hearing about how journalism is in crisis and all the journalists are being laid off, maybe we need to recruit them as, as researchers instead,

Sharday (44:22):

I, I, I hate to say we’re, you know, our backgrounds are often our secondary backgrounds are in research and statistics usually. So we’re, we’re not the worst pool to choose from. Granted we, we love the comms area of things. So even just information design, I think that’s where I have my own unique interest in, in market research is being able to, to take a lot of this knowledge and put it into something a lot more visual. You know, I love doing data visualization. It’s a big part of my gig at insight tricks. But I think that what it drills down to is taking large, you know, data sets that, you know, are really hard to kind of for the average person to really take an insight from drill that down and make it you know, something that they can take something away from without having to really read into it.

Sharday (45:07):

So yeah, so I think that maybe that’s probably why I ended up on the marketing side and not so much the research we’re the creative and we, we trust, we trust the folks on the quantitative side with the numbers. So mm-hmm <affirmative> but yeah, I think I, I, you know, we kind of nailed all, all the, the avenues of narrative research really. And I think even just giving some advice on the business side is quite unique as well. I think we’re at a point in time as industries, as agencies you know, high tides raise all ships and I’m hearing a lot that competition or rather collaboration is the new competition. So whenever we can work with folks like you have these conversations, share them with our listeners yeah. Which are often researchers themselves. I think it, it really is important. So thank you so much for your time Lee. I’ll leave maybe the floor open to you. Is there anything perhaps we would like to share with our listeners finding out more about the work that you do?

Leigh (46:03):

Sure. Yeah. Well, just two things. I’d love to see it. One is if you’re interested in finding out what an example of narrative research looks like, cuz I can imagine that it can be abstract to just hear about it. Go to our website, irrational, you’ll see on there a link to something called hidden stories of sustainability which is a report that we publish. So click on that and you’ll be able to get a copy of the, the preview of that. You can see what that what that research looks like. And the other thing is just we would love to have people come and work with us on this. I’d love to have you know, I think I said earlier half a dozen new researchers joining our team doing and learning about narrative research. So please, if you’re interested, connect me on LinkedIn go to our website and hopefully we’ll be working with a few of a few of your listeners, the near future.

Sharday (46:52):

Awesome. That is really cool. We’ll have all the information down in the podcast episode on Again, I thank you so much for your time today, Lee and I look forward to seeing what narrative what you’re working on with narrative research in the future. So

Leigh (47:07):

Thanks so much wonderful to meet you.

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