The Storytelling Power of Qualitative Research

You may forget facts, but chances are you’ll always remember how a powerful story, emotionally told, made you feel.

That’s the power of qualitative research. I was reminded of this yesterday as I was recounting some interviews I did for a project a few years ago.

A client had done a quantitative segmentation study that had yielded generic, disappointing results. My company was asked to “flesh out” the segments so that effective marketing communications could be crafted. Based on stories like the one that follows, we identified an alternative view of segmentation, one defined by sharp psychological insights, not simply demographics and behaviors.

I ask broad, open-ended questions in these types of interviews to get at the values of the respondents. In response to a question about “how you grew up,’ a favorite of mine, a married, 35-year-old man with two young children told me the following.

He grew up in a remote, rural area of Washington (state). When he was about 12-years-old, his father took him for a long walk in the forest just before dusk. They were deep in the woods as the sun went down, when father said to son, “You have to learn what it means to be a man. Find your own way home.”

He then disappeared, leaving his terrified tween in the middle of nowhere with no food, water, flashlight, or direction.

This was a life-defining story and had an outsized effect on the brand relationship we were exploring. And a story that will always be embedded in my mind and the client’s.

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