I’ve enjoyed watching the impact of storytelling on the market research field over the last few years. As more and more practitioners have adopted the concept of “storytelling,” we’ve seen a greater focus on distilling the data researchers collect into more meaningful stories that unveil the people behind the numbers. This shift has given marketers more useful insights to build their campaigns.

However, while untethering ourselves from PowerPoint slides filled with charts has liberated us all from boring presentations and dry commentary, there is an unanticipated side effect to our industry’s obsession with storytelling. First, building a compelling narrative is hard to do, especially for old school market researchers. While new methodologies like data visualization is helping to change that, some still struggle to communicate a story that resonates, which tarnishes the impact of the data.

Secondly, expectations. There has always been a component of storytelling in market research deliverables. The difference is, however, clients’ expectations are now higher because of the general public’s fascination with this “new” way of advertising. Data is now expected to serve as a supporting mechanism to the story rather than the focus of market research deliverables to build the story.

So, is it possible to get the best of both worlds – to deliver meaningful stories without compromising the integrity of the consumer insights we provide? Well, I can only speak from my experience, but I will say that as a market researcher, I’ve seen cracks in the foundation that bridges the two.

For example, I consume a lot of research, be it keeping up with trends or staying on top of competitors. When weighing the validity of that research, I always look at the methodology used. And when available, I seek out the appendices of the report to see how the data plays out from a percentage perspective. There have been times when the data presented didn’t add up. But the story the data told was impressive.

In my opinion, this raises a cautionary flag. Have we trained clients to focus only on the story and ignore the key statistics that drive that story? Every marketer is now data-driven, or purportedly, but I believe they are less data-driven and more “story” driven, which is a dangerous path to go down.

While I wholeheartedly support the trend towards storytelling, I want us all to keep in mind that at the end of the day, we are market researchers. We deliver data. Yes, we need to stay current and provide that data in a way that our clients expect to see it, but without compromising it. Because if we give them data that’s pretty but wrong, they lose and their consumers will buy elsewhere.

Good data trumps a good story, always.