Fact vs. Fiction – Storytelling in Absence of Data

In The Absence of Data We Make Up Stories

Revenue growth, new product launch successes, and high performing employees all share one common attribute; good research data led to their success.  While people may come up with their own personal stories as to why the success is occurring, good data led to good decisions and created successful outcomes.  Companies that have good practices to obtain data before making decisions tend to have brand messages that resonate more clearly with customers, and also tend to have more successful new product launches.  One research study found that having a customer focused “method for obtaining insight” was a top factor in new product launch successes.

So how do companies set themselves up for revenue growth, effective employees, and successful new product launches?  They create solid, ongoing customer feedback programs to make sure staff can make regularly informed decisions. However, some companies do no rely on data to make decisions.  This can happen for many reasons, but do not make any mistake about it, this will always lead the organization down a dangerous path of made up data.   

As Brené Brown points out in her book “Dare to Lead”, “in the absence of data, we will always make up stories.”  How many times have you seen this in your organization? What stories are told that have ambiguous or non-existent data to back them up?  A powerful way to avoid people “making up stories” when things are not going well within your company is to set up a process where these stories die in a vacuum, or better yet, they never have a chance to develop in the first place.

Nowhere is the “made up stories” phenomenon stronger than in B2B.  Too often, B2B leaders fallback on cliché driven explanations, or a cursory look at their Google Analytics page, to suddenly write a story about why things are the way they are.  True or not, without research data, these stories are just that, made up hypotheses to give answers where data is nonexistent.

Research has shown that Choice Architecture provides the best avenue for avoiding “made up stories”, and instead using research data for decision making.  This Behavioral Economics term coined by Thaler and Sunstein (2008) refers to the practice of influencing choice by “organizing the context in which people make decisions”.  For example, a company that has a regular weekly, monthly, annual process where they review their customer feedback to determine why things are the way they are, tend to diminish and extinguish rampant made up story telling.  As the data comes in to the organization, the reasons why no one is clicking on the Instagram ads, the reasons why customers aren’t signing, and the reasons why the new product is catching on will create the story.  This story, in turn, can then be unleashed within the organization (as painful or uncomfortable as it may be) allowing staff to make informed decisions on data, and not be forced to make up stories.

Great companies that utilize regular, ongoing market research feedback programs don’t suffer from “made up stories”.  They don’t allow time, space, or opportunity for people in your company to “make up stories” due to a lack of data. Rather, creating a market research system will ensure the stories shared will be based on fact, setting up a process where staff can make informed decisions based on data.