On June 10, 2018, the Mars rover Opportunity transmitted two values:
- tau = 10.8
- power = 22
Doing what any good analyst does, a scientist at JPL immediately put these data points into context, looking at the overall trends: “The atmospheric opacity (tau) over the rover has increased to a record 10.8 on Sol 5111 (June 10, 2018). Power levels on the rover have dropped to a record low of ~22 watt hours. As expected, Opportunity has tripped a low-power fault and gone silent… It is expected that we will not hear from the rover until the storm subsides over the rover site.”
Seven months later, Jacob Margolis, a science reporter at NPR station 89.3 KPCC, did something different. He gave this data an emotional spin:
The last message they received was basically, “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.” They hoped that the windy season would clear dust off the solar panels (if that was the problem). Since then they've been pinging her again and again, every way they knew… 3/— Jacob Margolis (@JacobMargolis) February 12, 2019
Margolis anthropomorphized Opportunity and gave the numbers a resonance that they lacked. Technically, of course, the data didn’t say it was getting darker, only that it was the darkest yet reported. But he translated the data into a story, and the story he told went viral. “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
Now imagine doing the same thing for market research.
- The data:
- Relevance = 10%
- Purchase likelihood = 8%
- “This concept had the lowest relevance and purchase likelihood of any product concept we’ve ever tested.”
- Emotional ramifications:
- “Launching this product would be a serious mistake that would jeopardize careers and perhaps even the company.”
Inspiring people with data requires going beyond the numbers, establishing a wider context, and finding the emotional heart of the story.
And that’s our opportunity.
Check out the Principles Express class, Communicating Research Results, for more on storytelling.