The above is a play on the thought experiment of ‘if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?’ A philosophical question that has been around for decades on the subject of observation. But perhaps it has been replaced more recently by a modern, slightly more narcissistic version – ‘if you have an experience and don’t post it on social media, did it happen?’ As highlighted in a recent Guardian article, the role of social media to document and curate our lives – ‘pic or it didn’t happen’ – is growing stronger and stronger.
Part of this is because, as the article explains, people want to feel involved, feel part of the group and not left out. And as you begin to clock up likes and shares and re-tweets then you begin to seek greater external validation for your life.
Part of it is also the human condition of wanting to be in the know, to understand other’s lives and to share in that. To you, yourself, validate or ignore the morsels of happenings that each of your friends or followers share.
But there is also another reason. The form of the information itself. Tweets are 140 characters. Pinterest Pins are rich, glossy pictures. Facebook posts are short videos and YouTube links. Nothing is too long, nothing is too boring. Just enough to be interesting, just enough to not only boast but showcase your latest holiday, or purchase, or party.
It raises an interesting question of is the modern world turning more visual? Or perhaps more correctly, are we returning to a more visual world; after centuries of the word are we going full circle to the language of icons and images of prehistory as the way of sharing our lives? Emoticons, selfies, and Vines are the way we communicate now. A fact underscore by Aloft hotels recently announcing that you can order room service using only emoticons – too busy to actually write.
And this new paradigm is changing how our brains work. According to a recent Microsoft study we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish, at 8 seconds. Is our modern, disparate and distracting visual world the cause, or a product of naturally changing attention spans will likely remain a chicken and egg question. However, it’s certainly true that visuals are a more passive medium; less attention is needed to take them in, to concentrate on the information being transferred. As opposed to words. Genetically we’re not designed to understand language innately, it requires more processing power, in fact we are 6 times more likely to remember information when it is visual than when it is text. We’re simply born to be visual.
All of which brings us back to our title. Much of today’s research discussions are around finding insights. Fewer on how to communicate them so that someone pays attention. With one billion people on Facebook and growing, we can’t expect our clients to somehow be immune to the move towards a move visual language and shorter attention spans. And yet somehow we do. We focus on the finding of insights, talk about ever more technologically driven research techniques and methodologies. But what about how we share that insight; still just reams and reams of PowerPoint.
It’s positive to see that ESOMAR is beginning to confront this head on, with the topic of 2016’s Qualitative Conference being Storytelling. But let’s be careful here. Research has being paying lip service to storytelling for years now. This author presented a paper on its benefits nearly ten years ago. So are we really getting anywhere with storytelling?
Well perhaps the question is more prosaic. What medium are we using to tell stories? I think it’s fair to say that nearly everyone is still using PowerPoint, or worse, Word. If a presentation is, at its core, about the transfer of emotion, then Office tools are a numbing rationality. What is needed are better storytelling tools.
At Kadence we have embraced a visual storytelling culture, under the mantra of Insights Worth Sharing: not just the power of the insight, but the brightness with which we make it shine. If the world is turning visual, then we need to embrace that move. Nearly all our projects end with a video debrief. Not a hastily chopped together high school project, but a carefully crafted piece of edutainment that mixes data; vox pops; relevant B-roll; and infographics into an engaging, compelling emotional transfer. We make sure that our insights are heard.
Working with an enviable roster of clients; enjoying a very strong retention rate; and garnering a juicy number of referrals each quarter, its proof that clients are responding to this new medium. But this isn’t intended to be a bluster of self-congratulation, but the start of a rallying cry with which we want to lead the industry onward.
We think this visual storytelling method should be the way forward for our industry. If we want people to listen, we need to speak their language. And that language is visual. Just like how we have embraced online, and then mobile, and more recently social media for methodologies, we need to embrace visual storytelling for our debriefs. Otherwise however interesting our insights, nobody will pay attention long enough to hear them.