Storyteller or story interpreter?

The work conversation often goes like this… ‘So, what do you do?’ ‘I work in market research.’ ‘Oh, so you’re the person that rings me up during dinner to ask what I think of John Key?’ ‘No, not exactly…’ It is so much more than this.


Brené Brown, a now celebrity researcher courtesy of Oprah, recalls in a Ted Talk how she repositioned her role as a qualitative researcher, by calling herself a ‘storyteller’. This resonated strongly with me as I thought about all the stories I have heard over the years from so many different types of people and from all walks of life.

It is these human connections that makes our work so special and what many do not get to see. My husband always tells people I come back from an in home interview buzzing. It’s because I have had the privilege to enter a person’s natural environment where they are in control and most relaxed, observe how they live, meet their family, children and pets, explore what makes them tick and sometimes even be invited to stay for dinner!

One of my favourite Instagram feeds at the moment is Humans of NY. The authors collect human stories from everyday New Yorkers and present these vignettes of everyday life in a highly compelling way.

This got me thinking – maybe I’m not a storyteller after all, but a story interpreter.Because I can’t simply tell the stories I hear…I have to retell them with commercial relevance.

That is the difference between an ethnographer or cultural anthropologist. Whilst we as market researchers also observe and listen, we do so through the lens of commercial context. How does this person’s life and experiences impact the brand I am representing? What can I learn that will make a difference to how they might communicate to that person, deliver a product/service or motivate them to purchase?

Nichola Quail