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The future of qualitative research is storytelling – and it's here now

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

James Warren, the founder and force behind Share More Stories, reveals how he turned storytelling into a powerful research tool for brands.




Through a unique methodology that combines storytelling with machine learning, Share More Stories "leverages both human + digital expertise to help companies identify new ideas for sustainable growth based in deeper human truths." We caught up with James Warren, the founder and force behind Share More Stories to learn more about how his insight-generating tool is helping brands drive growth.


Share More Stories (SMS) started out as a platform for socially connected story sharing. What made you recognize its potential as a research tool for Brands?   Well, I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression, “the moral of the story.” It means the lesson of the story – the nugget, if you will. As I reviewed the first stories that came into the platform, I naturally wanted to understand what they were all about, what they meant, what they were saying to me on a deeper level. And it occurred to me that one of the primary reasons humans share stories is to transmit our knowledge and wisdom, derived from our individual and shared experiences, to one another. The stories we tell about our lives help us make sense of ourselves and the world around us. So I figured they might help others others understand us better, too.


How is the SMS methodology unique from other types of qualitative research – like focus groups for example?

We are quantifying emotion through the personal, written stories we collect and the analytical processes we put them through. In this way, we are capturing rich, qualitative information in consumers’ own words and we’re analyzing that information using machine learning tools like IBM Watson and proprietary techniques.

"We’re much deeper than a focus group and more scalable than ethnography – with the kind of data analytics that quant-focused researchers and strategists love. It’s the best of all three methods: deep, scalable, quantifiable."

How are the insights gathered through storytelling different than those using other qualitative methodologies?

From an insights perspective, we’re focused on developing deeper understanding of people for our clients. So we focus on personal stories about people’s life experiences, because they’re authentic, intentional and deep. It’s not about people’s opinions – we have enough rhetoric in the world and other companies are focused on that. We’re also not in the prediction business.

"We’re focused on understanding the experiences and emotions that fuel people’s opinions, perceptions, beliefs and actions related to brands, organizations and society in general. This level of understanding enables us to provide strategic direction to our clients: if they want to achieve certain outcomes, they must first understand the emotional drivers and experiential context. It’s all about framing and re-framing."

You’re partnering with IBM Watson. How does AI/ML add value to the SMS methodology?

IBM’s Watson tools allow us to understand several things about people through their stories: sentiment, emotion, themes, personality traits, values, needs and consumption preferences. And our proprietary analytical tools and processes allow us to understand those features at a deeper level. In fact, we’re creating “small data” – and exploring how it might interface, correlate with, or explain analyses derived from big datasets and more traditional analytical methods. We recently had a bit of a eureka moment, when our feature analysis revealed some interesting potential correlations between certain emotions, values and needs.


"We’re at the early stages, but we think this may be the key to defining new emotion-based personas for brands (vs. the more well-known demographic and behavior/interest-based personas)."

Can you share some of your most successful SMS experiences and what made them so successful?

Last year, we worked with a company called Envera Health. Envera is all about transforming healthcare as we know it, and they’re doing that by improving the way healthcare providers engage with patients. They’re very aligned with us, because they share our “human+digital” ethos for how companies should engage and connect with people. Through the stories we sourced, we developed tremendous insights about what people really need from healthcare (hint, it’s not about the technology), what people’s experiential priorities are, and what the key moments are that healthcare companies should focus on as a result. We helped them engage healthcare system executives from across the country and developed a Truth Report focused on the Truths of Transformation. The company is leveraging the insights, content and recommendations we developed for them to drive growth. I think it was successful because we had a client partner who was curious, open and experimental.


"Through the stories we sourced, we developed tremendous insights about what people really need from healthcare (hint, it’s not about the technology), what people’s experiential priorities are, and what the key moments are that healthcare companies should focus on as a result."

More recently, we launched a public series of storytelling sessions in Richmond, called SEEQ RVA. We’re using these sessions to explore things we’re curious about, engage a diverse group of community leaders, professional creatives, researchers, writers and executives, and demonstrate our unique approach and capabilities in a more accessible way. The feedback has been tremendous. People are getting so much out of it individually, we’re learning with them, and we’re developing some rich insights that are validating our value proposition with key prospective clients.


Where do you see SMS going next?

It’s all about growth through learning for us and our clients. We’ve grown every year so far and we’ve learned a lot already – and the truth is, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s out there. Our pace, breadth and depth of learning are increasing across all aspects of our business, and that’s really exciting.

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