Editor's note: Susan Fader is qualitative researcher, strategist and moderator at Fader and Associates, a New York research firm. 

Who doesn’t love a good story? A well-constructed story entertains, is memorable and delivers a message. Fairy tales are rife with all the reasons why children should behave themselves and listen to their parents; hero stories provide a foundation for what values we should aspire to; and myths try to explain the unknown and/or rationalize behavior. 

In the world of market research, storytelling plays an important role but how it is used tends to be narrowly focused. Market research storytelling generally falls into two different categories – stories as output and stories as input. Currently most market researchers focus on using stories as output, as part of the deliverable function of distilling and sharing what was learned during the research process. If research participants are asked to share stories, a primary lens of evaluation and interpretation of the story’s value is whether that story can be featured as part of the reporting as a way to help “sell” a message. The focus is on creating or selecting stories from research based on what will best convey the research insights, and many of those stories are consciously curated to convey specific messages. 

Narrative economics provides a very different and enlightening way for market researchers to think about and utilize stories as a way to better understand how different demographics think about things and why they make the decisions they do. 

For the market researcher, narrative economics can build on behavioral economics. Classical economic theory is based on the assumption that people make rational decisions. Behavioral economics identified that people make irrational decisions that are not always in their best interests. For the market researcher, narrative economics may begin to put a different spin on how...