Learnings from “Significant Objects”

Learnings from “Significant Objects”

Sonya Turner

Nov 18, 2013

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Every once in a while you come across something truly brilliant in its simplicity, something that opens your mind and sparks a new way of thinking. That’s how I felt when I watched this exceptional video about a project called Significant Objects.

For this project, a series of writers were asked to create stories around an eclectic assortment of objects—a tiny tile with the number 4 on it, a smiley-face shaving mug, a wooden handled whisk.

Then, in collaboration with the marketing team at eBay, these objects were put up for sale complete with their stories. The shaving mug, for example, was presented as having been hand made by a famed surrealist sculptor. The whisk, labeled simply “implement,” was featured prominently in a short vignette in which a man promises his wife that the tool will save their marriage.

Now, on their own, these objects had little to no value and would be expected to sell for small amounts of money, if at all. But while bidding on them opened at just 99 cents, all of the objects ultimately sold for amounts far in excess of their actual value: the whisk, $20.50 the shaving mug, $32.08.

So with the addition of a few carefully crafted words, the actual commercial value of these nearly worthless objects increased exponentially.

In describing this project, Richelle Parham, CMO of eBay, speaks about the implications of this finding: that a compelling story enhances perceptions of value, which in turn has broad impact on commerce in general. And while we’ve always known that stories can increase desire for an object, this exercise showed how that desire actually translates to financial transactions.

It’s a fascinating idea, lofty and conceptual, but at the same time directly applicable to the field of market research and to my world of insight and analysis.

Using stories to differentiate and add value to an object can help brands competing against countless distractions to capture consumers’ attention. A good story can help the researcher in much the same way. Our clients are busy, overextended, bombarded with information everywhere they turn. Our stories make findings pop and stick; they are what get our clients to really stop, listen, and buy in.

Of course, clients need “the object.” “Yes, people like your ad,” or “No, your customer service isn’t up to snuff.” But what really makes that information meaningful–and what makes them sit up and take notice–is when it’s infused with the humanity of the people who answered our questions. Because that’s what qualitative research is all about, right? People. Human beings with lives and obligations and passions and fears. And each one of these people views the world—products, advertising, service, politics, health care—through their own lens.

So, in order for us to faithfully and completely represent these individuals in our work, we need to do more than deliver a finding. We need to infuse it with the whole story of the people who shared it. And it’s that story, as much as the facts themselves, which delivers real value to our clients.

Sonya Turner

Director, Insights

I love finding the story that exists inside every job we do, the thread that ties together.

iModerate allowed us to not only connect with this hard-to-reach audience but to get a deeper understanding of their feelings on the subject of public service. iModerate promised at the outset to expand and clarify the quantitative findings in a way traditional online survey research has previously been unable to, and they delivered on this claim. As a result, we were able to expose the emotions shaping the perceptions of the class of 9/11.

Marc Porter Magee, Partnership for Public Service