Are you telling good Insight stories?

Let me tell you a story.

Alan goes to Las Vegas for a business trip. He spends most of the evening in the hotel bar, drinking with a group of other businessmen who are also staying at the hotel.

When Alan wakes up the next morning, he’s in the bath in his hotel room, with no shirt on. The bath is full of ice. There’s a note taped to the wall saying, “Call 911 if you want to live.” Alan calls 911, and the operator asks him to touch his back. Alan reaches behind himself and feels a long scar on his lower back. Someone had done a crude surgery on him, removing one kidney, which they (presumably) sold on the black market for a lot of money.

You’ve heard this one before, right? It’s one of the most successful urban legends! Hundreds of versions in circulation, so you’ve probably heard a variation.

You could most likely retell this story almost perfectly in an hours’ time after hearing it only once – it’s a story that sticks.  We understand it, we remember it, and we can retell it later. 

If we believe it’s true, we might even change our behaviour.

Why do we remember nonsense like this but not some really important, or truly great, ideas? 

It’s not just that kidney theft is interesting. It’s about the way the story is told.

How can we use this storytelling approach to make our Insight communications stick in the minds of our decision makers?

Made to Stick

One way to make your ideas stick is to use the principles outlined in ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip Heath and Dan Heath - a great little book that is packed with practical ideas, many of which can be related to Insight.

The book focuses on how to communicate more effectively, so that your ideas really stick in the minds of those you’re addressing. When you communicate Insight it’s unlikely the decision maker will be able to implement your recommendations straight away.  You need to ensure that your key messages stick with them long enough – a day, a week, a month – so that it’s easy for them to remember what you said at the point when it can truly drive action and change.

Made to stick is based on six principles that start with the letters in ‘SUCCES’: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions and Stories. Research has shown these traits come up again and again when it comes to effective and actionable ideas.


This isn’t about dumbing down or talking in sound bites. It’s the natural antidote to the difficulty of making your ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable and chaotic environment. Ultimately, it’s about NOT cluttering your message with too many elements. This concept of simplicity revolves around finding and focusing on the most important idea – the core message. The authors say “It’s about discarding a lot of great insights, in order to let the most important insight shine.”


Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick, because the element of surprise makes us pay attention and think. The book talks about creating a mystery, and then solving it. As an alternative, the authors refer to creating a curiosity hook – identifying a gap in the reader’s knowledge, which you can then fill.


Create memorable 'hooks' using real examples rather than abstract concepts or statistics. It’s all about moving from the abstract to the tangible and from that to the memorable. One approach is to try and relate your idea to the five senses. If you can conjure up an image that relates to an evocative sight, sound, taste, scent or feeling, you’re increasing the number of those ‘hooks’ that will help your audience to remember it.


Make use of 'experiences' to make your insights more believable. Humanise the statistics: we all know that statistics can be eye-glazing, but we constantly rely on them. One way of making them more credible is to humanise them. Bring large numbers down to a scale that people can comprehend. For example, what do the figures mean per person per year, month, week or day?


Finding links to things your stakeholders care about is a sure-fire way to get their attention. Feelings inspire people to act. If you bring your ideas to life with a human story, you’ll make a greater impact - whether you’re trying to influence the management strategically or challenging a customer-facing team about their day-to-day roles.


And we’re back to Alan in the bath in Las Vegas. Good stories are typically spotted rather than written, so you don’t need to be a creative genius to use them effectively. You just need to learn to identify stories with potential.


Consider how you can apply these storytelling principles to your next Insight communication. In doing so you’ll be helping your stakeholders to understand it, remember it, and retell it later. 



How the IMA can support your Insight team

If you would like to find out more about how to improve the effectiveness of your team's Insight communication, our best practice report on this topic provides detailed guidance.

If you believe that your team could benefit from learning more about how to improve the effectiveness of their Insight communication, we can offer a 1 day training workshop. Training can of course be tailored to your organisation's specific needs, and flexible consultancy offered to any Insight leader seeking guidance. For more information on our range of training workshops click here.

If your organisation is a member of the IMA's Insight Forum, we can arrange an Insight communications training workshop for your team as part of your membership benefit of two company visits per year. Please contact us if you would like to find out more.