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Market Storytelling

January 18, 2019

Due to the recent obsession with Big Data, concerns about brute, “dust bowl” empiricism have once again arisen in the business academy. While technological advancements have begun to generate unimaginable volumes of data (Walmart analyzes 2.5 petabytes of data per hour), the idea of Big Data as an end in and of itself has become worrisome.

         Big Data poses considered limitations. In particular, the data generated are decontextualized. While it is useful to know that a certain Instagram ad was viewed a certain number of times, this insight is limited insofar as it tells the researcher nothing about the mood of the viewer, their social situation, and so on. Such insights are critical to understanding the lived experience of the consumers. Moreover, no data explain themselves. There is a pervasive belief that quantified data are correlated with plain truth, but any undergraduate who has taken a data analysis class will know that there are standardized interpretation structures (“…we thus fail to reject the null hypothesis…”) that are deployed to make sense of the supposedly plain truth.

         The response to these concerns has been to emphasize the importance of storytelling. Effective marketing is predicated on effective stories, both stories about the firm, the brand, its products, their uses, and perhaps most importantly, consumer stories about how the firm/brand/product fits into their lives and shapes who they are. The best brands offer identity resources to consumers and identities are built on narratives, not enormous correlation tables.

         As if to drive this point home, marketing scholars have taken to presenting their research in fictionalized form. My own contribution to this nascent research form, which embraces the art of marketing as an explicit counterweight to the science of marketing, was published recently in Consumption, Markets, and Culture.

         The story is an homage to the weird fiction of early 20th century writers like HP Lovecraft and Arthur Machen. It is written to reflect the norms of those stories with intentionally verbose language and obtuse descriptions. This form, though, is part of the conceptual message of the research. Whereas the science fetish that has been carried by the business academies since the Ford and Carnegie Reports of the mid 20th century, I and others argue that complication and indirect ideas can be equally informative and useful for understanding and shaping markets.

         Science values parsimony, concision, and simplicity in language, marketers can value verbosity, complexity, and length. Both are useful in the quest to understand consumers.

 

Rose, A. S. (2018). The lurker in the object: A Lovecraftian writing of consumer culture. Consumption Markets & Culture, 1-18.