Why data storytelling matters - and how to do it


‘Data storytelling’ is a term that – like many newer marketing buzzwords - has been thrown around so much of late that it is in danger of losing its significance altogether. That would be a shame, as this is one modern marketing term that has the power to make an enormous difference to the way that brands understand and speak to their customers.

We’re constantly talking about the value of Big Data (another buzzword) but it’s not often made clear that accessing and analysing data – from any source – is only half of the story.

When every industry is changing rapidly and people get information at the touch of a button, competitors spring out of nowhere and the established players struggle to make ends meet, winning a customer’s true loyalty is a seemingly insurmountable task. Data has been touted as the answer to this dilemma; yet deep, emotion-based loyalty can only be won when a person feels that a brand aligns with their passions, values and ideals. How can ones and zeros be used to create this kind of deep, emotional resonance?

The answer lies in data storytelling – sculpting a narrative out of numbers with the aim of making connections, inspiring reactions and bringing insight to life.  

Data scientists may dismiss this kind of storytelling as frivolous – the decorative but unnecessary dust of icing sugar on top of an already-frosted cake. Creatives may view data warily and refuse to engage with it, thinking it dull, rational and outside of the realms – or even the enemy - of great ideas. The truth is that data and creativity need each other. The story makes the data more impactful and memorable, and the numbers bring credibility to the imaginative wanderings of creative teams. Ultimately, both sides are enriched by collaboration.

When used properly, data doesn’t quash creativity, but enables it to flourish. It’s this powerful combination of emotion and analytics, evidence and empathy, that really allows insight to be valuable.

So you have your data – now what?

Whether you’re using data to write a blog post, design an infographic, pitch a campaign or create a video, here are 3 things to remember when telling insight-based stories.

  1. Let the data tell the story
    Don’t attempt to force the numbers to fit the story you want to tell. Instead, choose a subject area with the right scale and scope, which allows for a variety of interesting stories. If you put aside your preconceptions and focus on what the data is telling you, you’ll often find a story more interesting than any you could have come up with on your own.

  2. Context is key
    Numbers provide a brilliant foundation but how does a list of ones and zeros relate to what’s happening in the world at large? And, crucially for a brand, what does it mean for their customers? Once you have your data, do your research and assign context to craft an impactful, truthful narrative. This is the whole point of data storytelling – assigning meaning and anchoring it in the real world.
     
  3. Remember the end goal
    As with any narrative, a good data story should have a target audience, a killer hook and an intended effect on the reader. Why is this data important? How could it be used to transform a brand? Why should it force someone to alter their perspective? Make sure you hammer home the key points and avoid speaking in jargon or clichés. It needs to be actionable, as well as enjoyable to read.

This piece originally appeared on the DMA blog.