February 14, 2017

Data-Driven Storytelling: Big Data, Big Business

Big data volumes are exploding. More data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race. It’s also growing faster than ever before, and by the year 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet.2 The power of this data is uncontested, but how do you harness this power?

If you can turn the numbers and analytics of big data into compelling and insightful stories about your brand, you can expose the true value within.

For a typical Fortune 1000 company, just a 10 percent increase in data accessibility will result in more than $65 million additional net income. It has also been shown that retailers who leverage the full power of big data could increase their operating margins by as much as 60 percent.

Most companies are investing in big data or have access to data already. A 2014 Gartner survey found that 73 percent of organizations had already invested or planned to invest in big data by 2016.

And yet, with all this data being collected, less than 0.5 percent of all data is ever analyzed and used, leaving enormous potential. Data is only good if you can analyze it and glean key, actionable insights that can be effectively communicated to your target audience.

The role of storytelling

That’s where the art of storytelling comes in. Sure, it may be easier to put together a PowerPoint presentation or infographic than craft an exciting narrative, but as any storyteller will tell you, a little extra time and creativity is definitely worth the payoff.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that can mean the difference between extraordinary status and being just another brand. No matter how simple your product may be, if you tell a good story, you’ll have a greater chance of getting the attention of your targeted customers.

Throughout time, storytelling has proven to be a powerful medium for sharing insights and ideas in a way that is memorable, persuasive, and engaging. And brand storytelling isn’t a new concept. However, with the explosive growth of social media and content marketing, the opportunities to tell stories as part of direct and indirect brand marketing initiatives have become a strategic priority. A good story will find an audience.

Now add data

The growing availability of data sets to analyze means an increased chance to uncover new angles on stories. However, unless you can improve the communication of these insights, you’ll see a poor insight-to-value conversion rate.

The phrase “data storytelling” has been associated with many things, from data visualizations and infographics to dashboards to data presentations.

Once your business has started collecting and combining all kinds of data, the next elusive step is to extract value from it. Your data may hold tremendous amounts of potential value, but not an ounce of value can be created unless insights are uncovered and translated into actions or business outcomes. What does the data mean? What does it mean to your customers? What is the best story to relate that meaning?

Too often data storytelling is interpreted as just visualizing data effectively. However, it is much more than just creating visually appealing data charts. Data storytelling is a structured approach for communicating data insights, and it involves a combination of three key elements: data, visuals and narrative.

Storytelling needs the human element

Business communication shouldn’t be confined to bullet points, simple statements, or rhetorical rants. A dose of the human element, emotions, and branded thinking can result in a memorable message. Stories build messages that people care about and help people bond with messages. In turn, people remember what they care about and why they care about your brand. When you engage listeners in a powerful, entertaining, and informative story, they remember it – and many times they ask for more.

Ryan Fuller, general manager at Microsoft, said, “Data storytelling weaves data and visualizations into a narrative tailored to a specific audience in order to convey credibility in the analytical approach, confidence in the results, and a compelling set of insights that is actionable to the audience.”

Creating compelling stories

Effective data storytelling is a lot like storytelling in general. The data story should have a beginning, middle and an end. It should also tell an original story. It should be surprising and engaging. Even if the data bears out intuitive “knowns,” they should be presented in an intriguing way.

Be sure to include both narrative and visuals. When merged, they can engage and even entertain an audience, resulting in a message that is memorable, persuasive and engaging.

Why stories work

Stories are memorable. No matter how compelling your facts are, if you don’t present them in a way that enables an audience to become invested in what you’re saying, all the information will be lost on them. An audience who is interested in your story will share it over social media or with friends and family, helping it travel further. A good story will inspire action, which will result in sales and customer loyalty.

A great story is one that comes from your brand advocates

Your story can reach a whole new level if it includes narratives about your products and services as told by your brand advocates. Nothing is more convincing to targeted audiences than stories told by other consumers themselves, to whom targeted audiences feel connected to or engage with at an emotional level. For details on how to reach out to brand advocates, read our advice on influencer marketing.

Above all, honesty and transparency are most important in brand storytelling. Yes, you’re crafting stories, but they need to be rooted in the reality of your brand, products, and industry. Be open, honest and authentic, and your data storytelling will be successful.

Let us know how WS can help you develop effective, data-driven storytelling.