Tell-A-Story-WIth-Data

How to Use Data to Create Engaging and Appealing Narratives

Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is a proven marketing practitioner, respected consultant and dynamic speaker. She is known for her practical, no-nonsense approach to proving and improving the value of B2B marketing. Inventive and engaging, Laura quickly gets to the heart of the matter to provide actionable recommendations and solutions. Because her 20+ year career began in sales and now spans customer relationship management and marketing, her recommendations are always cross-functional friendly. An early pioneer on the science side of marketing, Laura is recognized as one of the leading authorities in marketing measurement and performance, marketing operations, and marketing data and analytics. A strategic marketer, data and metrics master, she has helped over a hundred companies in a variety of industries fulfill their marketing potential and achieve competitive advantage.

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Marketers across the globe can all agree on one thing: data is everywhere and it’s overwhelming! A recent study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) revealed that business leaders rate creating data strategy for marketing and predictive analytics as one of Marketing’s most important priorities. This quality has created opportunities for data scientists from other disciplines to join the ranks of marketers. Harvard Business Review has termed it the “sexiest job of the 21st century” and the need for them has greatly increased.

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Because of explosive increase in the data available, the real challenge for marketers is to transform marketing data from a collection of charts and graphs into something much more engaging and appealing. As more data scientists join the ranks of marketing, one of the immediate opportunities is to tease out the story hidden within the data to help facilitate decisions.

Why Storytelling is a Vital Marketing Skill

The influx of data can illuminate or obscure. For marketers to excel with data, they need to be able discern and decipher the data so it can be germane to the decision at hand. Today we use spreadsheets and visualization tools to support analysis; marketers who can transform data into a compelling narrative that shares, interprets, and creates meaning whether for internal and external communication will emerge as the cream of the crop. Why? Because stories that resonate are relevant and memorable. As Johnathan Harris, the creator of We Feel Fine and Whale Hunt points out, “I think people have begun to forget how powerful human stories are, exchanging their sense of empathy for a fetishistic fascination with data, networks, patterns, and total information… The human stuff is the main stuff, and the data should enrich it.”

Five Tips to Become Data Storytellers

So, the salient question remains, how can we make the data more relevant and engaging? The answer is to move beyond making pretty charts or graphs to identifying actionable insights and storytelling. With this subtle but important change. The insights from the data becomes the objective and how these insights are visually represented serve the illustrations to the narrative.

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Creating an engaging story is not an easy task. Many marketers which whom we have worked with have asked us for ideas to help them develop this skill. Here are 5 tips to do just that:

  1. Start with the Business Question. What are you trying to answer? Think of this as a mystery that you are trying to solve. Who are the customers that most likely will purchase a particular product/service, or what are the key customer touchpoints that are affecting the customer post-sale experience, or what is the next best vertical segment to pursue? Discovering your particular answer to the problem is what will make your narrative relevant to your audience.
  2. Collect Convincing Evidence. Ask the right question to your data and collect convincing evidence that you will use to solve the mystery. Trying to create insights without a clear problem to solve may take you down a long path of trial and error.
  3. Create the Plot of the Story. Craft your story, set the stage and mood, and identify the characters (such as which customers, or which competitors.) Make a clear and memorable narrative that is engaging. Remember, a good story has a plot. Are you a leader facing niche players or are you a challenger in a well-established market? It is critical that your story inspires action and/or has compelling takeaways. Convey the intentions and perceptions of the characters in your story.
  4. Organize the Insights. Decide how you will illustrate the insights from the data and organize these to complement your narrative, support the characters, and reveal the plot. Most people cannot pick out the relevant information from tables, and need pictures. Visualize your insights so that it engages your audience. Visualization is the process of telling a story via the graphical depiction of statistical information.
  5. Adapt your story to fit a specific audience. The language, tone, and focus may need to be modified depending on the audience. The C-Suite may prefer a shorter story, which only mentions the highlights and the takeaways. The person in charge of developing actions plans for your organization may need to hear a more complete version of the story, along with the relationship among the characters in your narrative.
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Marketers and data scientists who want to engage the audience and affect behavior need to merge the science of data with the art of storytelling. Good storytelling with strong data improve your ability to earn greater credibility, relevance and influence within your organization. It will also help you prove and improve the value of your marketing. Visit our website to discover ways to transform data into actionable insights.

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