How to Use Data to Tell a Stronger Story

Stats, facts, and figures—we all love data, and it certainly helps make content all the more powerful. Data, when used properly, makes an argument more compelling, underscores a position, and adds relevancy and authenticity to a story.

Yet we’ve all seen infographics, slides, and blog posts so cluttered with a hodgepodge of complex charts and figures, they actually depreciate the effectiveness of the content and the message. How do you balance data, design, and messaging to tell a stronger story?

It starts by thinking like a journalist, uncovering the deeper story, and abstaining from the urge to create data-loaded visuals.

Journalists live by the long held “Five Ws and One H” rule. That is, every good story answers the who, what, when, where, why, and how. The “who” are the characters in the story. The “what” are the events or actions, or in this case, the data and facts. You must be able to draw connection between the characters and the data you are presenting. “When” reveals the time frame, and “where” identifies the place. “Why” is the cause for the events or findings, and finally, “how” is the way in which something happened.

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These all make your data relevant and concrete. Whether you’re selling an idea to your target audience or informing your team about a new initiative, don’t compromise the art of storytelling just to showcase data.

To successfully uncover the five Ws and one H, you have to mine the data. Often, the deeper you dig into your findings, the more likely you’ll discover an amazing story, or maybe even two. Enlist your team to assist in this process. Doing so will bring more, varied perspectives to the table and reduce the likelihood of missing a key point.

Content with data sometimes fails because the findings or facts are placed before the story. When looking over the data, the key is to identify that bigger story.

For example, maybe you conducted a study on trends in product development over the last five years and found in the last year, there was a major influx of software products for geriatric care introduced to the market. Why? Does the increase point to an aging population or a need for more specialized care? Are health care providers challenged with new demands with geriatric patients? The five Ws and the H of these findings will give you the story, and the data will add authenticity.

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One shining example of this is The Coca-Cola Company’s “Content 2020” animated whiteboard video. Then-Vice President of Global Advertising Strategy, Jonathan Mildenhall, outlined the brand’s plan to focus on storytelling, which he animated, set to music, and sprinkled with data.

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