Data storytelling

Humans have told stories since the beginning of time to communicate with one another and keep records of historical events. The evolution of storytelling has advanced from cave paintings and oral traditions like poetry and chants to written words, and the psychological power of storytelling is still just as strong today as it was tens of thousands of years ago.

As marketers, we’re always interested in getting the latest data and using it as leverage to get more customers through the door, but the truth is that customers prefer compelling stories over pure data.

Even science backs the theory that the brain prefers stories over data because there’s so much information being consumed every day and it’s important to determine what should be processed and what needs to be discarded.

As stories engage multiple parts of our brain, they’re much more likely to convert your customer’s experience of hearing a story into long-term memory.

So if your next marketing campaign is bursting with data and numbers that you think your customers will be impressed by, maybe it’s time to head back to the drawing board and use data storytelling to evoke an emotional response similar to Airbnb and Spotify.

So, what’s data storytelling?

Now that we’ve talked briefly about why data storytelling is great, what exactly does it all mean? It’s simple. Data storytelling is the process of transforming data analytics into visuals that influence the decisions of your target audience. You need to use the data that will pique your customer’s interest to the point that they want to jump at whatever it is you’re offering.

How well your data storytelling comes together is determined by the stories, visuals, subjects, and creativity you put into it. By using the latest tools and techniques to stitch together various metrics and uncover relationships between them, you can build a whole new world of narratives.

How to master the art of creating a compelling data narrative

If you’re intimidated by data storytelling because you think it’s too complex, then we’re glad you’ve continued reading. Data storytelling is all about the influence you have on your audience and how you can implement a strategy that expertly balances data and creative writing.

Having a strong narrative helps you explain your data while visuals engage consumers and data offers insight that customers need to make a decision. When you bring all three things together, you achieve a perfect synergy that can help you see a change in sales, conversions, and eventually, consumer buy-in.

Here are some important notes on how you can create this balance between visuals, narratives, and data using data storytelling to transform your business.

Develop a plotline with a clear goal

Having an objective is a sign of a good story and it will give you the perspective and approach you need when bringing this story to life.

Once the approach and perspective are confirmed, it’s time for the plotline. Include an introduction (a customer pain point), a body (description of your product or service and how it compares to your competitors), and a conclusion (the benefits of why your offering is better).

Everything you do to define your plotline should perfectly align with your narrative. If a phrase or visual doesn’t match what you’re trying to convey, you need to create another one that will push your story forward.

Develop a compelling story

Getting creative is great but your creativity needs to grab your audience’s attention and keep them engaged. Think of your favourite movies or TV shows. They all have exciting plots that keep you tuning in for more and your data story needs to be the same.

If you’re unclear on how best to present your data story, why not let your audience decide? Using interactive visualisation and Exploratory Data Analysis (EDA), you can keep your audience engaged with your content.

For instance, the MyEarth app on Google Play allows you to track your daily carbon footprint. The app lets you save a virtual polar bear on a floating block of ice. As you reduce your carbon footprint, the chunk of ice gets bigger and you can save the polar bear from drowning.

Let your data tell the story

Telling an engaging story is important, but so is an objective narrative. There are a number of cases where businesses manipulate data to neatly fit the narratives they want to convey. This can greatly affect the way your audience interprets your story and could even lead them to arrive at false conclusions.

So, how can you avoid making these mistakes? First, as mentioned earlier, you must let the data control your narrative. If your customers find out that you’ve manipulated data to grab their attention, they likely won’t trust your brand again, which can be devastating.

Next, make sure that your graphics match your data. For instance, if you’re showing the popularity of your best sellers, use large graphics that better highlight your top seller and gradually reduce the size as you go down the list to represent the lowest-selling items.

Finally, use standardised units. Imagine that you’re comparing your sales figures in the U.S. and the UK. It’s difficult to compare if one figure uses USD while the other uses GPB.

Keep in mind that data visualisation and storytelling can have a massive impact on your credibility. Maintain your objectivity and stick to the data if you want to create a lasting impression on your customers—especially when it comes to how reliable and trustworthy you are.

What type of storytelling do you want to be known for?

Data storytelling is a highly influential tool that can help you convey complex data in an easily digestible way to an audience.

In order to tell these stories you need to have up-to-date data, easy-to-understand visuals, and quick, comprehensive analytics. If you’re new to using data to tell compelling stories, then you should focus on your marketing strategy and determine how best to create the narrative that perfectly exemplifies what you’re trying to achieve.

Whatever strategy you choose, make sure that you have a powerful story to tell and one that has the potential to develop an emotional bond with the people that matter the most—your customers.