5 Ways to Make Data ‘Tell Stories’ That Inspire Action

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Marketing has become a data-driven function where every decision is based on facts that are derived from data. The availability of the wide array of data has led to analysis paralysis. Then how do you ensure that the data you are gathering is leading to innovation and transformation that can positively impact the ROI?

Roger Schank once said, “Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.” Stories are driven by emotions. To understand data, you need to weave stories around your data so that they appeal to both your logic and emotions.

In this article, we will look at 5 ways in which you can drive action through data storytelling.

1) Build up an Interesting Narrative

Any narration consists of a beginning and a middle that builds tension and a definite conclusion. When developing the narrative, figure out why the audience should care through a key insight, then explain the current scenario and suggest a solution or what the future might hold, accordingly.

Below are some example of effective narratives:

  • Trends: You might observe that videos are bringing in more traffic
  • Correlation: You might study if there is any relation between long form blog posts and more leads
  • Outliers: You are generating 10x more traffic from a particular region compared to other regions
  • Comparisons: You might want to measure results of an A/B test to understand which call-to-action works best

2) Identify Your Audience

As a storyteller, you need to understand your audience.

  • Who is your audience?
  • What is their expertise?
  • Which industry they work for?
  • What is their understanding of the topic?

Knowing answer to these questions will make it easy for you to tweak your narrative based on the characteristics of the audience. For example, a newbie to the topic might look for the tactical/actionable suggestions to implement in their day-to-day activities, whereas someone at managerial position will seek to understand the data and its narrative with greater detail, or a decision maker may not be much concerned about storytelling, but curious on how data impacts the business bottomline or ROI.

Having a good grasp on your audience will help you compose data visualizations accordingly.

3) Gather Your Data

Determine the data points you would need to gather to support your narrative. Keep in mind your audience when gathering data because as described different audience will concern themselves with different data points. You also need to consider different scenarios like if you want to collect data for one point in time or for multiple time periods, and so on.

After data collection is complete, look for any errors or inaccuracies as not doing this will directly impact the credibility of your research. Cut off any irrelevant, redundant data points that are inconsistent with the narrative.

4) Visualize Your Data

How will you make sure that your data and findings are easily comprehensible for your audience? To support your data and story, you can use bar charts, pie charts, line charts, infographics, choropleth maps, and histogram to name a few.

Keep in mind that data visualization provides a context to your narrative. So, choose the chart or graph that is simple and drives the point home. Sometimes just a table of key statistics will do the work instead of an intricate flow map.

5) Make Your Story Interactive

People connect with stories because of their emotional appeal. Therefore, your story should not just inform, but engage as well. An interactive story or presentation connects with its audience. The story should have an analytical as well as a creative component. The analytical component will help gain insight, and the creative component will inspire action. Craft your story on these aspects.

As Terry Tempest Williams said, “Storytelling is the oldest form of education.” Stories bridge the gap between data and information. Let data guide the story. Remember, a powerful story will help your audience make better decisions. Make sure it’s a compelling one.