Will the ability for companies to tell data-driven stories determine who comes out on top in the information era?

In a time where big data is still considered the elephant in the room for most businesses, figuring out what to do with all of those silos of data has become the main priority. Yes, it’s true that your data holds a great deal of potential value and meaningfulness, but extracting that intrinsic value is nearly impossible without the right employees to handle it — and the blessings of digital executives that sign off on such massive undertakings.

Either way, the need to pinpoint and interpret big data’s value is only becoming more and more important. Furthermore, the ability for companies to tell data-driven stories will determine who comes out on top in the information era.

So, in order to better understand how data-driven storytelling will help you and your business get ahead, it’s best to start with what it entails and how that determines the best direction, based on your company’s specific needs.

The Importance of Data Storytelling

Much of modern human history can attribute its very existence to the art of storytelling. It is that inane trait, possessed by the truly talented, that’s helped society continue to weave its history for millennia. It’s no surprise, then, that stories still hold as much appeal for us in the digital age as they did in the past.

Current examples of successful storytelling include popular NPR podcast “This American Life,” which chronicles small, yet poignant slices of the American diaspora told through immersive stories. What makes shows like the NPR podcast and TED Talks so popular is that they employ powerful and effective storytelling techniques to convey ideas, persuade people and even teach lessons.

At first glance, it may seem like the idea of crafting stories with a data-driven slant may seem counterintuitive. Why would you go through the time and trouble to remove the logical, organic essence of storytelling, only to replace it with rigid, robotic facts and statistics? Unfortunately, the assumption that businesses operate solely on logic is the very reason why data storytelling is essential: It gives the narrative a clear, concise mode of reasoning that would otherwise be disproportionately affected by emotional bias.

Simply put, data storytelling drives people to make important decisions with their minds more than their hearts.

Complement the Narrative

Most popular analytics tools that marketers use today also come with slick, useful data visualization options. From pie and plot charts to bar and line graphs, there are plenty of visuals that can easily be incorporated into existing content. Although these features are useful, they only help to tell one side of the story. You’re simply organizing the data to make it more visually appealing, but you have yet to show how the data helps to further the narrative.

With the advent of data-based journalism, a two-pronged approach to storytelling has emerged: a combination of author-driven and reader-driven storytelling. Reader-driven narratives are where data is provided to readers, and then they’re able to interact with and manipulate data to see the bigger picture. Conversely, author-driven narratives prevent readers from being able to interact with data, leaving the framing up to the person creating the story.

Regardless of which approach your brand or company decides to take, there’s no denying that a well-made data visualization accomplishes some things. For instance, whether a visualization is on its own or taken out of context, readers should still be able to:

  • Comprehend the data, as it’s still responsible for telling the story.
  • Easily understand the data being presented.
  • Be able to interact with at least some aspects of the data.

For the most part, digital marketers are responsible for the way the message is presented. As long as your company makes its decisions based on proper analysis, taking into account the demographics of your target audience, it’s possible to make impactful content that works well across multiple mediums.

Knowing Your Audience

Speaking of targets, understanding your audience can help to elevate the compelling nature of your content. Depending on who you’re addressing, everything from the approach and vernacular to the very medium you use may change. Data storytelling works in a similar manner.

For example, if you’re addressing HR professionals and hiring managers, statistics are going to be a major aspect of the discussion, but perhaps C-suite staff want to know more about how those stats affect operations costs and revenue more than the numbers themselves.

Having a firm grasp on who your content speaks to will help to understand your audience’s comprehension, needs, wants and pain points. Conversely, it helps storytellers tailor future narratives to better engage your readers.

Harnessing the power of data storytelling requires a lot of moving parts. From proper data collection and analysis to skilled interpretation, content creation and curation, data storytelling is currently the best way to create brand-centric messaging that truly works.

The real challenge, at this point, is determining whether your business has all the tools and personnel needed to dive in head first. Namely, because as time progresses and competitors start to pull ahead, it’s not going to be enough to simply dip your toe into the big-data pool.