Any great story means visualization and detail. It takes the small additions of those details to build a picture in someone’s mind to truly make the story complete. The same goes for analytics and data. These inclusions to our marketing strategies make it so that as marketers we can tell the stories that make for successful campaigns and customer journeys. However, interpreting all the data correctly and turning it into a great story can be an intimidating task that many organizations struggle to accomplish.
So, what does it mean to “tell a story with data?”
Data is just a collection of numbers until you turn it into a story. Showing reports and dashboards can be overwhelming without adding a narrative to the data. Any great insight explains what happened, why it is important and how you can use it to turn it into something actionable. Data visualization is using data and statistics in creative ways to show patterns and draw conclusions about a hypothesis, or prove theories, that can help drive decisions in the organization.
Why is it important?
Telling a great data-driven story can be useful for both stakeholders and your customers and can drive better decision making within an organization and also drive conversions with your customers. By using data visualization to make key observations about your customers and their wants, it can help with lead generation and customer retention.
Here is an example from Hubspot, of two images representing the same data, however one is a list of numbers and the other is an example of data visualization in a bar chart. It is easy to tell which is more appealing and impactful.
PROMOTEDCivic Nation BRANDVOICE | Paid ProgramHow Out For Justice Helped Expand Voting Access For ALLGrads of Life BRANDVOICE | Paid ProgramNo, Putting A Person Of Color On Your Panel Doesn’t Accomplish “Diversity”UNICEF USA BRANDVOICE | Paid ProgramChildren Seeking Asylum Deserve Protection
This is the same information as above but put into a data visualization.HUBSPOT AND U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS
How do you do it?
First, you need to decide what data is most important. Statistics can be overwhelming to analyze if you do not sort out the unnecessary information. Once you decide what is most important to highlight, then you can transform it into a visualization.
Knowing your audience is one of the most important aspects of marketing, and data helps to achieve that. Who are you talking to exactly? This will determine what aspects of the story you want to concentrate on and what are the most important. If it is the stakeholder, generating leads and how you achieved conversions is a great discussion, as well as giving them the insight into what they need to keep doing or do less of to remain successful. If it’s the customer, how did you make their experience better and how are you helping them through this story and to continue to keep them happy.
To know your audience, however, you first need to know how to read your data and know how to use it. What question are you trying to answer, or issue are you trying to solve?
Where to start
The best place to start would be to collect your data. This means your first, second and third party data. After you have all your data in one place, like a Data Management Platform (DMP), you can decide on what information you now want to pull for your story
One example of this would be to say that you’re in the banking industry and you are looking into your online banking app. Your hypothesis is that millennials are more likely to download the app to do banking transactions than go into a branch. You then use 1st party data to determine how many app downloads are by millennial age customers, 2nd party data to see what transactions they are doing on the app and 3rd party data to see how many millennials vs. baby boomers come into the branch each week and compare that to your 1st party data of how many use the app each week.
Say that your findings are that millennials do in fact download and use the app more often than they visit a branch, this is something that you can take to your stakeholders for reasons to invest more money into the app than into branch-based programs or services.
Presenting these insights through data visualization can improve impact and actionable decisions of the organization.
Unrelated data can also inspire data stories. One real-life example of this is from a campaign launched by Whirlpool. They found data showing that more than 4,000 students drop out of school every day and those who do have a 40% higher unemployment rate and a 70% higher rate of being on government assistance and 8 times more likely to end up in jail.
This data also showed that one of the most common reasons for students dropping out of school is that their families were unable to afford washers and dryers and they were embarrassed to come to school in unwashed, dirty clothes.
Whirlpool took this data and launched a program to install washers and dryers in schools so that students had a place to do laundry. According to this report, in the first year, the program saw 2,300 loads of laundry washed. This lead to more than 90% increase in the school attendance and 89% increase in class participation of the students who used the appliances.
It doesn’t always have to be something so elaborate as Whirlpool’s campaign to present. Strong insights can be as simple as a budget allocation recommendation from one field to another based on consistent past performance for X reason. You can also use past, present and future stories with data and predict future trends in your organization or show past and present trends.
Decide how you want to present the data whether it is charts, graphs, infographics, etc. Research shows that audiences prefer visual elements over numbers in presentations and will remember information more accurately if shown in visualizations.
However, don’t turn it into an art project- don’t lose sight of the information and analytics. Simple visualizations can have the biggest impact on your audience regardless if it is a stakeholder or customer.
Data storytelling can be a difficult task, but it is important. Telling the story with data can help drive your organization to success in the digital field and keep you ahead of the game.