2.5 Quintillion. That’s 18 zeros, a number you probably didn’t know existed.

This is the number of bytes of data being produced on the internet daily. And 90% of that was created in the last two years alone. When you think about it, it’s no wonder everyone in marketing is taking more of a data-driven approach to their marketing these days.

Organisations are now beginning to grasp the importance of data. In 2017, 53% of North American companies said they’d adopted the use of “Big Data”, up 17% from 20151. We can only expect for that number to increase even more through 2018 and beyond.

How can we use this data? To the average person, “data” means an excel spreadsheet with rows and columns of confusing numbers. But to those with an understanding of data, there’s more to it than just the numbers themselves; this is why there’s been such an increase in demand for big data engineers, scientists and analysts – businesses need help managing and extracting value from this data.

A picture is worth a thousand words

We’ve all heard the famous saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. In the modern era of data-driven marketing, we could go further and say, “A spreadsheet is worth a whole novel”.

To the general audience, data is just numbers, but what they don’t realise is that there’s meaning behind those numbers – and the key to unlocking that meaning is by storytelling.

The value of identifying trends and generating insights trumps the use of reporting on sales figures and ROI. Companies are realising that the why and the how are much more important to them in making improvements to their business. Why did we get this result? How did it happen? These are the key storytelling ingredients when dissecting and trying to extract valuable insights from data.

Why storytelling?

When discovering an insight from your data, It’s second nature for you to want to communicate it with others. The most effective way of communicating this is by telling a story.

The reason this is so effective is because the brain comes alive when we come in contact with a story – we’re hard-wired for it. Storytelling has a chemical effect on the brain that wakes it up to digest and store information. In a business sense, this gives us the ability to communicate major findings from our data and influence positive change, as the story has enabled the recipient to properly ingest the meaning behind the data.

How to tell a story with data

There’s a simple approach for creating a story with the data you have.

  1. Get some data

It all starts with acquiring the data. Everyone has their sources of data, whether it’s Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, or a CRM.  Another source might be through the available visualisation tools you already possess, such as Datorama, Tableau or Google Data Studio.

  1. Identify a theme

The next step is to identify the theme of your story. You look right into the data and analyse it. It’s worth looking for trends, correlations and comparisons. Identifying relationships or abnormalities within the data will also help in directing you to find that theme. From here, you can generate the insights from those trends and abnormalities – and as you dig deeper, you’ll uncover the “Why” or “How” you’re looking for.

  1. Dissect the theme and create the story

Once the theme has been identified, you can now work around the insights you’ve generated. With this, the story will start to emerge. A great place to start is to go outside of the box and relate your insights to external trends and themes, if they give more context or credibility to your insights. It’s also important to include why this trend happened or how it came about. This will provide the bulk of your story and take the listener on the right journey.

You also want to keep in mind the audience. Play to who your audience wants to be and not who they are. This well help them enter a mind of deep thinking and tap into their aspirations for the future; you’re leading them to a new and better place by giving them unique information in a digestible way.

  1. Leave the audience in a state of thought

The final piece of your story, and the main objective, is to leave a mark and have your story be remembered. You want the audience to really think about the insights you’ve discovered and the narrative you’ve presented.

You can achieve this by relating back to the business case and understanding how you can use the findings to improve or and create recommendations for the business. By doing this, the audience will be left with an actionable and insightful train of thought, all of which came from the information you gave them.

Data is important and we use it every day, but few people use it to its full potential. The importance of uncovering the true meaning behind your data is growing every day, and looking at the numbers just isn’t enough.

Having a bit of creativity when uncovering your insights will connect the dots and turn those numbers on a spreadsheet into a well-structured novel. The better you do this, the more “storytelling” will transform from a buzzword into what it really is: a fundamental skill within the industry.

References

Columbus, L. (2018). 53% of companies are adopting Big data Analytics. NewYork: Forbes.com, Page(s).

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Chris Molano

Chris is a Performance Analyst within iProspect’s Data and Analytics team based in Sydney. He is responsible for handling client data, and digging into it to produce insights and recommendations. Outside of work, you’ll most likely find him either on the basketball court shooting some hoops, or hunting for live music around Sydney’s local bar scene.