January 22, 2016
Posted by: Maggie Ashworth
"Data, I think, is one of the most powerful mechanisms for telling stories. I take a huge pile of data and I try to get it to tell stories." - Steven Levitt, American Economist.
While data and journalism have long gone hand-in-hand, very few businesses take advantage of using data stories as a tool to enhance their branding. If you are not familiar with the term data story, it is exactly what it sounds like—a meaningful story, article, or message that is crafted to explain valuable data, and it is a tool that can greatly assist with the process of branding your business to your consumers.
When it comes to branding your business, chances are that you already have a foundation for the basics. It’s likely that you have a general business plan, logo, and website. But by using your company’s relevant data, you can take branding to a whole new level.
While the idea of sifting through spreadsheets, Google Analytics and consumer feedback may sound daunting, this information is useless if you don’t do anything with it. By using your company’s data to tell a compelling story, you automatically give your consumers a targeted source of engagement.
I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review that was written Jim Stikeleather, an executive strategist at Dell, in which he states the following: “Few forms of communication are as persuasive as a compelling narrative. To this end, the visualization needs to tell a story to the audience. Storytelling helps the viewer gain insight from the data.”
In laymen’s terms this essentially means that by approaching your data with the storytelling method, you are giving your viewers a much more personal account of the information—as opposed to simply sending out facts and figures.
Stikeleather offers five key points for transforming your data into a story, which goes hand-in-hand with branding your business. I’m going to elaborate on these points to give you a good idea of where to start.
Find the Compelling Narrative. There’s no point in writing a story that no one is going to read. If you’re going to put the time and effort into crafting a piece of information that you want to get noticed, you’ve got to have an idea of what you’re writing about. And when it comes to discussing data, you need to establish what your consumers will get out of this narrative. What do you want their final takeaway to be? Once you discover that information, you then decide how you’re going to approach it, which leads us to our next point: Determining Your Audience.
When it comes to determining your target market, it’s as simple as asking yourself who the story is meant for. You can generate numerous story ideas from valuable data, but the reader is only going to be interested if they see a benefit for themselves or their business. In order to target a data story, or really any story, to an audience you must first understand who they are. Stikeleather suggests framing the story around “the level of information the audience already has.” He breaks these levels into the following: Novice, Generalist, Managerial, Expert, and Executive, thus advising that the writer understand the audience’s level of knowledge, and tailoring the message from there, and he has a good point. After all, someone that has a vague understanding of a topic will not be proficient as someone who has spent years studying or working on that topic.
Once you have decided whom you are directing the data narrative towards, you must be objective and offer balance. After all, this is a data story, so it should clearly, accurately, and honestly display the information. When it comes to chronicling a data story, it should be a story that tells the data, not a story that makes up the data. From a journalistic and ethical standpoint, this is not a place to censor your information. If you feel confident sharing these facts and figures with an audience you should present them with all of the details. The inclination to leave out statistics, percentages and values in a data story will not give your audience a truthful depiction, which can undoubtedly cause more harm than good.
Stikeleather's last tip is to carefully and thoroughly edit your data story before distribution. You must check and double check to ensure that the data is precisely portrayed, and that it is clearly and logically presented for accurate comprehension.
Every industry can benefit from new tools to increase visibility and brand awareness, and I firmly believe that data stories can be valuable to the process.