How to Use Context for Powerful Data-Driven Storytelling

Posted on January 10, 2017 by Lisa Allocca 0 Comments


Red JavelinStorytelling is becoming a necessary skillset throughout every organization. Now that most companies publish their own content, good storytelling is a critical skill set in all marketing organizations.

Today’s buyers are overwhelmed. The amount of information and options has reached a tipping point, placing a significant burden on customers’ ability to make purchase decisions. Too much information paralyzes decision-making, too many stakeholders cause the buyer to settle for a “good enough” solution, and too many options result in an extended buying cycle and an overwhelming purchase experience for customers. Customers and prospects need clarity. However, it is no longer just the purview of marketing, it is now necessary in every part of the organization.

The Importance of Using Data in Business Stories

Data-driven storytelling is not new. So why does it seem like it is new? Businesses tell their corporate stories to investors using data. Entrepreneurs secure funding by telling their stories using data. Product management make their business cases using data. Most of this data has come from internal and external analysts that are conducting primary research or are crunching the numbers using internal data.

In business, using data to highlight various points within a story creates immediate credibility. A story without data is perceived as fiction, and data without a narrative is meaningless. The two need to go hand in hand to create a viable business story.

Data is everywhere we look. With the shift towards self-service analytics tools, more people are gaining new insights throughout the organization and here is where storytelling comes into play. Once you have those insights, you need to be able to communicate the value of these insights effectively to internal stakeholders or use these insights as validation points as part of your brand story. If an insight is not well understood and is not compelling, then no one will act on it.

Context at the Core of Storytelling

A good story takes its audience on journey. It begins with the set-up by painting the context of the story. Context is at the core of great storytelling and explains the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular situation. Context creates the connection, the common ground between the storyteller and the audience. Without context, stories tend to be generalized, vague and not well understood.

An Example of Great Context

Amazon’s recent announcement on the company’s success of the 2016 holiday season was brilliant. It is an example of using data to tell the story of their recent holiday success and putting that data in context to make the connection with the audience.

When most companies report success, they typically talk data and the context they use is a percentage growth over the previous year. Amazon did this too when they reported that they sold 9X more Echo’s than they did last year during the holiday season. But really, what does that actually mean? 9X more than what? Hey, if they sold 1 last season, then they sold 9 more this season. Numbers like this have no real context and make no connection with the audience.

In addition to giving the public the quantitative data, what they did next was to use context around the data to illustrate the scale of the company’s success. Let’s take a look at some of the facts that demonstrated the scale of success.

  • customers purchased enough 4K TVs to reach the peak of Mount Everest more than 9 times.
  • customers purchased enough KitchenAid Mixers this holiday to make nearly 7.5 million cookies at once.
  • customers purchased enough copies of the Harry Potter: Complete 8-Film Collection to play consecutively for more than 300 years.
  • customers purchased enough Wilson footballs this holiday to give every fan at a sold-out Seahawks game a chance to throw a pass like Russell Wilson.
  • customers purchased enough golf balls this holiday that, if lined up, would equal the length of Pebble Beach golf course four times over.
  • customers purchased enough running shoes to run 18,603 times around the globe.
  • customers purchased enough luggage to fill 20 Boeing 747 airplanes.
  • customers purchased enough Char-Broil's The Big Easy Turkey Fryers to cook 225,000 pounds of turkey.

Wow! In my mind, I can visualize TVs stacked as high as a mountain. I can understand the effort it takes to bake 7.5 million cookies and I can imagine golf balls lined up on 17 Mile Drive at Pebble Beach.

Amazon turned what could have been a very boring announcement into something that any consumer could understand. Now Amazon has my attention as well as the attention of any journalist covering retail or the financial markets. 

The Need for More Storytellers

We need to add more context to our data-driven stories. With self-service analytics, businesses will use the insights to work smarter, operate smarter and compete smarter however, this will only happen if we are able to communicate the value of these insights effectively. The need for more data storytellers is only going to increase in the future.  

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Tags: Insight & Analytics