The Power of Data Storytelling


Time to read: 4 Minutes

Storytelling, whether it be a recap of your weekend or something more formal, is an ingrained aspect of our lives. Stories enable us to impart our knowledge, experiences, and values while simultaneously fostering a connection with listeners.

At its foundation, marketing is all about storytelling. The general goal of marketing is to tell a brand’s story in a way that engages an audience. However, the most compelling and convincing stories arise when the plot is supplemented with relevant and compelling data. That said, writing lazy stories and plopping numbers into the mix is counterproductive. Your numbers must add to your narrative. They must help deliver your message. They must tell your story. 

Most companies are good at collecting data – you probably have more information than you know what to do with. But is it the right information that will help you communicate the right message? Your data won’t move the needle if only you know about it. On the contrary, when the power of data is incorporated into a story, it’s 20 times more likely to be remembered. This is merely one of many results that arise when the components of numbers and stories successfully merge to form data storytelling.

The impact of a story

Storytelling is a fundamental part of our lives. Although we communicate through a broad array of mediums (undeniably different than previous generations), the appeal and power of a good story has remained. When sharing and listening to personal stories, researchers have found that the brains of both the storyteller and their audience essentially sync up. As the storyteller recounts their tale and the coinciding emotional journey, the listener’s brain reflects the same emotions. Moreover, when compared to data presented as facts and figures, the lessons from a well-told story are more distinctly remembered and retained

Principles in practice: If you’ve ever watched a TED Talk (if you haven’t, finish our blogpost and watch one) you know that the speakers and content span a variety of disciplines and identities. Through the talks, TED is able to continually reinforce their mission to “spread ideas.” In fact, across the 500 most popular TED talks, at least 65% of the content is stories. This shows that among all the brilliant TED talks, regardless of the topic, audiences are most often drawn to the ones that predominantly relay information through an engaging story. This isn’t because people are intentionally choosing talks that are highlighted for their storytelling aspect, it’s because we are subconsciously drawn to discussions we can relate to. This data shows that regardless of the subject, the ability to connect through storytelling plays an essential role in the ultimate success of your communications. In order to influence your audience, they must be able to see themselves as the main character. It’s not explicitly about your brand, though. Rather, customers engage with your brand because of the results they recieve.  

As a successful marketer, your potential customer must be the hero in the story, and your product or brand is what enables their heroism. Structuring communications that focus on “YOU language” is a simple but effective way to place listeners immediately in the main character role. From Uncle Sam’s “we want you” to L’Oreal’s “Because You’re Worth It” the best and most memorable slogans immediately bring you into their story and entice you to buy into their efforts or product.  In order to determine the most engaging content, you must gather information on your audience. What is their story? Successfully fostering meaningful connections means you must know who you’re connecting with and adapt your plot accordingly. All marketers know that the same content resonates differently depending on the audience. Moreover, any salesperson knows a successful pitch is tailored specifically to the person they are talking to. When selling software, for instance, the language used to discuss your product with a technical user is going to differ from how you market your product to the executive who will be signing the check. Although the product itself remains constant, the story needs to revise based on the listener.

Putting the data in data storytelling

You now understand the essential nature of storytelling. However, we have yet to discuss its complimentary other half: data. An engaging story without data will fall short of its full impact potential. In order to substantiate your claims and establish your credibility as a thought leader, you must also include relevant data. 

Relevant data means that not only are your numbers convincing, but they also support the story you are telling.  Your data should be woven into the plot with a logical beginning, middle, and end. Data itself is meant to be an objective fact; but in order to get those facts to stick, you need to present it alongside your story. In a study done at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, they found that the same scientific claim rose from 68% perceived accuracy to 97% when it was accompanied by a graph. This shows the power that data can bring to your story. 

Wrapping it up

Storytelling has played an essential role in human connection long before it entered the marketing world. However, stories enable you to elevate your marketing and sales success by engaging prospects directly with your brand. In an era of declining brand loyalty, each communication must remind your audience why your product is worth consuming. When you’re able to back up those stories with numbers that add further value to your narrative, your sales pipeline will reap the benefits. 

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