Data absent of context is simply numbers. Data set to the backdrop of a relatable or relevant storyline equates to a powerful, credible, and influential visualization of your insights and ideas. Let’s look at the basics of data storytelling to help you more fully understand the concept, enhance your company’s communication skills, and maximize your brand’s strategic decision-making abilities.
What Is Data Storytelling?
Simply put, data storytelling is the process of taking complex data and converting it into more easily understandable terms through the use of a story or relatable narrative. Just like in a traditional story one might read in a book, data storytelling involves a beginning, middle and end, a cast of characters, a general theme, and a meaning.
Data without storytelling: The foreclosure rate in the U.S. in the year 2009 was 2.2%.
Data with storytelling (relatable context): 3 million U.S. families were involved in the foreclosure process at some point in the year 2009, which is greater than the combined population of the State of Wyoming, Delaware, and Rhode Island. Officials report the number would have been dramatically higher were it not for the intervention of government agencies and the passing of new relief measures aimed at helping families stay in their homes.
The data means more when there is context to identify its importance. Data storytelling can take many forms. Common examples are:
- Blogs and articles
- Interactive visuals
Choose which methods make the most sense for your audience and information. Data doesn’t have to be limited to charts and spreadsheets.
How to Integrate Data Storytelling to Emotionally Engage Audiences
It is well established that the average consumer loves a good story. Stories can offer characters to relate to, a defined story arc, a sense of urgency, and a takeaway, key idea, or inspiring message. When using data storytelling, don’t get too fixated on the structure. Rather, ensure your story is compelling, well-engineered and engaging.
Here’s a basic outline of a well-crafted story:
- Describe the current situation or establish the context for the data.
- Provide your audience with characters they can relate to in order to humanize the data.
- Create a sense of urgency around the problem or situation to compel the reader to continue paying attention.
- Describe or introduce ideas or action steps to address the problem and tie in the brand’s key role in doing so.
- Talk about the resolution and provide a sense of closure for the problem at hand.
- Tie in the situation described in step one, as well as how the characters handled the situation, to the audience and then insert a call-to-action message to create a sense of urgency.
- Close the story out with an inspiring message or insight (the ‘happily ever after’ part).
Data storytelling is all about communicating in a way that suits the audience best. It enables marketers to reach their customers through both the head and the heart, and encourages them to come back for more details in subsequent postings. Talk is cheap, as are context-free ‘facts’, but data set to a story is priceless.