Guidance to craft data-rich storytelling

To persuade a skeptical audience, pack your pieces with useful information and compelling visuals. Here’s how to create more memorable messaging.

Great storytelling never goes out of style.

Tastes and technologies change over time, but marketing, communications and PR still boil down to sharing compelling stories. Today, audiences are busier, more empowered and more skeptical than ever, so it takes more effort to reach—and convince—them.

Here’s guidance on how to create more effective, persuasive, data-packed storytelling:

Make the audience the hero.

Tell stories that resonate with—and revolve around—the people in your audience. Make them the hero. Your brand can be an essential character in the story, but your company should play a subtle supporting role.

Notice how Google finds a delicate balance in this emotional ad:

It’s an ad promoting Google’s products, but the story focuses on a father and daughter.

Use data visualization to boost engagement.

Words still have power. However, adding a visual element to your piece can increase engagement, and it can boost retention by upward of 65 percent.

The options here are endless. For example, Spotify uses its Spotify Insights blog to showcase—in stunning visual detail—what people are listening to around the world.

Look at this feature that reveals what college kids are listening to nowadays. You can filter metrics such as volume, “runnability” and tempo to see how your school compares against others.

Don’t neglect personal data.

Statistician Nathan Yau tracked personal metrics before and after the birth of his son, and he published the results in a blog post for Flowing Data.

He tracked sleep patterns, the number of photos he took each day and other statistics to create an interesting series of charts.

Use customer data to drive a story.

Airbnb’s mission is about helping people find their “home away from home” while traveling. In 2014, the company decided to make Airbnb users the star of its storytelling. The company asked its audience to participate in a “random act of kindness” campaign. Airbnb combined data from this campaign, as well as data about where people were staying in Airbnb properties, to create a stunning, whimsical and interactive map.

Public data can inspire a story of your own.

After a U.S. government report revealed that more than 4,000 students drop out of school every day, many simply due to lack of clean clothes or laundry facilities, Whirlpool decided to act.

This data led Whirlpool to launch a program to install washers and dryers in schools. According to this report, “In the first year, the program saw 2,300 loads of laundry washed. More than 90 percent of tracked students increased their school attendance compared to the previous year, with some students attending the equivalent of almost two weeks longer. Teachers also saw increased class participation in 89 percent of the tracked students.”

Whirlpool created a specific campaign site to showcase videos, stories and data.

Another example: Addiction treatment specialist Recovery Brands compiled a wealth of data about drug and alcohol use around the globe. It created a series of maps, showing the volume of substance use in the U.S. and Europe.

You can examine them all here.

Here are five tips to start a data storytelling initiative:

  • Mind the structure. Good storytelling needs a beginning, middle and end, and it needs a hero, a theme and a purpose.
  • Gather good data. You might spend weeks collecting data from multiple sources or carrying out market research. Take time to find juicy, meaningful data that your audience will care about.
  • Find the story in the data. The story might present itself in a surprising way, or you may create a narrative from unrelated market data relevant to your target audience. The story might be the data itself.
  • Decide on your design. How will you present the data? A series of static charts? An infographic? An interactive data visualization?
  • Think about promotion. Factoids, memes, tweetable charts or graphics that can be shared on other social channels can help you get your story out there. Consider breaking your it into different parts, so you can publish it in multiple places (and encourage other publications to republish it).

Steve Masters is services director for Vertical Leap. A version of this post first appeared on the Vertical Leap blog.

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