Data storytelling: telling a story with data

What does it means to do storytelling with data? Understanding data storytelling and providing a clear definition requires us first to understand the history behind what is now an essential part of many companies’ business strategies.

Storytelling is an ancient art. It has allowed humans to engage in relationships, to pass along knowledge, and to engage with our emotions; we can say that narration is key to our cultural development. 

A good story produces empathy, it allows us to know our narrator. This is where the concept of storytelling comes from: a communication technique that involves telling a story in order to attract the attention of a specific audience, to convey the message, and stimulate a certain behavior in the audience and persuade them to perform a precise action. Subsequently, web 2.0 marked a radical turning point in the world of storytelling. The “narrator” has new resources for the creation of a story, allowing it to take on new dimensions, to become “digitized” through the use of information that comes from data: hence the evolution in data storytelling. 

Why do companies want to “communicate” through/with data? Let’s be clear. They too have a story to tell and telling those stories requires an understanding of your place in the market, your strengths and weaknesses, and the people who make up your customers, your target audience. At the same time, you need to take the world around your business in consideration, and a market that is in continuous evolution.

 

The evolution of narration

Narration allows us to understand the facts and understand how they happened, to interpret the story, to generate empathy, to trigger memories and ideas in the listener, and therefore to excite him.

In the business world, storytelling is important as a tool for brands to develop an emotional and relational connection with their audience, whether in the form of a print ad, a television commercial, and now, a video clip or animation on the web

“Take the facts out of reality: what remains is storytelling”; this is how Alessandro Baricco describes storytelling, namely that “reality” and “storytelling” are two separate things:

“Storytelling is a part of reality. I tell you this in the most brutal way: a fact, without storytelling, does not exist. It’s not real,” continues Baricco. “A coin, a brilliant instrument, is composed of a fact – that is, that it’s a metal disk of a certain weight, of a certain value; then, whoever mints it prints something on both sides. What was a metal disk, a fact, becomes a true reality. What is printed on it is storytelling. Coin: the reality formed by a fact—the amount of material and the message printed on it—that makes it a coin” (pierluigisiclari.it).

Baricco then tackles the question of the relationship between facts and storytelling in the representation of reality, arguing that the basis of a successful communication lies in the choice of the right balance between facts and storytelling.

As storytelling enters the current age, it revolutionizes communication with the consumer and provides the company with a new set of methods to tell its story. The customer becomes a part of the brand’s history and can connect with it personally thanks to social networks. Narratives that are able to capture the attention of or involve its audience — thanks to special effects, evocative music, exciting images — allows the brand to be recognized, increasing consumer loyalty. Storytelling leads the audience to better remember the message, contextualize the benefits of the brand, to share the content with others, and to take time to ask for more information.

Finally, the brand must appropriately address each audience with a narrative that is interesting and relevant for them using simple language and direct themes. 

 

Data: the key tools of a story 

A worthy successor to storytelling, data storytelling lays the foundations for an incredible process of the use of data as an act of transparency by companies towards their stakeholders, whether their employees or their target audience. If we initially thought of data analysis or the understanding of data as something for experts, data storytelling provides a new way of seeing and using data, starting from a real democratization of data and putting it at the service of the user.

Claudio Cerulli,Head Of Customer Experience at Doxee, during the first meeting of the Doxee Digital Club, defined data storytelling as a technique that allows marketers to structure the story where the acquired data is functional to the story itself and customizable for each customer. The desire to personalize the customer experience, to  make it different for each person according to individual expectations/desires, influences the Customer Journey. Moreover, it is one of the key principles of modern one-to-one marketing, an approach based on the personal and direct relationship between brand and consumer.

We keep in mind the key concepts around which data storytelling revolves, those that make it so, but above all, those that allow the company to gain an advantage and that make data storytelling one of the key tools to ensure the success of a business.

When a company employs storytelling with data, there are several key concepts that they must utilize.

 

1. Identify your audience

The first rule of data storytelling is to identify your audience and its characteristics. Data must be “humanized”, which will allow us to understand the topics that the target would be interested in. Some questions to ask are: Who do we want to address? What do they want to know? Which of this information is useful? What are we trying to achieve?” 

 

2. Big Data

Big Data — potentially thousands of points of data to be selected and analyzed — is the basis of data storytelling. Of course, it is essential that the data is collected correctly even before it is analyzed, which is why it is essential to rely on highly specialized partners who can guarantee the value of the Big Data available.  

While interpretations vary, most experts describe data storytelling as the ability to convey data not just in numbers or graphs, but as a narrative that people can understand. Just as in any good story, data storytelling must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It must be presented without prejudice and with the right empathy and context so that both the storyteller and the recipients can absorb and exploit the interactions that arise for smarter decision making.

 

3. Studying data to establish relationships 

After collecting the data, it is necessary to process it and to search for patterns that are meaningful to the target audience. The data describes a characteristic of the customer, an action he has taken, so a good evaluation allows you to extract a relationship between the brand and the customer itself from the data. 

 

4. Creating a Visualization of Data

Data storytelling is different from Data Analysis. Collection and analysis of data is just a starting point. The data that is most important to us must be utilized in order to create value in the form of intelligence or insight. Utilizing data in the form of graphics or other visual forms is especially effective in conveying a message or telling a story.

Data Storytelling and Data Visualization are two complementary elements. When storytelling is accompanied by a graphic representation, it increases the ability to capture the interest of the viewer. 

 

Communicate data through the suggestiveness of the video

Once data has been collected, analyzed, visualized, and communicated, now it’s time to make that data work for you. There is no better tool for this than video. Video is a powerful tool to learn more about your users, but to do so, it must contain a number of crucial elements through a personalization strategy, especially in the digital transformation.   

How personalized does the story need to be? In reality, only a few elements need to be personalized. In addition, the narrative, which is equally important, must contain the following basic and essential concepts:

  • usability and uniqueness: each user must recognize himself during the narration to clearly understand that the video is for him and about him. It’s not about creating a standard message “for everyone” but “for you”. In addition, the story must be understandable, the recipient must be able to comfortably switch from one channel to another in simple steps, and able to guide the narration process independently;
  • the right level of interest to generate interaction: it’s not enough to collect data. To get users to interact with the brand, they must select the information they are interested in knowing;
  • invitation to action: in order to generate leads, increase user involvement, and loyalty to your brand, the communication must be perceived as a simple and fluid structure. Personalization generates involvement; interactivity generates conversion. From here, we will know if the desired goal has been completed, if users will respond positively to a call to action; determined according to the target audience.

As we have seen, data is the key to success in any narrative. A narrative is valuable if it is memorable, impactful, and personalized. By telling a compelling story, with the data to support it, you’ll be able to reach your audience both emotionally and intellectually. Using the power of storytelling to your advantage means opening yourself up to new possibilities, building valuable relationships, creating teams more aligned with future innovations. Data storytellers will play a key role, as will organizations that can capture and exploit these possibilities.