Data Storytelling: A lesson from eMetrics Summit

  • November 29, 2017
  • Abby O'Connor

Data can be powerful. It holds answers to questions and keys to success. But its value is lost without people who can interpret, visualize, and communicate its meaning. Last month, I attended the eMetrics Summit in New York, an analytics conference that focuses on the impact of data and technology on marketing ROI. In my favorite session of the event, a panel of digital analytics experts discussed the importance of having great communication skills. The best piece of advice to come out of the conversation was that we need to make data accessible by speaking our audience’s language and telling the right story.

The Right Language
Analysts, research professionals, number crunchers, and data miners at any organization are usually the biggest believers in “the numbers speak for themselves.” Not exactly – the numbers speak to us, and it’s our job to effectively translate. When communicating data, we need to take the time to learn about our audience, whether that’s a coworker, executive, or client. What matters most to them? How do they prefer to receive information? How will they use the insights we’re delivering? Speaking their language will help them see the value in data, and it’ll mean fewer frustrating meetings where stats and spreadsheets are met with indifference.

Eric Fettman, an analytics trainer at E-Nor, pointed out, “As an industry, we tend to be text heavy and talk heavy. But for stakeholders, making insights as accessible as possible usually equates to a visualization.” In this case, making data accessible doesn’t mean providing access to all the raw data, but instead helping others fully understand its meaning. So before sending over that 10-page report (I’m guilty of this), consider which aspects can be communicated visually, and whether the major takeaways are up front and clear.

The Right Story
One way to organize findings is to take a journalistic approach. John Lovett, a senior partner at Analytics Demystified, hit the nail on the head: “Find the story in your data. Find the headline.” Storytelling is universal – we can all relate and learn through stories. To a less data-savvy audience, calling out why the numbers matter or what they reveal is infinitely more interesting than letting them “speak for themselves.”

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be using numbers. One great example given at the summit was about online shopping carts. An analyst showed the organization’s CEO their rate of cart abandonment. It was high – the CEO could easily recognize that and was willing to work on improving the website. Then, the analyst calculated the revenue that could have been made in a year if customers had checked out, and not abandoned their carts. It was in the millions. That lit a fire. Sometimes the right numbers tell the right story.

The Right Stuff
Audience-tailored communications and storytelling are cornerstones of INK’s strategy for client programs. For me, this session highlighted the importance of applying those same skillsets to our Research + Insights process and projects. We often work with several sources of data, both quantitative and qualitative, so it’s our job to make connections, pinpoint nuggets of insight that run throughout the data sets, and find that headline. In other words, we’re the data storytellers. Can that be the new Justice League?