3 Key Principles of Data Storytelling You Can Apply To Your Business


From user sign-ups and mailing lists, website analytics, proficient CRM systems and a myriad of other data-capture methods, modern businesses have more data than ever at their disposal. While this data comes with numerous security, permission and GDPR considerations, it also affords businesses of all sizes a wealth of information about their business and their customers. But how can you use this data to tell compelling stories? Here are 3 key principles of data storytelling you can apply to your business. 

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Data storytelling is a crucial skill to master for those who are looking to implement insights from their data to make real change within the company. Whether it's altering the way products are marketed, re-aligning company branding and message, altering budgetary distribution or making significant changes to a company culture, data offers an opportunity to make informed decisions - if you can effectively demonstrate what the data is telling you to stakeholders.

This is where data storytelling comes in. Whether you're pitching to internal management, trying to make a big sale or embarking on an external marketing campaign, being able to tell compelling stories with the data at your disposal can make the difference between someone taking action or not. 

In this post we'll take a look at three of the principles of data storytelling: 

1. Navigation and Journey

Telling a story with data often means providing a clear journey for the reader, regardless of the format. Whether you're giving a presentation or allowing users to explore data via software or a website, you need to ensure people can effectively navigate the data. Depending on the format you're using, clear navigation might be in the form of properly ordered slides and a Q&A session, or it might mean sidebars, tabs and strong UI (user interface) design. There should be strong prompts that move the user in the desired direction.

Similarly, the way the data is navigated should be presented as a journey, with a clear start, middle and end. This would usually involve an introduction (statement of the problem and a summary of the data), the main section (the bulk of the data and its implications) and a conclusion (next steps, calls to action, etc.). The better your ability to make this story compelling and interesting, the more likely your audience is to take the desired action at the conclusion.

Recommended reading: How to Face Complex Data For Your Business With Confidence

2. Dynamic Experiences

To really compel someone to take action, your data and insights should be presented as dynamically as possible. This means you should consider anything that helps bring your data to life, whether it's infographics and data visualisation, relevant photography, animation, interactivity or real-world footage. You want to make the experience visual wherever possible, and ideally introduce some level of interactivity throughout the journey.

3. Progressive Disclosure

When you're telling a story with your data, it's important to keep the audience engaged and present the information in a clear and progressive way. An excellent way to do this is by disclosing more information as you move through the piece, meaning the audience is always wanting more.

If you reveal all your data and key findings early on, users or listeners have little reason to stay with you as you continue. By progressively revealing key information, insights and actionable points, you can ensure the people you're talking to stay engaged right until the end.

Keep in mind that there are some key building blocks to telling a story effectively with data:

  • Data: You need to have sufficient data to tell your story, and it should be analysed and organised appropriately
  • Design: It's important to house your data within an appropriate visual medium. Keep visualisation methods and best-practices in mind, as well as general design principles such as colouration and spacing. 
  • Connectors: You should implement connectors to ensure a coherent flow between the different data points and parts of your story
  • Testing: You can test out different mediums and formats in order to find the one that best tells your story. This may include an infographic, motion graphic, slide deck or interactive piece. 
  • Sharing: You need to ensure your story is shared with the appropriate audience, whether that's internally or externally. 

With a little bit of practice and an understanding of how to present data in a compelling and engaging way, you can ensure your information is used in an effective way throughout your business. 

Recommended reading: Information is Power, Here's How To Understand It for Your Business

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