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Data Storytelling: The Best Path to Sharing Data and Insights

Running a successful business requires managers to always have the right information at the right time, to be able to make the right decisions. That is why data storytelling is an essential skill...

Running a successful business requires managers to always have the right information at the right time, to be able to make the right decisions. That is why data storytelling is an essential skill because knowing how to tell stories with your data allows you to effectively share information and insights throughout your business.

To help you with this, we will here explore a number of key topics regarding data and sharing insights within a business, giving you a better understanding of how these activities can help develop your company’s digital maturity and data-driven culture.


The Data Analytics Marathon

Brent Dykes, the author of the bestseller book “Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative, and Visuals”, wrote in his article on Forbes: “Throughout my data career, I’ve often compared analytics to a marathon. The finish line for the data analytics marathon is slightly different than that of regular races. There are no cheering crowds, no finish line ribbons and no fancy medals—your reward is the business value you generate from your data.”

And indeed, data analytics is a long-distance run that, for the most part, consists of data collection, preparation, and visualization. Only in the last mile do we get to conduct data analysis and communicate insights, to be able to act at the very end.

The first question that arises here is: why should you be data-driven? There are several answers to that. First of all, data can be used to make decisions that will benefit the business and allow you to act quickly, before an opportunity is lost. On the other hand, if you are data-driven, your strategic agility will be increased, enabling you to act when the data indicates that you should.

In parallel, the collected data will improve your understanding of how your customers interact with your brand and products. Based on that, you can easily decide what is the best way to connect with your potential clients, or existing ones too.

Moreover, having data-driven employees inspires insight sharing and motivates joint action. But, in order to make the most of your insights, you need to apply best practices.


6 pillars of data-driven marketing best practice

Keep in mind that, as with everything in life, this is a process, and it requires you to continuously utilize the following six pillars:

  1. Test and Learn
    Try different methods for sharing insights because what works best for one stakeholder may not be as effective for others.

  2. Always be Sharing
    Data-driven cultures are created by people sharing data and insights, and trying to involve others in what they have found.

  3. Measure for Success
    Keeping track of what works and knowing how to build on that is key, and also to make sure you know when your insights were actioned upon.

  4. Don’t Fear Failure
    Until you’ve shared an insight, you can’t know if it will work, and through trial and error you will learn more about what your audience needs to hear.

  5. Create Advocates
    Partner with key stakeholders throughout the business, develop your biggest fans, and let them advocate for your data analytics work.

  6. Always Move Forward
    Don’t settle, always target something new: person, format, analysis, and keep thinking about how you can evolve.


Want to make your company's marketing analytics more mature?

Check out our 5-Stage Journey for Marketers Aiming to Get More Value from Data to find out how you can start making your company's marketing more analytically mature.


Picking the Right Methods

There are a few methods you can use to get the right stories into the hands of your stakeholders. You can use each of them to achieve your goals, but you need to be aware of their advantages and disadvantages.

Most businesses will already have specific reports that are generated on a regular basis. These can form the basis of your insight sharing. Regular reporting on a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly/quarterly basis establishes a good routine on which you can build further.

The regularity of reporting can help to demonstrate the effectiveness of the actions being taken, and allows you to keep key stakeholders up to date on results. Also, making use of dashboards and templated reports saves time, and ensures data is shared as soon as possible.

But be careful. The regular cadence of your reporting can put you in a state where additional insights are not queried often enough, leaving undiscovered nuggets of information withing your organization. Also, some people can feel overwhelmed with the amount and cadence of reports, so they may not be able to fully engage with what you’re sharing. Always keep in mind that the period between insights acted upon and the next report may not be long enough to prove the effectiveness of the action being taken.

Direct communication can lead to actions being taken quickly. It enables the development of personal relationships, which can help in developing a wider interest in data. The downside of this method is that it can be more difficult to tackle how the insight has led to action and success, and it is not suitable for all audiences, as some people may require upskilling or be more visual learners.

Through finding insights and sharing links with colleagues, or setting up automated alerts, sharing insights on daily basis can help you to maximize the value you get out of your existing reports.


There is No Right or Wrong Way

Sharing existing dashboards used for analytics and optimization enables fast sharing of data and insight and helps you easily tell a story with data. The main downside of this method is the fact that these dashboards were not built for universal audiences, and might contain too much data for the wider audience to understand.

Insight postcards are a simple method to communicate the “what”, “why” and actions of an insight. Given their brief nature, they can be useful for punchy insights, and also can work well with a less digitally mature audience. Keep in mind that postcards may not be as useful for more complex insights.

Infographics are custom-made, longer-read ways of really telling a story through multiple data visualizations. If used on a regular basis, they can really help to summarize what has happened, and show where success occurred and what lessons were learned.

Beware that considerable time may need to be invested in developing infographics, and this will probably require input from internal or external design teams in order for the infographic templates or elements to be developed.

Regular monthly newsletters can act as a way of talking about what has been happening within the business, as well as communicating success and developments. Newsletters can be used to highlight multiple success stories and applications of data and insight, but they require a wide range of content that needs to be brought together in order for there to be value. And be sure that, despite all the hard work you put into making the newsletter, it can still be ignored in people’s inboxes.

Of course, at the top of the list are in-person events, internal summits of the whole company or certain departments. This method implies delivering talks around data and insight, featuring internal and external speakers. It is an opportunity to talk about previous successes, new ideas and engage an already data driven and interested audience. Summits can be a big investment in time and money, and it will need to be someone’s tough responsibility to set the agenda, find the right speakers, and turn these events into real success stories.


Learning About Your Audience

Regardless of the gravity of the insight you are trying to share, the wrong methodology and language can have a massive impact on how it is received. Sharing information with the wrong person, or with the right person but in a way that they do not understand, could lead to no action being taken and opportunities lost.

Therefore, knowing your audience is vital to ensuring that your insights are seen, understood, and acted upon. For that reason, you will need to think about the several types of people within the business, the type of insights they will care about, the kind of language that will grab their attention and the amount of time they have to receive and act upon insights.

In order to carry out this process properly, ask the following questions:

About your audience:

  • Are they time poor or time rich?
  • Are they a decision maker or do they carry out other people’s decisions?
  • Are they data savvy or new to data and analytics?
  • Do they need to see business related metrics or tactical KPIs?
  • Have they been historically engaged with data, or have they been more ambivalent?

About your data and analytics teams:

  • Does your team have time to create more time intensive materials?
  • Is your team empowered to decide which method should be used?
  • How data savvy is your team, what kind of insights could they find?

Then use this information to create audience profiles. For example:

Head of Paid Search

Area of Interest: Brand / Business Paid Search

Business or Tactical Data: Business Performance KPIs

Data Strength: Comfortable, but not strong

Decision Making Power: High

Time Availability: Time Poor


Paid Search Executive

Area of Interest: Campaign Paid Search

Business or Tactical Data: Tactical KPIs

Data Strength: Strong

Decision Making Power: Low

Time Availability: Moderately Available


Brand Manager

Area of Interest: Brand Campaign Data

Business or Tactical Data: Brand-focused KPIs

Data Strength: Not strong

Decision Making Power: Medium

Time Availability: Severely Time Poor


Keeping Track of Progress

To continually improve the data and insights you’re sharing, it is important to keep track of the impact they’ve had on various aspects of your business. Measuring how your insight landed, and the effect it had, will enable you to improve your processes in the future, and further develop the data-driven culture in your business.

Tracking your insights will also help to identify success stories and case studies, which can be used to prove the value of the insights-sharing initiative.

So, what should you keep track of? Not much, only six things:

  1. What was shared?
  2. How did we share it?
  3. Who was it shared with?
  4. How was it received?
  5. Did they take our recommended action?
  6. What was the effect of this action?

Based on that, you can track your progress with:

Surveys - Capture feedback regarding specific aspects of your data and insight-sharing program. Surveys can be used to gauge your audience’s feelings towards specific parts of your program, and to help shape what you present to them in the future.

Hard metrics - Monitor the performance of some elements of your data and insights sharing program: email open rates, email engagements, dashboard usage metrics, and webinar attendances.

Insight success tracker - Track the impact of the data and insight that you have shared and determine what was the insight, how was it received, what the action taken was, what was the result, and could a case study be built.

Collecting information regarding your data and insight-sharing initiatives allows you to track the impact of that program. Additionally, you will be able to start to track progress towards improving overall digital maturity in the organization and understand how often data and insight leads to action being taken.


What Kind of a Runner Are You?

To make progress, it is necessary to know where we are at the moment and in which direction we want to go. So, what kind of runner are you right now? If your business is towards the start, the audience is ambivalent towards insights and your insights are just data points with no impact, then you are simply stuck on the sofa.

You are a park runner if your business is automating multiple marketing analysis processes, and audiences are aware of the power insights can have, so you have a fairly skilled analytics team and your insights can be action-oriented but don’t always inspire actions.

But if your business automates almost all of marketing analysis, considers using data and insights as a key to driving success, and your team is continually finding important action-oriented insights, congratulations – you are training for a marathon.

Regardless of the current level you are at when it comes to sharing data and insights, you have come a long way since the beginning of this article and are now quite ready to start your marathon race. Persevere and good luck!