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Three Ways to Tell Stories with Data
Posted on June 2nd 2014
In the advertising business data is typically something we measure to determine the success or effectiveness of our efforts. How many people did we reach? How many page views did we generate? How many likes does our Facebook page have? Or in the case of programmatic media buying, how much should we pay to reach a particular person with a particular message?
But data offers those of us on the creative and storytelling side of the business just as much opportunity. We can discover, mine and even produce data to help us tell more emotional and convincing narratives. More on that in a moment.
Data has always entertained and informed us
In and of itself, using data to inform and even amuse is nothing new. Just take a look at Harper’s Index. Introduced 30 years ago it remains one of the most popular sections in the magazine displaying an uncanny knack for startling readers with surprising facts culled from public databases and data-based research.
Every month the U.S. government contributes to our collective anxiety or optimism with its reports on housing starts, unemployment, and trade deficits. Some of us consume it actively, others passively, but in either case it affects our confidence and our spending behavior.
In the world of education, data on SAT scores, GPAs and acceptance rates have become the key stories colleges and universities use to position their brands and brag about their selectivity. That in turn informs how we feel about our own standing and accomplishments. And for US News and World Report, their annual ranking of colleges informed by that data has become the magazine’s equivalent of SI’s Bathing Suit issue. Eagerly anticipated, incredibly popular, often controversial.
Journalists get it, but what about brands?
Journalists, by definition, have been forced to get better at mining and scraping data, structured and non structured, to discover stories that need to be told. When the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently released payments to doctors, The Boston Globe immediately scoured the report to learn that some doctors were receiving millions of dollars a year in Medicaid payments. A subsequent article raised questions about overpayments, possible fraud or at least price gouging.
Brands and advertisers, on the other hand, have been a bit slower to identify and leverage data in their storytelling. However, today we have more ways than ever to capture useful information. Social media reveal trends in real time. Checkins, tagged photos, likes give us fodder for stories about our users. Increasingly available public records, along with tools for analyzing them even when they’re comprised of unstructured data, offer us lots of possible content.
Soon, plethora wearable devices that go far beyond the rudimentary capabilities of FitBits and FuelBands will offer even more inspiration. It only seems natural that we get better at using data to make our cases, celebrate our successes, inspire new behaviors and build loyalty for our brands. It strikes me that there are at least three ways that we, as marketers, can leverage all of that digital knowledge.