Don’t tell data stories, make them


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close up image of a hand writing a story

Storytelling has become somewhat of a buzzword in marketing circles of late after having ruled the world of advertising for decades. The ability to tell brand stories to emotionally connect with potential customers has become a coveted skill. Not only does it provoke neurological responses but it can also modify behaviours and attitudes to evoke strong feelings of empathy. Successful marketers have learned to communicate with their clients through these methods, and have also taken it further as a tool to promote internal understanding of data. Marketers, however, should not be telling stories within their reporting frameworks but making stories.

What’s the difference between storytelling and storymaking?

Storytelling is engaging with others by charismatically explaining a series of events and their resolution. Effective storytellers are able to elicit emotional responses from listeners by constructing a message that is easily understandable and relatable. These stories can incite limited action, but always have a beginning and an end.

Within reporting frameworks, storytelling features allow marketers to highlight important insights, make comments explaining how we have performed and why we see the results we do. There may be interaction in the form of conversation, but storytelling naturally promotes understanding and not change.

example of a dashboard with a caption

Storymaking, however, is the dynamic communication of events in progress, including continuous attempts to strive for better outcomes and the actions taken in this pursuit.

In reporting, storymaking includes the analysis of problem areas or opportunities with the objective of making positive changes, and the continual dissection of actions implemented in order to continue to improve performance and avoid poor decisions.

Storymaking isn’t limited to rather static conversations on past performance, but should be based on collaborative workflows where team conversations spark creative suggestions and individuals debate their value. It should promote data-based analysis, quantitative testing of ideas and the implementation of those recommendations with the best outcomes. Action, however is not the end of the road in storymaking, as teams should measure the impact of decisions made, and collectively appraise their value, in order to replicate strong ideas in future situations, or ensure poor decisions are not repeated. It’s a cycle of analysis, recommendations, evaluation of these, action and further analysis etc.

dashboard showing impact of actions on KPIs

An example in a marketing department

Storytelling Interaction

You send your monthly report to your CMO and then meet with her to discuss results. She asks you to clarify your performance and then asks what your next steps are. If you have been operating under a storytelling mentality you may be celebrating your attainment of your objectives and looking forward to a relaxed month to come as you leave things as they are… because they are going well, right? But while you have had a positive outcome this month, continually evolving market conditions may lead to failure in the next period. And furthermore, you are potentially developing a dangerous corporate culture. If settling for reaching your goals means that you do not reevaluate them to seek further success, you may in fact be contributing to the creation of a culture of mediocrity.

Storymaking Interaction

A company with a culture of storymaking will be continually looking to improve performance. Irrespective of whether or not you have surpassed your monthly objectives, you will be looking for unique and creative ways to change your trajectory. If your CMO asks you what your next steps are, there’s no doubt that you will have a great deal of insight into the success and failure of past actions, and have considered many ‘what if’ scenarios for the case that external market conditions, internal resources, or consumer behaviour changes. Your continual analysis and collaborative brainstorming will have you in a great position to talk about future strategies and implementations.

So to wrap it up –

The true difference lies in action. Storytelling is the posthumous explanation of what has happened, while storymaking is the ongoing engagement in performance and continual attempt to optimize it. Therefore we need to reevaluate our use of this terminology and focus more on compelling and action-inciting ideas.

Have you been able to integrate storymaking into your reporting through the use of collaborative workflows and evaluation of actions taken or are you stuck on storytelling mode?

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Megan Wilcock

VP of Business Development for Sweetspot. Responsible for strategic brand development, marketing and business development. BA/BComm graduate from the University of Melbourne. My passion lies in finding creative solutions and encouraging collaboration.

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