The Heart of Data Storytelling: The Audience


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If your audience can’t make heads or tails of the information presented in their marketing dashboard, how can they be expected to act on it?

When preparing reports, it’s important to recognize that each team serves a distinct purpose in an organization. Your sales, marketing, executive, and content teams will each need their own unique report that enables them to get access to data that affects their own unique roles and responsibilities. The data provided should answer performance-based questions quickly and easily, allowing room for narratives or storytelling elements to further comprehension.

Often times, the simplest way of deciding what information and storytelling elements to include in a dashboard is to try and answer the question, “How will this affect the team?” You need to deliver the information that matters most. You do not want to include metrics or storytelling elements that will distract or dilute important performance metrics.

Likewise, keep in mind that analytical background and maturity will vary among audience members. For example, whereas an analyst might be more inclined to draw insights from visualizations, a business user may require further assistance in the form of written narratives to unveil those same insights.

In the The Power of People: Learn How Successful Organisations Use Workforce Analytics to Improve Business Performance, we see how expertise and knowledge can vary across the board.

Diagram: The Power of People: Learn How Successful Organisations Use Workforce Analytics to Improve Business Performance

Newcomers lack analytical expertise and most likely will not know how to use it to better their decision-making. On the contrary, they have an understanding of what they’d like to accomplish, so, as a storyteller, you can bridge the gap by telling a complete story around the data in conjunction with their specific goal.

The Enthusiast will have full knowledge of the project, however, they’ll be reliant on key details and explanations from a more analytically minded individual. Use data storytelling to point out the details they might miss and help them tie the story together.

Scientist and Masters on the other hand, will have much greater analytics expertise, but may require business context in order to build a relatable and understandable story.

Analysts vs Business Users

In reporting scenarios, there are typically two profiles that possess unique skills sets, however, together they can collaborate with one another, combining their talents in order to develop actionable data stories:


Numerically minded individuals, skilled at detecting anomalies and highlighting important patterns in data.

Analysts have a knack for turning data into something useful. They typically take on the role of storyteller. However, they must understand that numbers don’t always read the same for non-analytically minded individuals. Analysts who are working with business users should do their best to understand their counterparts’ needs. They should organize reports in a way that is easy to understand, highlighting only those metrics that answer the user’s questions about how their data is performing.

Business Users

Strategic decisions-makers, in tune with the market and overall company objectives.

Objectives are the name of the game for business users. Quite often business users take on the role of data consumer, or audience member. They need to be able to trust analysts to deliver actionable insights that will improve their decision making.

Business users should communicate with analysts about the metrics that will provide the most value to them, and help analysts to understand their importance. By clearly relaying what they are working toward, they can help analysts create dashboards or reports with meaningful stories that answer their most dire questions.

Communication between analysts and business users is crucial for getting the most actionable insights out of your reports and promoting data-backed decision making.

Learn more about how to interpret your audience’s needs and expertise in order to deliver the most compelling and effective data stories in our new guide, Dashboard Harmony:  How to use data storytelling to deliver actionable reports. Get your free copy today!

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Holly McKendry

Sweetspot Marketing Director. Wakeboarder & travel enthusiast. Communication Studies graduate of Texas State University, San Marcos.

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