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5 Reasons You Must Pair Data and Storytelling

Authors: Zontee Hou Zontee Hou
Posted Under: Content Marketing
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5 Reasons You Must Pair Data and Storytelling

When was the last time you quoted a stat to someone else? 

Most likely you’ve done it in the last couple of days. I’ll bet it was easy to hang your hat on that number—it rolled off the tongue and made your argument more believable. That’s the power of data—it provides an anchor for information and it lends credence to the point you’re making. Plus, let’s be honest, data makes the information feel more scientific, more specific. 

In addition, data can help you to demonstrate authority, relevance, and differentiation to your audience. But on its own, data is just information—so the trick is in pairing it with narrative and a good dose of “what it means for you.” 

Here are five reasons that content creators should pair data and storytelling to create content that truly engages. 

Why Data-Driven Storytelling Makes for the Most Compelling Content

Data adds credibility

As I teach my grad students, we all use heuristics—or mental shortcuts—to analyze the information in front of us. We judge its credibility, authority, relevance, and timeliness in a split-second. It’s because we’re busy, not because we’re lazy. That’s how the human brain is hard-wired. So showcasing clear signals of trust is incredibly important to getting our audience to buy into the information we’re sharing. 

One story I tell in my keynote presentation on Data & Storytelling is about research conducted by two Cornell researchers, which found that the inclusion of trivial graphs increased the belief in a (made up) medication’s efficacy. It found that 97% of those who saw the text and the graph said they believed the drug worked, compared with 68% of the people who saw only the text. That’s about 150% as many people—just because of the inclusion of a graph. (In fact: the graph didn’t even have any relevant information in it!)

We believe information that includes specific data points because they make the information feel more researched and trustworthy. That’s why using reports driven by surveys, analyses, and/or even the synthesis of third-party research can be a powerful backbone to your content marketing approach. 

To this end, my friend Andy Crestodina and I presented an entire webinar on the ways in which identifying and researching the “missing stat” in your industry can be a fantastic way to drive leads, garner backlinks, and improve your SEO. Click below to watch.

Find Your Missing Stat

What your audience is looking for is validation through the data—how are they doing compared to others? 

Data can differentiate your story

If you’ve watched the nightly news, you know that news programs love to cite the latest research. Research that presents information—from the health benefits of wine to the impact of sleep—from a new angle is interesting to people. 

In both B2B and B2C industries, your audience wants ways to understand the world around them and how it impacts their own decision making. I often talk about dating website OKCupid’s original research as a great example of how a brand has capitalized on its own data to discuss what “normal” and “typical” behaviors are, as well as trends. 

Okcupid data storytelling

Another great example is Pinterest’s annual emerging trends report, based on users’ search and saving behaviors on the website. 

Pinterest Data Storytelling

Our client AARP Research is charged with uncovering the interesting stories on how Americans over 50 engage with everything from technology to caregiving to scams—and in doing so, their research keeps their brand top-of-mind because it generates press coverage and social conversation. 

AARP Research

Data makes information relatable by providing anchors

Beyond identifying typical behaviors or emerging trends, data that helps the audience benchmark against their peers or industry is also extremely sought after. In fact, if you look at the top-performing pages for many data-driven websites, you’ll often find benchmarks-related blog posts and research amongst their top content. 

For instance, we see posts like “What is a good engagement rate on Instagram” and “2022 Social Media Industry Benchmark Report” among the top 10 pages on our friends at RivalIQ’s blog by organic search traffic.

What your audience is looking for is validation through the data—how are they doing compared to others? 

Identifying the narrative around data makes information concrete

Understanding what questions were answered and how conclusions were drawn from research is valuable for your audience to understand what matters to others. In other words, the structure and narrative of the research is another opportunity to demonstrate authority and specificity. 

Helping your audience understand nebulous topics by asking concrete questions can help make sense of a squishy topic. 

For instance, our friends at Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs publish annual reports on the state of content marketing which break down the performance of organizations by their own perceptions of success. This helps the audience understand what (self-reported) high performing organizations do/don’t do as compared to low-performing organizations. And because they collect and analyze the trends over time, this longitudinal information also helps marketers understand the changing industry year over year. 

Storytelling plus data makes information memorable

Here’s the thing: data is truly valuable for all the reasons we’ve discussed above. But data alone is dry—and it isn’t always quoted back accurately. More than just finding numbers to include in your content, it’s important to find compelling questions to ask, to provide the answers with useful data, and to use storytelling to make the information resonate with your audience.

Finding the “heart” in your data can be one way to make data more memorable—help your audience understand why it matters. Digging deep into the sticky questions can be another way to make data relevant. Ultimately, good data helps us make sense of the world for our audiences in order to build trust—by demonstrating emotional resonance, credibility, and relevance. 

Want to know more about how we can help you tell compelling stories through data-backed content? Be sure to check out our webinar, Find Your Missing Stat, and reach out to our team.

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