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Data-driven Marketing: Where Has All the Storytelling Gone?

Think about what inspired you as a child.

Did you read a story about an astronaut and decide you were going to the moon someday? Maybe your grandmother told you stories about how she learned to cook the family recipes, and thus started your lifetime obsession with food? I personally watched Lassie when I was 6, and was inspired to begin a yearlong campaign to convince my parents that we needed to get a dog. (Spoiler alert, we totally got a dog!)

So what is my point? My point is that stories inspire us. The original historical record was through storytellers, leaders who learned the oral history of their village or culture and ensured it was passed down through future generations. When the written word was created, those stories were transferred to books, and stories expanded beyond just one region, to entire nations.

Today’s storytellers are often creating stories through written words, filmed video and fantastic soundtracks. Think about how you felt watching Game of Thrones or Interstellar? I dare you to tell me those stories didn’t inspire you in some way.

In the midst of this legacy of storytelling, I’m sad to see that the technology and data-driven marketing world, especially those in the B2B space, is falling behind in how we tell stories. We’re in an era of data; in fact we’re being overwhelmed by data that is coming at us from every imaginable digital interaction. While this level of data is invaluable for creating new software, many people now believe we should just live in a world of pure numbers, a world of analysis without interpretation.

Fortunately there are those that don’t agree with the above statement. Kerry Cunningham of SiriusDecisions recently gave a talk where he declared that in a world of more advanced analytics we actually have to become betterstorytellers. The art of telling compelling stories – using analogies, metaphors and images – is now critical for communicating the complex results of data analysis.

The goal of data analysis to understand underlying patterns, and drive action based on those insights. But in order to drive action from those patterns, B2B teams need to communicate that that information in a simple way that everyone understand i.e., a story.

For example, you can tell someone that you’ve got two different probabilities that a catastrophe will happen: 1 in 100 vs. 1 in 100,000. While everyone understands there is a large difference, what if you told them the difference is between driving from San Francisco to San Jose, and driving around the world four times? That’s a huge difference! Turning the data into a story paints a picture, and helps people understand they need to resolve difference between these two calculations, as the first means the catastrophe is a definite possibility.

This is why we need to bring storytelling back to the forefront, and change the requirements for how B2B leaders use and interpret data. Many companies today create software that tells businesses what is occurring with their buyers or their internal systems, but just presenting them with data doesn’t necessarily mean they will take action. We need to develop stories and imagery around the insights we’re providing, so that the results cause action in our clients. This will improve their ROI, and your own company’s revenues once you start seeing an influx of happy, successful customers.

So take this as an action item for 2016 – challenge your teams to tell the story, not just the statistics – and see what kind of improved results your clients see when they start being inspired to take action.

Written by

Caitlin Ridge
December 9, 2015