The Power of Data-Inspired Storytelling

by | Thought Leadership

I grew up in a very creative household. My father, Jerry Pinkney, is a world-renowned illustrator and author of more than 100 award-winning children’s books. I can remember, as a boy, coming home from school and going directly to his studio to watch him work. He was methodical in his research and his process for creating beautiful and accurate visual portrayals of his subject matter. He would research everything down to the fabrics, the setting, and the expressions to bring his stories to life in their truest form.

And while he didn’t realize it at the time, he was gathering insights by using data. He used this data to get the facts he needed to bring his vision and storytelling to life. He cared about facts. He cared about what people were thinking, feeling, and doing. And he knew that this process would inspire his work to brilliance.

That was my first exposure to data-inspired storytelling.

Today, data is at the forefront of almost every conversation. Data is in every pitch and on every credentials presentation. Data, like all information, has been around since the beginning of time. It’s just that now we know how to capture it, access it, and use it more effectively and efficiently. Data can uncover, expose, reveal, direct, guide, inspire, and inform. But data doesn’t solve creative problems. Data can’t write the perfect headline or find the perfect imagery. It can’t map the ideal journey or solve a business challenge.

That’s where we come in.

When it comes to data, it is our responsibility to put it to good use — to understand and respect each individual consumer and their unique journey with a brand. When we get it right, the consumer will gladly keep walking with us. This responsibility is one that we must accept and embrace because if we don’t, we’re just aiming our efforts into the wind.

A few years back, I was hosting a panel at a marketing conference in Toronto. Vish Ramkissoon, our Data Intelligence lead in Toronto, was on the panel along with four other marketing leaders. I had my cue cards, and we were rehearsed. After Vish answered a question about the complexity of data and how much we collect, I dropped a new question on him that we hadn’t rehearsed. I said, “With so much data out there, you could say it’s like grains of sand on a beach. How do you know which data to use?” After he gave me “the look,” he responded simply, “You just need to follow the footprints.” This illustration would go on to be a fundamental deconstruction of how we talk about data intelligence and the power it has to help us tell more meaningful and relevant stories. By using data intelligence, we are able to identify, recognize, and listen for key signals (or footprints) across channels in order to catch, connect, and convert a consumer on their individual journey with the brand.

Data gives us the power of real insights to uncover little sparks that ignite ideas, unearth truth, increase understanding, and make connections to drive action. It’s what has always excited me, and it’s what still inspires me today.

David Ogilvy made a brilliant statement about storytelling. He said, “Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating. You know you can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.” That statement is still true and even more relevant today because we know within minutes if our message and our content have fascinated our consumer enough to make it a success. That is the power of data-inspired storytelling.

As data enthusiasts, we must be curious. We must dig deep and invest in the right technology. We must train all of our people to place value in the power of data and what it can and cannot do. If you’re thinking “this is great, but man, is data dizzying,” you’re right. That’s why we have some of the best strategic minds and data strategists to help us figure out what data to listen to and what data to ignore. Too little data and the story is not vivid; too much data and it gets bogged down. It takes effort, but our consumers demand we take the time to get it right.

It doesn’t matter what your role is in the organization — become a data explorer. Immerse yourself in what’s possible today as a result of new innovations and tools that allow us to unpack data in new and exciting ways. Embrace the power of data-inspired storytelling because when we put in the effort, the time, and the energy, that’s how we make our work magic.

When the DMA changed their name from the Direct Marketing Association to the Data & Marketing Association, they made a launch video that walked through the history of the organization and how data has always been their focus. The last line in the video is a powerful call to arms for all of us who value, respect, and use data to make work that moves, motivates, and drives response: “Whoever understand people the best, wins.”

Let’s be winners.