If you’re in the business-to-business (B2B) space, you’ve likely heard the term data-driven storytelling thrown around quite a bit. Sure, it may be a bit of an industry buzzword — but there’s a good reason for that. Storytelling with data is an incredibly compelling way to highlight the impact you or your company is making, or to illustrate a specific point in a way that’s easy for people to understand through the lens of data.
Think about it like this; would you rather:
A. Read a business’s blog article about how accounting software users could hypothetically use an application, or
B. Read an article that walks you through the details of how an actual user puts the application to work daily, with clear data points around how the software has improved her productivity
Or let’s consider another scenario. Would you rather:
A. Trust an HR consulting company’s ad claiming that employees are more stressed than ever and absolutely need wellness programs, or
B. Read a survey report citing quantitative data on high stress levels among professionals and metrics around improvements to employee well-being after participating in wellness initiatives?
The choice is clear. And this is why our team — and our clients — are pretty big fans of telling stories with data.
The power of a data-driven content strategy
Among business leaders these days, data is often heralded as the “new gold.” We’ve got Big Data, data analytics, business intelligence, customer intelligence, web analytics, user behavior data … the list continues. But while raw data holds tremendous potential, the stories we craft from this data are what truly make an impact.
Storytelling with data, as part of data-driven content marketing, has emerged as a compelling strategy for B2B businesses looking to go beyond the content marketing status quo to build quality content that actually compels their audience to act. Content that engages the reader, but also builds trust and encourages action.
But how exactly does telling stories with data accomplish all this? We like to explain it through two lenses:
At its most effective, data-driven storytelling does more than just present facts and figures; it provides context, paints a picture, and offers a narrative that simplifies complex information. Researchers have found that business leaders that cultivate a data-driven mindset are three times more likely to make better informed decisions, and companies that prioritize data-driven decision making can experience a 10-30% growth in revenue compared to competitors that don’t adopt such a mindset.
Transforming raw data into a cohesive story makes it easier for stakeholders — from executives to customers — to digest, understand, and act upon the information. Whether it’s deciding on a new product launch, optimizing a marketing strategy, or identifying areas for operational improvement, a well-told data-driven story can illuminate the path forward.
Resonates with people psychologically
Humans are, by nature, storytellers. Our ancestors across cultures and religions all had strong oral history practices, passing down stories from generation to generation. In other words, we’ve been sharing tales around campfires for millennia — using them to convey history, share lessons, and build connections.
Combine this innate love for stories with concrete data, and you have a recipe for deep psychological impact. One Stanford study found that 63% of readers could remember stories told with data, but only 5% could remember a single data point. By building stories around data, you make the points you’re conveying more memorable for your audience.
Telling stories with data also taps into how our brain works, allowing us to see patterns, draw connections, and predict outcomes. Neuroscientist Michael Yassa found that our brains are hardwired to appreciate stories, especially those that provide clarity from complexity. When a brand presents data in a story format, it resonates with our innate desire for understanding and creates a memorable impression.
Gathering the right data for impactful storytelling
Incorporating data into the content your organization is publishing comes down to having the right data — insights that fit your project and goals. A strong data-driven content strategy begins with deciding which data is the most relevant and appropriate for your purposes. But how exactly do you decide?
Every industry and subject matter expert has unique data needs, which are typically based on specific goals and KPIs. Let’s look at two data storytelling examples:
- A SaaS company focuses on user engagement metrics following a software update.
- A consulting firm leans into qualitative feedback from client interviews.
To help you make this decision, we recommend thinking about:
- Industry demands – For example, in the finance sectors, regulatory compliance might require certain quantitative metrics for transparency and credibility. For medical organizations, HIPAA concerns around data privacy are a critical consideration.
- Subject matter – Certain topics warrant different types of metrics. Say you’re discussing the effectiveness of a new feature in your home automation IoT product; before/after data on user satisfaction rates would be highly relevant.
- Goals/KPIs – Your company objectives and targets are unique, and your content decisions should be too. A Tech company might prioritize behavioral data to understand product adoption, while a financial firm might focus on qualitative feedback to gauge client satisfaction.
- Balancing costs and benefits – Collecting data is an investment. Think about what’s achievable from a resource and cost perspective. While large-scale industry surveys provide valuable quantitative data, they might be resource-intensive. Could you conduct a smaller-scale customer survey instead? Consider all the options before committing to a project.
Let’s look at some common types of data that lend themselves to impactful storytelling:
- Quantitative data. These insights can be especially valuable for companies in technical industries, like life sciences, finance, and software. Aggregated numbers and percentages can highlight the efficacy of a solution or the urgency for solving a specific problem. For instance, a survey might reveal that 70% of medical device users found a new feature beneficial.
- Qualitative data. Professional service firms like consultancies, accounting firms, and creative agencies can greatly benefit from qualitative data through client interviews or focus groups, providing a more in-depth understanding of client needs and areas for improvement.
- Behavioral/user data. From wearable IoT devices to self-serve finance apps, organizations can track specific user data to gauge the effectiveness of their products.
- Academic research. Relevant study findings can offer a third-party, unbiased perspective, bolstering the credibility of your content. For example, a consulting firm might explore data from a research study on emerging business strategies to demonstrate the relevance of their service offerings.
- Before/after data. Perfect for SaaS businesses, before/after data can do things like highlight an uptick in user engagement after a new feature release — offering a tangible measure of success.
Crafting your data-driven narrative
Now comes the fun part: choosing the right storytelling format to tell the most impactful story with your data. There are so many ways to approach this, but we’ve highlighted a few of our favorites, with data storytelling examples, to get you started:
White papers serve as comprehensive, in-depth explorations of a topic, often showcasing a solution to a specific problem that your target audience faces. Among B2B marketers, 56% use white papers and ebooks as part of their content marketing strategy — and 67% of the most successful businesses rely on white papers to support their growth. Incorporating industry data, customer insights, and even academic research to validate your proposed solutions contributes significantly to the credibility of your white paper — substantiating your claims and making the content compelling for decision-makers looking for evidence-based insights.
Creating a report based on a company or industry survey is another effective approach to storytelling with data. Reports could be based on a quantitative survey conducted among your customer base, a group of industry professionals, or a subset of the public. These types of reports not only offer valuable information, but also establish your brand as a thought leader in the industry. Some organizations run an annual survey and then publish a report around their findings each year, tracking things like trends or sentiments in their industry.
Case studies provide in-depth customer stories showcasing real-world applications and concrete outcomes of a solution. These pieces help potential clients to envision how your product or service could solve their own problems. By focusing on metrics and measurable results, you can offer compelling, data-backed reasons for prospects to consider your solution. B2B buyers, in particular, tend to refer to case studies during the mid to late stages of the buyer’s journey.
Long-form articles that are backed by research, insights, and statistics can enhance credibility and audience engagement. Offering factual, data-supported arguments makes it easier for business leaders to trust and act upon your insights. For example, we’ve written in-depth articles detailing a qualitative customer research study that a SaaS client conducted with a small user cohort. The article detailed highlighted the key findings, while also providing an overview of the research methods and study significance. It read nearly like an academic study, bringing more credibility to the tech firm.
Other forms of data storytelling
There are other, more visually oriented formats to tell stories with data, from infographics to videos, animations, and social graphics. These types of visuals make excellent supplements to written content pieces and can add some additional color to long-form publications like case studies, reports, and thought leadership articles.
Start telling stories with data
Weaving data into different types of branded content — from white papers to case studies and reports — can engage your audience, build credibility, and help inform purchasing decisions. If you’re ready to start building your own data narrative, here are a few writing tips:
- Start with a question – Whether it’s solving a specific problem or exploring an industry trend, begin by asking a question that your data can answer.
- Let the data guide the narrative – Not the other way around. Never try to force specific insights into a predetermined storyline. It feels forced and won’t convince your reader.
- Be selective – Too much data can be overwhelming. Choose statistics and insights that align closely with your narrative and support your primary message.
- Transparency is key – Always cite your data sources and ensure that the data is up-to-date and reliable. This helps enhance the credibility of your content.
- Include visual elements – Don’t underestimate the power of visuals like infographics and videos to make your data more accessible and engaging.
- Keep it focused – Use the data to keep your narrative on track. If a piece of information doesn’t directly support your argument or story, consider leaving it out.
What stories does your business tell with data? Let us know what data-driven content projects work best for you.