The art of Data-Driven Storytelling - What is it and why does it matter

Romil Shah
6 min read


Be it in the form of fables that teach good morals or mythological tales that underpin the major world religions, stories have been a proven medium for teaching, explaining, and influencing. Combining these benefits of stories with the factuality of quantitative data to drive decision-making is what data-driven storytelling is all about.


Put simply, data-driven storytelling is a communication technique that involves weaving stories or narratives around data to ensure that the insights from it are well received, retained, and acted upon.


The effectiveness of stories in getting a point across stems from a psychological phenomenon called neural coupling. It is an event where, while listening to a story, the neural activation patterns of the listeners mirror those of the storytellers.


What this implies is that the listener becomes more receptive, trusting, and empathetic to the storyteller since both their brains are synchronized. And when infused with facts and data, stories or narratives can be a highly potent tool to bring about organizational change and shape business outcomes.


Why businesses should adopt data-driven storytelling


Businesses today are collecting more data than ever from various sources like social media, research firms, and their own processes in the form of analytics reports and logs. All this data can be used to analyze existing trends and make informed decisions.


However, most businesses are unable to make the most of their data. That’s because business leaders who are not data-savvy may have a hard time making sense of this data even after it is cleaned, sorted, and visualized by data analysts.


“Most organizations recognize that being a successful, data-driven company requires skilled developers and analysts,” - Daniel Waisberg, Analytics Advocate at Google (Source)


They are unable to interpret the data by considering the context, and thus cannot gain any actionable insights. Hence, even if an organization’s data scientists perform incredibly astute data analyses, they cannot drive organizational change.


By adopting data-driven storytelling, business leaders are able to understand where their organization has been, where it is, and where it is heading in the form of a fluid, easy-to-understand narrative. By reading or listening to data-driven stories, business leaders can easily grasp the most remarkable highlights from their data and can also gain clarity in terms of future steps to take.


And since stories have greater influential power than just data alone, data-driven storytelling can actually transform the way an organization functions and lead to improved business outcomes.


What businesses can do to facilitate data-driven storytelling


In order to implement and benefit from data-driven storytelling, businesses can do either of two things:


  1. They can invest in training their data analysts to be good storytellers. It may take some time, but eventually, they can have analysts capable of providing insights through easy-to-consume narratives. Or,
  2. businesses can use natural language technology to turn their analytics reports into stories written in an engaging tone. These stories can build a convincing and impactful narrative around analytics data to tell business leaders what's happening in their organization, making the analysts’ job easier.


Regardless of the means used by businesses to implement it, data-driven storytelling can undoubtedly help them make the most of their data. Thus, by combining the objectivity of data with the fascination of stories, businesses can accelerate their journey towards becoming more data-driven, and hence more efficient and effective.


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