Oct. 13, 2022

Data Storytelling for Building Thought Leadership

Data Storytelling for Building Thought Leadership

The future of storytelling will be visual and data-driven. 

And to decipher and decode data in a way that can create influence will be the next level for storytelling skills.

In this episode, host Surbhi Dedhia, paints the landscape for data storytelling -

1. How did it all come to this point of using data to harness stories?
2. What kind of future job opportunities is this creating?
3. How can we now build data storytelling into our content strategy?
4. What role does Machine Learning play in Data storytelling
5. Why should brands build thought leadership with data storytelling?

This episode is an easy listen with lots of examples to get insight from.

If you liked this episode or have questions on the topic, feel free to write to Surbhi at the rate DigitalGenie.co

[00:00:00] Surbhi Dedhia: Hello and welcome to a brand-new episode on the making of a Thought Leader podcast. This is your host, Surbhi Dedhia, and in today's episode, we are going to talk about importance of data in building content narratives, or in other words, the power of data storytelling. If you are in business, you are constantly inundated with a lot of content from other business. Or you are also in situations where you are constantly worried about what next to put up on the internet to talk about your expertise. It can get a little bit mind boggling. Today's episode will help you to think about publishing content, creating content a little bit differently. Now, before we get into this episode, I'd like to thank you for choosing to spend time with me today. If there is anything that you liked about the episode and you are, if you want something more added to the episodes to the show, please let me know on Surbhi@DigitalGenie.co, and I would love to hear from you all. 

[00:01:12] Surbhi Dedhia: Now, let's begin. So, the term data storytelling comes up several times in business circles, but what is it exactly? To understand the term, let us divide and conquer, which means let's just deconstruct the words, data and storytelling. Data, a plural of the word datum, is a collection of individual facts, statistics, or items of information according to dictionary.com. Data can be in numeric format, which we always kind of think about when we say data only numbers or images with graphs and pie charts come in front of our eyes, but this is a piece of information that is collected through observations, surveys, or interviews. 

[00:01:58] Surbhi Dedhia: Interviews on topics or surveys on topics like rate of productivity amongst the remote workers or the best passport in the world, or the rate of corruption in a city, and things like that. Now, the point here to remember is that data can be both numeric, which is quantitative, which is numbers or descriptive, which is qualitative.

[00:02:20] Surbhi Dedhia: Frankly, this is a deeply evolved science, which involves statistics, numbers, graphics, visual design. But what happens is that when you put up a pie chart, for example, to say the productivity of a remote worker, and you show up the numbers, this data is still data which can be interpreted or understood by different people differently, and that's where storytelling comes into the picture 

[00:02:51] Surbhi Dedhia: Storytelling as we all know has been with human kind since the very beginning. I'm thinking of all the cave paintings that people have made in the past and zip passed from there to today's world where there is a constant chase of creating new content. We have come quite far if you think about it. By telling stories is how humans communicate and pass information through generations, and it is a very keen mode of expression for human beings.

[00:03:27] Surbhi Dedhia: While our mediums of expression have come a long way, visual storytelling still remains extremely powerful and is universally accessible way for sharing ideas and connecting with others. Data storytelling borrows this power to elevate statistics, numbers, and other data that can otherwise get lost in lengthy blocks of text and build a compelling narrative from complex set of data points.

[00:03:58] Surbhi Dedhia: This compelling narrative can help that story to not only do better or not only be memorable, but also influence a particular audience to take action. We will go a little bit deeper into this as we go in the episode, but for now, I want you to think about data storytelling as a tool that further enhances your subject matter expertise on a topic with ability to harness your unique point of view which, in-short is a fast-track lane towards building your thought leadership. Alright, now let's look at why data storytelling has really stood out or stood the test of time, or why you should be even considering this as a key tool of building your content. 

[00:04:49] Surbhi Dedhia: Firstly, information overload a lot is what being spoken about that there is so much of information that is a massive explosion of data and it's getting very hard to retain, decipher, decode from all the data that's coming from all over the place. Actually, there's a statistic to prove it. In the current decade clearly there is a, there is about 15-fold increase in the data that one can access.

[00:05:15] Surbhi Dedhia: Now this also means that if data is not harnessed accurately, it can lead to poor decision making or poor content, uh, design. Yeah. The second, the second reason why data storytelling is becoming popular is because there is a decline in Trust. Just because there is so much of information overload, there is a lot of miscommunication and wrong interpretation of data.

[00:05:43] Surbhi Dedhia: So overall trust of information has declined, and that is why giving the source of data, giving the source of where you got this numbers from is statistic also important. Also, the, use of social media has allowed us to access information in multiple formats and in diverse medium. So instead of crunching numbers and putting it into a text format.

[00:06:05] Surbhi Dedhia: Now suddenly there are these videos and whiteboard videos or, YouTube shorts which can give short bursts of information or reels. Yeah. So, there are multiple formats of information. Um, and that's why having a good source of data is important to debunk this whole, uh, declining trust of information.

[00:06:29] Surbhi Dedhia: But I believe that there is explosion of data, part of it, because firstly, you have the access to data, which was not possible in the past. There is shifting dynamics. If you observe fewer news organizations in the past, were controlling the, uh, dissemination of information.

[00:06:48] Surbhi Dedhia: But with an increasing digitalization, the barriers to report news have been completely shattered. You and me are basically the journalists of today, and we can share news. We can share the latest happenings through our access to social media and other mediums, but the new gatekeeper is in place already, and that gatekeeper is called the algorithm.

[00:07:13] Surbhi Dedhia: Now, what this means is that the content that shows up upon search is manipulated to suit the relevance of the region of the sponsors, et. And of course, we know that Google search is a keen example of this, and that is why a lot of companies try to get into the first page with the sense of relevance or sponsored ads or even by location. The, if you, if you look at it in a different perspective, which means if you look at the data, and if the narrative is clarified well enough, there is a huge potential to stand out because that's where you develop your point of view. So just to explain this point a little more, I would like to share that today only 1% of videos on YouTube get more than a hundred thousand views.

[00:08:08] Surbhi Dedhia: Now, what does this say for anything? To get to that vital point, it has to shine through the algorithms and it has to have an excellent narrative context and relevance. And this is where data, storytelling, magic starts to work. Okay. We spoke about how an information overload the trust is declining. The dynamics have shifted on how news or information is being gathered.

[00:08:38] Surbhi Dedhia: Now we'll talk a little bit about how we are consuming information. So, if we reflect on how we consume information on news, about 10 to 15 years ago, it was purely in text format and for a very good reason because the initial days of internet, the bandwidth was really very low. Therefore, text was the only popular way of sharing inform.

[00:09:01] Surbhi Dedhia: In fact, even search engines were designed to interpret text and show up results that were most relevant bases on the content, which was always posted or uploaded as text. And in no time, newspapers and magazines jumped on the internet and slowly, shortly, mostly text heavy content, which was red, started to become a little bit more, uh, with images and.

[00:09:27] Surbhi Dedhia: If you fast forward it to current times, it's not only static images or graphics along with text, it is so much more of video, visual, audio, the combination of different styles as well. Just think about it today, I think before listening to this episode, how much of video, Instagram, photographs, reels, YouTube shots, animated videos, text, have you consumed before listening to this?

[00:09:54] Surbhi Dedhia: From Text Rich to visually engaging, accessing news has shifted alongside with the technology from a plane looking Internet explorer to the modern smartphone, which displays two 60% to more pixels. Information today is consumed in a combination of text, visual, and also data. In fact, a study has proven that when data is presented in a combination of visual as well as text, it reduces the cognitive load for on our brains, which allows us to process information better.

[00:10:33] Surbhi Dedhia: For the past few years, actually, the data literacy has also improved. Many paving the way for data creators. To summarize, actually, data storytelling is woven throughout the web and is no longer a property of just, you know, reports from consulting firms company year end reviews or campaign landing pages.

[00:10:57] Surbhi Dedhia: Everything else that you see around uses this powerful technique to telling, crossing memorable storms. A bit later in the episode, I'm gonna share some examples, but remember that data storytelling is now woven throughout. The last point I want to share on this is the growing ecosystem of the data creators.

[00:11:19] Surbhi Dedhia: What has happened throughout the last decade is even the youngest information gatherer today has ability to decipher data and we have access to vast sources of data. New technologies and tools are emerging that allow to present data and add narratives to the data in a digestible format. So, this is the tool part of it where you think, oh, you may not be number savvy, but there are tools that can help you make sense of the numbers. So, if you Google the search term tools for data storytelling, actually a plethora of tools and platforms show up that cover everything from words to visualization to data culture, to analytics. It's phenomenal that you and me also have access to these kinds of tools, which can, which can help a complete noise to experts alike.

[00:12:15] Surbhi Dedhia: So, for example, Chit Chart, Chit Chart in fact, I've just recently discovered this tool is one of the most fun collections of data charts that I have come across from science to food. The whole point of this website is to actually celebrate the imaginative ways that data can be brought to live. So, I, I recommend that you go and do check this website.

[00:12:37] Surbhi Dedhia: The other favourite of mine is visual capitalist. This is a rich visual content for the modern investor, and that's how they position, their, uh, business. Visual capitalist is, is a new way to discover business opportunities and learn about, uh, investment trends in different areas. There is other two examples that I would want to give of businesses that use data storytelling very creatively.

[00:13:05] Surbhi Dedhia: The first one always comes to my mind is Spotify. Spotify wrapped is what we get at the end of the year. I'm sure you have seen that. It takes data from our listing habits and then spins it into an exciting audio-visual experience. So they do a lot to connect to this. This storytelling is a brilliant way to connect to their listeners, they also take, and also not only the like, downstream to their listeners, but also upstream to their artists.

[00:13:35] Surbhi Dedhia: The other example that I can give you on data storytelling. A company that uses data storytelling very nicely is Impossible Burger. It has totally taken over, uh, one vegetarian as well as meat eaters with their plant-based products. Um, what they are doing on their website is really interesting. They're committed to sustainability, okay?

[00:13:57] Surbhi Dedhia: And they never belittle the audience being vegetarian or distinguishing the audience between vegetarian and non-vegetarian. So, they show the positive impact that you. Having by changing your eating habits, by eating their impossible burger, and how they do it is actually on their website. They have an ecological footprint calculator.

[00:14:18] Surbhi Dedhia: That shows the effect of meat consumption has on the environment. So, the more you move on the slide door, its re replacing meat, eating meat with plant-based options in terms of weight. And the more you see your environmental impact reduce it is really brilliant and the landscape comes alive with more plants and animals and the most alive.

[00:14:41] Surbhi Dedhia: You, you slide to the right. That is, it's a very powerful graphic that isn't about shaming us, but actually showing that together we all can do good and just by the way we eat. So that was, I think it impressed me a lot at this point. Actually. I remember how I got into data storytelling. So, use of automation and bi business intelligence tools and marketing became very popular in late two.

[00:15:08] Surbhi Dedhia: It was at this time that I found myself with having a choice to, uh, choose between events, uh, for, for the, for the, in the company that I was working with and marketing department. Now, I chose marketing and I still vividly remember that in the, in the first six, seven months of that role, we, the, one of the biggest mandates that I had on my hand was to introduce marketing automation into the.

[00:15:34] Surbhi Dedhia: Now we are talking about a large matrix organization with multiple departments, multiple business units across, um, and also the service business units who serve these business centres. So, when we started implementing Qua into the website engagement and the sales, um, funnel, I was blown away with the first dashboards that I saw about.

[00:16:03] Surbhi Dedhia: Clients and prospects interacted with our website. Now mind you, before this, the marketer has never had this possibility of actually having a visual insight, I should say, into the data of the prospects and customers. It was only in the sales and marketing meeting that we would get our fill on, um, what's happening in the market or what we should be doing more of or less of.

[00:16:31] Surbhi Dedhia: So, we were never able to quantify the behaviours of our prospects and in different format. It was really brilliant. In fact, before adopting our automation, our campaigns were really designed on gut, gut basis, right? Like gut feelings. This is what we feel, and this is a little bit of reference we have from the past, and this is how we are going to do it.

[00:16:51] Surbhi Dedhia: So, when we are able to see more data and we are able to apply it, Um, uh, apply to the assets or apply to the product or service we are selling. It kind of helps you join the dots and our ability to design better suited campaigns which communicate to that individual becomes even better. So, this was something from my personal experience that I learned, and at that time I also came across this, data story tellers’ statement.

[00:17:24] Surbhi Dedhia: Hans Roslin says that the numbers are boring, but people are interesting, which is so true. I have never been a numbers fan myself. And when I saw those dashboards of how our prospects, people were actually interacting with our website. I got completely clued in because that data was telling me some story. I was able to connect the dots.

[00:17:50] Surbhi Dedhia: So, the best data stories will be able to either show you the impact of various factors on real lives or have an impact on lives through their objective insights, isn't it? The most recent example that proved this point have been the data storytelling, related to pandemic. We all remember going onto WHO website to see the numbers in the initial days of pandemic, they were really very saddening. But yeah, that was a part of telling the data in a, in a format that we are able to connect and understand what's happening around the world. 

[00:18:24] Surbhi Dedhia: Gartner projects that by 2025 data stories will be the most widespread way of consuming analytics. And I think this is already happening, right? Like we are all consuming a. Very quick understanding of how the numbers are moving and understanding it better to, to make decisions better. So, what this is probably impacting is kind the kind of jobs that are coming into the marketplace nowadays, like data analysts, data generalists, so somebody who can understand data and knows the product experiences and relays it to executives, and that is what need of the hour.

[00:19:06] Surbhi Dedhia: In my experience working on, on this, um, bridge between the marketing and seeing vast amounts of customer data, I think connecting the data in hand to businesses vision is some one of the most underrated skills. A lot of people overlook that when hiring for these kinds of positions. So, we spoke a lot about this whole landscape of data storytelling, and now I want us to look at how do we leverage data story.

[00:19:35] Surbhi Dedhia: And for that, I will suggest a few ideas from my experience. So, the first is to identify and define the statement, problem statement. This is where I think most of the time should be spent because as we have the clarity of the problem, the outcome that comes later will be defined better and measured better.

[00:19:58] Surbhi Dedhia: So, it's almost like verifying your hypothesis. So, to identify the problem statement one has to first understand the business, which is what I was telling earlier, and understand the purpose, the why of the problem, why. So, this is the business and why we are trying to solve this problem for this business.

[00:20:15] Surbhi Dedhia: And assess the impact created now or later with the problem and the solution. Brainstorm possible solutions with your colleagues, teams, and finally set out on the process to work through the, so, now if that solution has worked well, for example, you, you said that you want to understand why the prospects in a certain category were not converting fast enough, and there is a hypothesis said by different research that you've done or discussions that you've conducted with your team that the.

[00:20:55] Surbhi Dedhia: The hypothesis is that the problem or the, the, the area that we need to improve more is the supply chain issue. Then that has become like your problem statement, right? The, we need to address the problem statement and this supply chain issue then becomes the most powerful marketing tool because now you want to take, go back to your prospects and saying that, bringing you even faster, bringing these goods to you even faster, communicating with you even faster and things like that.

[00:21:27] Surbhi Dedhia: Aactually in my experience, what I've seen is that when you look at the problem statement keenly, you can convert that into the guide, guide for you to develop the next steps, and it pivots your research. for some of the times I have realized that that actually becomes a great opening line when, um, we are communicating in marketing campaigns or, uh, even landing pages.

[00:21:54] Surbhi Dedhia: Second is understanding the business. So first obviously you do a thorough research of. The problem statement, you understand the business at that point also. But here, what I want to talk about a little bit is the job title. So your job title may say data analyst, data storyteller, or any fancy title.

[00:22:17] Surbhi Dedhia: But the most important part of the job, I feel is to understand. your business. In the making of a Thought Leader podcast episode 22. I had a great guest on the show, Anjali Sharma who actually shared a very good story about how the power to influence major decisions for the business is through storytelling.

[00:22:40] Surbhi Dedhia: Uh, if you haven't heard this episode, I recommend that episode highly, that you go back and listen to it. As data analyst, I cannot stress enough on how important it is to understand the business around you. If not, at its core. A lot of times we are all siloed in organizations and we kind of miss that connecting bridge.

[00:23:00] Surbhi Dedhia: Of course, after you've collected the relevant insights and data points in the context of your problem statement through various resources, um, and now you that you understand your business, your industry, your ecosystem. You start having a correlation in the context of your problem statement, isn't it? So once the data is gathered, be judicious to revisit the problem statement.

[00:23:24] Surbhi Dedhia: A lot of times we skip that step because we work in a trained fashion like going in one direction, isn't it? So that's when, when it comes to data storytelling, it always helps to go back to problem statement and see if actually the problem statement needs to be tweaked, and this is very relevant for marketers.

[00:23:43] Surbhi Dedhia: I believe the next step is to actually avoid jargons and to connect the dots, right? In my experience, I have noticed that when I present it to a senior leader, predicting the top performing products for upcoming holiday season or for saying what didn't work, why our prospects are not converting fast enough on the website.

[00:24:06] Surbhi Dedhia: You may wanna set up the context first to showcase your approach and why did you have that problem statement in the first place? But if you use a lot of technical terms or show a vast amount of data that you've collected through research that is going to put the executives off, and they may not really understand how you are correlating the data to the problem statement.

[00:24:31] Surbhi Dedhia: So long story short, use storytelling, avoid the jargons, connect the dots for your executives. Stories are essential for driving data. In into action because stories are more memorable than numbers. The final part is the packaging of the story. So once you've got the correlation established, and the final part of the story is to build a narrative, a good data story can be also memorable.

[00:25:01] Surbhi Dedhia: So connect the critical data points, provide context and share actionable conclusion here. So, so far, we have, we have spoken about why, uh, data storytelling came about in the first place and how you can leverage it to your organization. The other area that I want to lightly touch upon in this episode is about machine learning, and this is another buzzword which has been spoken about so frequently.

[00:25:31] Surbhi Dedhia: Businesses today are dealing with much more data than ever before. So, analysing it or creating value for decision makers, has become like a permanent challenge for marketers, data analysts, or even sales people alike, to kind of crunch those numbers and present it to decision maker to take action. The role of machine learning is to automate the data discovery and advance analytical processes.

[00:25:57] Surbhi Dedhia: And implementing machine learning to assist with mining data also means developing rich storytelling capabilities. But I think this combination of human and machine interaction is something that almost any business can benefit from. All right, storytelling has a critical advantage over visualization. Without context information becomes very hard to digest, particularly among numerous and diverse audiences. So even in visual form, data is still data, right? So, the best use of data storytelling is for audiences that may not be familiar with the presented data or business. Storytelling in the current environment of home offices or earth synchronous meetings is also something which is being very useful.

[00:26:50] Surbhi Dedhia: You know, we think about big, brilliant charts being presented, but if you don't weave a story around it, it's not going to be very easy for anybody to remember it and take action over. To conclude, I want to share that data storytelling is the evolution that takes us beyond data visualization. It is a recognition that the well-designed charts are just not enough anymore to move people into action.

[00:27:18] Surbhi Dedhia: Data storytelling may need a lot more work from an individual organization to create that point of view, to create that thought leader piece. And on that note, I'm going to end this episode. And see you in the next one. Hope you have a great day.