I am not a numbers person. I never enjoyed math and took as few classes in the subject as my high school and university would allow me to take and still graduate. But as a writer, I do love data for its ability to drive home a point and round out a good story.
Inspirational storytelling and hard numbers don’t have to be at odds. In fact, they are two sides of the brand storytelling coin. One makes an emotional connection, and the other earns trust. One paints a picture, and the other grounds that picture in reality. It’s one thing to say, “There are starving children all over the world.” It’s another to say, “One in seven children went to bed hungry last night.” And to say “Women are making strides in entrepreneurship” isn’t nearly as powerful as saying, “More than 9.1 million firms are owned by women, employing nearly 7.9 million people and generating $1.4 trillion in sales.”
Curating other people’s data is a great way to add credibility to content, and smart marketers already know how to do this well. Brands that run content marketing programs use data daily in their stories, making claims about the industry and analyzing the market based on research reports and major industry studies. Those with big enough budgets take it one step further and commission their own industry reports through respected third-party research agencies, effectively linking their brands with data that other organizations will use to back up their stories.
But most brands are still missing out on one big opportunity: their own big data.
In the digital age, companies are collecting all sorts of information about their products and their customers. These insights help marketers make good decisions and engage individuals with relevant content based on their unique preferences and interests. But big data can do more for brands than help guide marketing efforts. It can also add value to content. More often than not, there are compelling stories hiding in all that company-owned data. And with a little creative thinking, content marketers can find those stories and tell them.
What are the benefits of brands looking inward and taking advantage of the vast quantity of data they have about themselves to craft a story? Where and when are the opportunities to do so? And how can you turn your big data into a vehicle for inspirational storytelling?
Marketers understand the value of incorporating data in their blog posts, email campaigns, and social media assets. With the end of the year fast approaching, most marketing departments are already compiling infographics and listicles meant to highlight trends from 2015 and/or make predictions for 2016. But while most of this content will be chock-full of numbers, very few companies will use their own data. Instead, marketers will pull up Google and search for compelling statistics from other sources.
Freelance journalist and content marketer Alexandra Samuel discusses this underutilized opportunity in her Harvard Business Review article, “Data Is the Next Big Thing in Content Marketing.” As she puts it:
Even as companies have embraced their new role as content creators, they’ve largely missed out on one of the hottest trends in the world of traditional media: data journalism. This still-new form of reporting draws on the growing availability of data sets and data analysis tools to uncover and tell stories … often presenting the results through compelling visualizations or interactive applications. Newspapers such as The Guardian and The New York Times have invested heavily in data journalism because they recognize that the world of big data offers opportunities to uncover new insights, and to tell stories in newly compelling ways … [T]oday’s enterprises have access to more data than ever before. All that information could be fodder for top-notch marketing; instead, it’s treated like a state secret, and used almost exclusively to drive internal decision-making.
When brands do use their own data—either to tell a story about the company or to shed light on interesting trends—it’s usually largely beneficial for both brands and users. Readers consume valuable information, and brands spotlight the work they’re doing without seeming self-serving or salesy.
It promotes transparency and connection: Customers know you’re collecting data on them—who they are, what they buy, and how they use your products and services—but most don’t really understand how you use it. By presenting that data back to them in a creative way, you offer them value in return for sharing. Plus, they get to be part of your story. Granted, each individual is one anonymous data point, but you still send the message: “Our customers are interesting, and your opinions or habits are worth sharing.”
It establishes thought leadership: Sharing fresh, credible data proves that your brand isn’t just aware of industry trends; it’s helping to shape them. You’re not just regurgitating facts; you’re adding something new to the conversation. That makes your brand an expert in the eyes of customers, prospects, and the media.
It inspires highly shareable content: Original data gets attention. Not only will journalists and brand marketers from other companies use your statistics and link back to your website, but with some creative thinking and a good designer, you can turn data into infographics and listicles—the types of content most likely to be shared on social media.
Add to that the fact it’s free content with rich value, and the question becomes obvious: Why are you letting all that good data go to waste?
How do you turn big data into inspirational storytelling? Simply consider what you know that’s worth sharing and then apply a little creative thinking. The following three brands have cracked the code. Below are their stories and some takeaways for content marketers:
As a company that helps people raise money to fund their ideas and dreams, Kickstarter certainly has an advantage when it comes to inspirational storytelling. Its users provide rich opportunities to tell heartwarming, tear-jerking, motivational customer success stories. That alone is a valuable content marketing resource.
But Kickstarter has data that tells an even more powerful story: friends, families, communities, and even strangers coming together to support one another and to help people accomplish what they couldn’t on their own. To tell that story, the company created “2014: By the Numbers,” which provides “a snapshot of what 2014 looked like on Kickstarter.” Compared to year-end listicles filled with the same statistics everyone else is including in their year-end listicles, Kickstarter’s creative thinking definitely comes out on top.
Moral of the marketing story: Think about how your customers use your product or service. Is there an inspirational or emotional story there? If so, wrap those numbers up in a good story and start sharing it.
Zillow’s database of more than 110 million US homes is full of data regarding individual properties, neighborhood crime rates, local school systems, and other insights real-estate shoppers want to know. Of course, the primary purpose of this data is to help homebuyers make informed decisions. But it also paints a picture of an entire industry.
Zillow uses this data for all sorts of industry reports, including some creative campaigns with social media staying power. For example, the 2015 campaign, “10 Best Cities for Love This Valentine’s Day” includes information on the number of singles in each featured city, their disposable income, and the availability of potential date spots. It’s fun but informative, and with the timely holiday hook, it was a simple but brilliant marketing idea.
Moral of the marketing story: Does your data shed light on interesting social trends? Does it underscore industry insights that would be valuable to your target market? If it’s something you would want to know—or that your Facebook friends would want to know—other people would find it interesting too.
Jawbone, maker of the UP app and fitness trackers, also created a list of cities. But its report—”In the City that We Love“—focuses on sleep. The campaign offers a glimpse at which cities get the best night’s sleep and which don’t get nearly enough. But as Jawbone puts it, “that only tells part of the story.”
Jawbone then delves deeper into each city’s sleep habits, including the underlying factors and the implications of their nightly slumber. Since everyone needs sleep, the potential audience for this content is virtually limitless.
Moral of the marketing story: Consider how your product fits into consumers’ daily lives. How can you use your data to tell a story about everyday challenges? How can you provide information related to what matters most to your audience—their health, livelihood, children, relationships? If you can tap into one of those emotional centers, you have a story that will get people’s attention.
Rarely do brands open their own doors and tell a story using their own data. Be among the first innovators to give it a try.
To learn more about the art of brand storytelling, subscribe to Content Standard updates.