Data Storytelling Guide For Digital Marketers

With the ever increasing need of all sorts of data from all sorts of businesses data storytelling has become a widely used term when it comes to reporting, presentation and data visualization. When I first heard the term being used I wasn't quite sure what it means and what it refers it. A basic explanation is - "you tell a story with your data". But what does this mean exactly?

What is storytelling?

To understand data storytelling first you need to understand what is storytelling. Here is what a basic structure of a basic story is:
  • The Setting
  • The Plot
  • The Character
  • The Conflict
  • The Outcome

How can we translate this for data storytelling and use it in digital marketing reports?

The setting

Where is the data from?

  • The website
  • The mobile app
  • Mobile devices
  • Desktop devices
  • Specific location
  • Specific technology

The plot

What are the KPIs?

  • Total sessions
  • Newsletter sign ups
  • Demo requests
  • User engagement

The character

Who is responsible for these KPIs?

  • The marketing team
  • The sales team
  • The product team
  • The web development team

The conflict

What are the business challenges?

  • Traffic is increasing/ decreasing
  • We are seeing more/ less sales
  • Conversion rate is/ is not improving

The outcome

What are the key insights?

  • Digital acquisition strategy needs adjustments
  • Sales process needs improvements
  • Website needs redesign
  • CTAs on the website need to be revisited
  • Website forms need to be simplified

Data storytelling

Telling a story with your data is all about the visual you built. The better the design of the data visual is the easier it would be for your audience to understand your data story. How to build a good data visualization for data storytelling?
  • Choose the right chart
  • Remove clutter
  • Focus audience attention
  • Choose color carefully
  • Use takeaway title
  • Insert annotations where possible

Recently I took part in a data visualization challenge by Storytelling with Data, you can read more about it here.
The challenge was to remake a chart taking into consideration all of the bullet points above. It was a great example of how your audience can be confused when you don’t use the right graphs for your data and do not consider your audience attention. But most importantly how your audience can skip the main takeaways and important insights from the data.

The data in the challenge was related to travel, I am using the same example with data for website traffic by marketing channel comparing results YoY.

In the example below this data is visualized with two bar charts, one with the data for September 2017 and the other one with the data for September 2018.

Pie Chart - Data Storytelling Guide

Why is this visual so hard to read and understand?

Pie charts look very pretty but when comparing more than two categories they become unsuitable. The circle (pie) get too cluttered to be easy to compare these categories. I have written more on pie charts. Also we want to compare how data has changed this month vs same month last year. This would be easier to understand if both sets of data are side by side. Putting these data set into two separate charts becomes two distracting and hard to focus.
Also this visual has no insights as to what does this data mean.

Let’s take a look at the visual below.

Bar Chart - Data Storytelling Guide

Using a bar chart when comparing multiple categories is a better option since bars start at a common baseline. In this example I used a bi directional bar chart to compare the two time periods. There is an option to also build this with a side by side column chart.

I have used highlighting colors to point out positive and negative changes in the data and a title that points out the main insights from this data.

Data Storytelling Guide Video Presentation

Here is a short data storytelling guide video presentation which summerizes the most important points for digital marketers.