The Art Of Data-Driven Storytelling

I get questions about data all the time.  I consider myself to be a “data-driven storyteller” because I use data as the backbone of my decision making.  I use data to formulate opinions, which I commonly refer to as a hypothesis, and then architect tests to continue optimizing the direction of the story I marketers want to tell. 

Creativity is stifled by consensus.  The more people you have in the approval process for creative, the more washed out and diluted it becomes.   When you try to factor together multiple points of view into a single story, you lose the spark that ignites the response. 

In my experience, the best creative ideas are the ones that come out through pushing deeply, potentially from conflict, but definitely from the most far-out ideas.  I have said it before, and I will say it again: Within the craziest and most outlandish ideas is the seed of an idea that can blossom into something that just works. 



Data removes the subjectivity of personal taste or feelings.  One person’s opinion is different from someone else’s, and when you are trying to speak to a target audience, one person’s opinion should never be used to make a decision.  I’ve seen some of the greatest ideas end up on the cutting room floor because one person said “I don’t like that one” and were unable to come up with a viable reason why, other than they just didn’t like it. 

In those situations, I believe in the art of testing.  Let some portion of the audience see the messages, identify a measurement that provides directional input, and test.  The data will come back and point you in the correct direction to tell your story.  The data will make your decision for you, and one person’s personal opinion can be removed from the conversation completely.

I'm not saying that data should make all your decisions for you -- just that data should be the fuel that powers you in the right direction.  If you have five great ideas and want one or two, test all five and let the data drive.  Are you searching for a single direction?  Test three or four and see what the audience thinks. 

Data is there to help you tell the story.  It cannot craft the narrative.  It cannot come up with the story.  That’s your job.  It can nullify the need to debate and guess what the audience will like.  Why guess when you can simply know?

Data is a powerful tool, and if you use it correctly and often, it can help you drive the narrative that works. 

I think of data like Billboard charts and how they work for streaming music versus old-school radio charts.  In the old days, artists had to pick a single, one they thought would resonate the best, and put it out.  Radio stations would play it, and fan response along with sales would tell if you were right. 

One of Pearl Jam’s most famous and widely loved songs is “Black.”  You would be surprised to know they never released it as a single.  They guessed it would be too popular, so they held it back, much to the dismay of the record label.  These days an artist can put the whole album out and the most well-liked songs will rise to the top.  When Drake releases a record, all the songs appear in the top 20, but the weaker ones fall quickly, while best ones stay at the top of the charts for a while.  In both cases, the data helps to craft the narrative and shows the response that dictates the future for both artists.

Give it a shot.  Data can be the best weapon in your arsenal if you embrace it and use it the right way, removing all conflict and setting you up to be your own data-driven storyteller.

1 comment about "The Art Of Data-Driven Storytelling".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, October 21, 2021 at 11:58 p.m.

    Great post Cory.

    The one thing I would add is to Challenge the Data.   We have a data tsunami now, but not all data are of equal veracity.

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