Why data storytelling is important for your business
How to effectively tell stories with data to convey a meaningful message across your industry
Data and the process of collecting it are now integral parts of our lives, especially in the workplace. Think back to the last few weeks – did you join a call to discuss revenue growth or the effectiveness of a marketing campaign? Perhaps you have multiple Google Sheets or Excel tabs open on your screen right now, each showing different metrics? Without a doubt, data is at the center of all of these.
Data has been recognized as the world’s most valuable asset, and it comes as no surprise that most businesses rely on it to make more informed decisions.
But as the need to democratize data has grown exponentially, so has the need to communicate and report your insights. While having the vital KPIs at a glance is still the go-to method of visualizing big data across some industries, more than half of the business leaders and data professionals sigh in despair when they see yet another dashboard.
The need for data storytelling
A recent study by the analytics database company Exasol showed that dashboards are still the most common tool for sharing data insights. However, 53% of the respondents agreed that dashboards are often overlooked since they are so time-consuming and difficult to interpret.
While dashboards can show when a product sold the most or which was the most viewed page on your website, they fail to tell us why. Unfortunately, this increases the possibility of making decisions based on gut instinct, since this can often be faster than conducting actual data analysis.
In comparison, the goal of data storytelling is to provide context and explain the numbers behind a line or a pie chart. Data storytelling combines data visualization with a narrative in order to help anyone understand the report quickly and efficiently, regardless of their level of data literacy.
Data storytelling does not aim to replace dashboards. Rather, it adds one more vital step to the data reporting journey to help everyone understand your findings. In other words, dashboard data can be used to produce good data stories, but dashboards themselves don’t lead to good reporting.
How to create data stories with Flourish
Mastering data storytelling does take some time and effort, but its impact is worth it. If you’re only just starting, your data stories don’t have to use hard-to-read templates or complex narratives – in fact, the simpler, the better!
Below, you’ll find an example of how we created an interactive data story using data from the Google Analytics demo account.
Our data story focuses on the eCommerce revenue and the most profitable products of the Google Merchandise Store.
As a rule of thumb, we always recommend starting with something engaging. Here, we use the "Draw the line" chart.
This opening demonstrates that your report is not just a monologue but rather a chance for people to engage and participate in the discussion. Try guessing yourself!
While the previous chart shows us the total revenue generated over time, this area chart distributes the data further into countries.
We are aware that the United States produces the largest amount of revenue, but what happens if we filter it out?
In this view, we can track the growth of countries like the UK and Canada better – this could help us make more informed decisions if we decide to target a non-US market.
We can split the view even further with a grid of area charts to see the individual patterns of each country.
Now, let's take a look at the eCommerce categories that brought the largest amount of revenue over the last few years.
Using a connected dot plot, we can visualize the revenue generated in 2021 and 2022 by each category. This is a good chart choice, since it shows the increase/decrease of generated revenue per category.
Meanwhile, it also allows us to compare each product type according to the revenue they generated for a given year.
We can also notice that while Apparel has generated the most revenue for both 2021 and 2022, the New eCommerce category has had the biggest increase over the last 12 months.
To make our point even further, we finish with a racing bar chart that shows the total generated revenue split by categories. In this way, we see that the New category is indeed the biggest riser.
Did you scroll to the very end? In theory, the information from this data story can be found in a single dashboard.
But who would spend the same amount of time to look at dashboards?
The benefits of data storytelling
1. By humans, for humans
Our attitudes and behavior are profoundly influenced by stories. As a result of emotions, we are better able to memorize experiences and therefore process information more efficiently.
This is where data storytelling comes into place. You may not inspire people to take action with an in-depth dashboard, but you can inspire them to act with a story that explains the context behind the numbers. Stories with well-designed narratives have proven to be the most effective vehicle for influencing others, especially when they are based on solid facts.
Through your narrative, you also have the opportunity to direct the viewer’s attention to a particular data point. Making data more relevant for a specific team (internally) or a certain demographic group (externally) reduces the chance of information overload – something that’s often disregarded but, in reality, hugely impacts decision-making processes.
2. It’s engaging and memorable
Humans have a shorter attention span than that of a goldfish! Think visually! More than 40% of the human population learns by seeing things. Attract, engage, capture, influence…
Claims like these have become something of a cliché, but only because they are true. As attention has become such a valuable asset, we need to make our work more visually appealing so it’s engaging and memorable.
91% of consumers now prefer interactive and visual content over traditional, text-based, or static media. Fortunately, tools like Flourish make interactive and visual data-driven storytelling so easy! See some of the best data storytelling examples from last year here.
3. It boosts data literacy across your business
Promoting a good data culture through data storytelling can show that working with data gives you valuable insights and does not have to be boring or intimidating.
Data becomes completely meaningless if it doesn’t encourage exploration and communication. This is why data storytelling is so important – it can play a significant role in enabling people to interpret complex information, understand the “why”, make more informed decisions and tell their own data stories.
The more your organization shares data stories, the more you’ll see your company’s data culture truly flourish. Luckily, Flourish makes it so easy to get started on your data storytelling journey. Are you ready?