The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly Examples of Storytelling With Data and why Good Storytelling is Great Business

Storytelling conveys purpose and businesses with purpose are noticed and win the loyalty of consumers. So it’s not enough to have a product or service that solves a problem – your company needs to stand out.

The rate that businesses collect data today is phenomenal. You can now collect data on every aspect of your business and, in fact, your life.

Despite the surge of solutions, such as BI tools, dashboards, and spreadsheets over the recent decades, businesses still are unable to fully take advantage of the opportunities hidden in their data.

Dashboards and spreadsheets only tell you what is happening. But, they do not tell you why.

What’s the root cause of smart people using dumb graphs?  It’s actually simple. We aren’t naturally good at storytelling with data.

“In school, we learn a lot about language and math. On the language side, we learn how to put words together into sentences and into stories. With math, we learn to make sense of numbers.

But it’s rare that these two sides are paired: no one teaches us how to tell stories with numbers. Adding to the challenge, very few people feel naturally adept in this space.”

Source: Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, “Storytelling with data – a data visualization guide for business professionals”, Wiley, 2015

Exploratory vs. explanatory analysis

Many people tasked with creating presentations have forgotten, or never been taught to make the distinction between exploratory and explanatory analysis.

Exploratory analysis is what you do to understand the data and figure out what might be noteworthy or interesting to highlight to others.

When we do exploratory analysis, it’s like hunting for pearls in oysters.

We might have to open 100 oysters (test 100 different hypotheses or look at the data in 100 different ways) to find perhaps two pearls.

When we’re at the point of communicating our analysis to our audience, we really want to be in the explanatory space, meaning you have a specific thing you want to explain, a specific story you want to tell—probably about those two pearls.

Too often, people err and think it’s OK to show exploratory analysis (simply present the data, all 100 oysters) when they should be showing explanatory (taking the time to turn the data into information that can be consumed by an audience: the two pearls). It is an understandable mistake. After undertaking an entire analysis, it can be tempting to want to show your audience everything, as evidence of all of the work you did and the robustness of the analysis. Resist this urge. You are making your audience reopen all of the oysters!

Concentrate on the pearls, the information your audience needs to know.

Examples of exploratory data being used in an explanatory way

Importance of B2B Storytelling

In reality, successful B2B marketing strategies are not just about logic, technical processes, and facts. The world has come to realize that it’s about connecting with people on an emotional/psychological level.

According to research by Google in partnership with Motista and CEB, 50% of B2B buyers are more likely to buy if they can connect emotionally with your brand. It starts with your business’ goals, objectives, mission, and vision. If a B2B buyer sees that there’s a common ground, they identify with your brand, which creates a sense of trust.

Based on the same study, 71% of B2B buyers purchase when they see personal value in your business. Along with that, 68.8% of the B2B buyers surveyed are even willing to pay a higher price to do business with a brand they believe in.

But what does “personal value” mean in B2B marketing?

It’s the professional, social, and emotional benefits you experience in addition to the actual product.

Simply put, emotions elevate customer satisfaction and customer experience. Based on a study by The Good Relations Group, the honesty of the vendor plays a big part at 93%. Moreover, personal recommendations also drive purchase action at 91%.

Although these are not explicit emotions such as happiness or sadness, they are deeply rooted emotions that are powerful enough to influence decision making. At the end of the day, purchasing is a risk. You need to trust the seller that he/she is not taking advantage of you.

Further, positive emotions increase a customer’s loyalty, improving the chances of them becoming brand advocates. In an age where customer loyalty is everything, businesses should take every chance they get.

Data storytelling is about communicating your insights effectively, giving your data a voice.

Data Storytelling is not a new concept. Companies have been attempting it for many years now and have seen the success.

Here are some examples of how Spotify, Slack and Uber have all utilised the power of data storytelling to communicate with their customers.



In recent years, Spotify, a music app, has sent annual recap stories to their customers in the format of an email. These short stories pull interesting statistics for each user such as the number of minutes they’ve listened to music on their app. This is an engaging way of communicating the value of their service instead of simply sending them an invoice or simple thanks for using us.



Slack, a communications tool replacing the traditional and outdated train of emails, is utilising storytelling to create a different dialogue with customers each month at the time of invoicing.

In place of sending an email with the invoice top and centre, Slack sends a visual story communicating the key ways its customer has utilised their service. This high-impact dialogue is shifting the conversation with customers.



Like Spotify, Uber has used data storytelling to communicate annually with its customers.

In place of an annual recap email showing the total amount of money you have spent with Uber, they have shifted the conversation to show how much value the service has delivered to their riders. Showcasing personalised statistics of your experience with the app, you immediately can see how much impact they’ve made to your everyday life.

Source: blog – What is Data Storytelling?

Today, it’s difficult to find a successful brand that does not have a good story behind it. Stories provide meaning, create context and evoke a sense of purpose. Most humans are more receptive to stories than compared to facts or data as stories help us relate, empathise and remember. This is why more businesses are increasingly recognising the importance of storytelling.

Just as Storytelling is the success factor behind every Hollywood hit movie, it is often the one differentiator between super successful B2B Marketing Campaigns and ones that no-one remembers.  And just as everyone tends to respond better to visual imagery than text or dialogue only, a company’s ability to maximise the messaging effectiveness of their data using Storytelling will often determine whether they can convert the interest garnered from their marketing campaign, into new or repeat business.

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I’ve put together a Storytelling Marketing E-Book (pdf) to coincide with this post.

It’s free to anyone who downloads it before the end of January 2020. Just complete the form on the Free Resources page to access your free pdf file download.

Yours truly,
James (Jim) Spurway
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”

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