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Data Storytelling: How to Transform Reporting by Using the Five Elements of a Story

Media & Social

One of digital advertising’s greatest strengths lies in measurement, but many clients have a difficult time understanding the bigger story of how digital media has actually impacted their business. This inspired me to share my philosophy about using data, combined with the five elements of storytelling, to empower clients to make important marketing decisions.

As senior media planner at space150, I have created, read, interpreted and consulted on hundreds of media reports. This data has informed digital media strategy, directed creative concepts, guided optimizations for maximum success, illustrated how we moved the needle for our client’s business and revealed necessary next steps for marketing plans.

That being said, I discovered some time ago that many clients were not actually reading the reports we media planners were giving them. We would talk about insights and provide a detailed spreadsheet that we were proud of, but the client was lost or disengaged in the experience. Something had to be done. We had to show the value of space150’s media work in a way that was easily digestible for our clients, while still informing the next chapter in a brand story.

Then came a brilliantly simple idea: if we want our insights to tell a story, why not model our reports around the elements that make up a story? Setting, plot, characters, conflict and theme could be translated into the visuals and text that make up our presentations.

Most reports data stories focus on the setting and the plot, but very little on the other three elements. In doing so, they miss out on key opportunities.

  1. By not mentioning the characters, you are not showing the value that you provide or tipping your hat to the client for a change that they have made. (Just remember: a little bit of swagger is a good thing and everyone loves to be acknowledged.)
  2. Avoiding the conflict separates your statistics from the number one thing in every client’s mind: business objectives. A KPI is superfluous if it is not tied directly to the ultimate goal.
  3. Missing the theme gives the client no actionable next steps to either capitalize on previous success or pivot after mistakes.

Now that you know the required elements of each statistic that you present, you have the information necessary to prove your worth. But arranging that information in a simple way is crucial to retention.

At space150, we are doing our best to step away from the multi-tab spreadsheets of reporting past and dive fully into custom, visual-centric presentations.

  • We write our headlines 10 times, insuring that the key takeaway is succinct and powerful.
  • We bring in design resources when our standard bar charts just aren’t telling the story we want them to.
  • We consult with our experience designers when making recommendations based on Google Analytics data.

This cross-department, in-depth and hyper-crafted style of data storytelling is difficult, but it is what separates us from the standard reporters of the ad industry.

So do all of your clients a favor. Tell them a story. Make it a memorable one.

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