Storytelling in the Age of Data

Today, as always, a big part of successful marketing is about telling stories that resonate with customers and business prospects. What’s changed is that the method for telling those stories is increasingly becoming based on data. In fact, Google recently started publishing a book (with companion website) on that very subject.

Ask yourself: where has the Internet created real value? It’s mainly been in data analysis. The technology platforms for social media, music downloads, movie streaming, ad serving, and site analytics all generate huge amounts of data. Buried inside this data are valuable business insights, if you can tease them out and package them in a way that people understand. In fact, it’s this move towards data insight and analysis that may end up saving some old-school industries. The New York Times in particular does a nice job showing how the 2011 federal budget is allocated and spent. It’s a lot easier to be shown how much money is tied up in non-discretionary spending than to be told about it, and it foretells the role our most important newspapers may play in the future.

I’d say that chapter 1 of the information age has been written–this included the amassing and indexing of information via search engines. What’s happening now, in chapter 2, is the synthesizing of all that information and presenting it in new ways. As its name implies, the company Klout seeks to measure online influence and authority–clout. To do this, it takes massive amounts of data, specifically Twitter posts and Facebook activity, and creates an easily digested “point of view” around it. For its part, Twitter has developed a reputation as a great broadcast mechanism, and by giving everyone a numerical score, Klout makes it easy to see who has the most reach and influence on the Web at that moment.

We are on the brink of a golden age of data–and people who can use all this information to tell stories will end up being tomorrow’s marketing champions over the next decade. Put another way, we’re entering a world of show, not tell. Anyone working in marketing today, no matter which industry, should understand how telling stories using data will be a key differentiator. Marketers who can 1) use SQL and other methods to pull data and 2) understand patterns and see what might be interesting to the world at large as well as journalists will have a major advantage. They’ll be able to turn dry research into compelling narratives and stand out among their peers in the digital landscape.

About this Gun

Tom Burg

Tom Burg

is the head of global product marketing for Turn, a twelve-year veteran of Silicon Alley, and a marketing strategy and messaging master. Follow @tomburg.