All brands know the power of data in delivering better insights on customer attitudes and behaviour. Behind the information that encapsulates customers’ interactions with a business, though, there is also a wealth of opportunity to make marketing far more compelling through data storytelling.
Smart brands can use data to build campaigns that go far beyond traditional appeals to segmented audiences to take up a relevant offer. Instead, data storytelling puts the customer at the heart of their own personalised campaign, building messaging around their relationship with the brand.
A good example recently landed in the inbox of Georgia Gkolfinopoulou, marketing strategist and CRM specialist at Marigold. A well-known food retailer informed her she was in the top 20 people in her area for purchasing healthy produce. As with any successful piece of data storytelling, she not only loved the message, it encouraged her to do exactly what the brand wanted – continue buying healthy food products from them.
“By analysing their data, they were able to make me feel really good about my choices as well as encourage me to carry on buying healthy food in its stores, and possibly get higher up the leaderboard,” she says.
The difference, she explains, between a traditional marketing campaign and a data storytelling initiative is clear. Instead of just recognising the product she buys by placing similar items in a marketing email, the data was used to craft a narrative that made her feel seen and understood.
Getting started with data storytelling
Each data storytelling campaign will vary greatly from one brand to another and between each customer segment, but the crucial aspect is to first understand what the company wants to achieve, and then use data analysis to tell the story that will get them there.
“The best advice is to start with the end result and work your way back. It’s all about reverse engineering,” Gkolfinopoulou adds.
“Once you decide which behaviour you want to encourage, you can know which data needs collecting and how it needs to be analysed. You can then work on how you present it to customers.”
Once a brand has established what they want to achieve, it will need to determine what customer needs they should tap into. It may be answering a question they are concerned about (such as environmental impact) or addressing their status within the company (are they a top customer?). It might be tapping into a passion they have, such as buying premium wine or luxury clothing, or simply reassuring them on their finances – perhaps to let them know their current subscription is the best value for money.
In addition to knowing what customers are concerned by, it is also important to know what is likely to influence them. It might be price, an early access offer or perhaps simply the knowledge they are supporting a good cause. These parameters will guide what the brand is hoping to achieve and what the campaign messaging is likely to be. The key is to not confuse the issue by adding too many data sets, and instead to focus on a clear message that is communicated simply.
Take care with data
The key, as ever with sophisticated use of data, is to not be creepy by seeming to know too much personal information about a person. It’s also advisable to take care about using spending data. Telling a person they are their town’s top latte lover is one thing, but telling them they’re its top spender on lattes may prompt them to consider cutting back.
Also, when data speaks so specifically to a person’s relationship with a brand, digital storytelling requires a cautious approach to information capture and use, warns Britt Fetterhoff Miller, digital marketing strategist at Marigold. “Ethical practices are crucial when handling user data. Companies have to put customers first,” she says.
“Data should only be collected after first being transparent with customers over what it will be used for and then gaining their permission. Customers need to know you are not exposing any of their private data or revealing sensitive information through visualisations. That is becoming increasingly important with cross-channel campaigns and also the drive to recognise people offline, such as in a store, as well as online.”
Tell your company’s story
A tactic that might not be immediately obvious to companies considering data storytelling is that their company’s own performance and history are almost certainly a great resource for a compelling narrative. This should always be at the forefront of marketers’ minds but it is particularly useful for brands who have little customer data to consider, because they should have plenty of data available on their own company. The narrative can take on many forms but will typically involve passing on crucial information about how the business is run and why a customer is right to choose its products or services.
“A lot of brands are committed to [environmental, sustainability and governance] goals, and data storytelling is a really great way to get over a message without requiring a lot of data on each individual customer,” Gkolfinopoulou adds.
“Brands can thank a person for being their customers and tell them how much, say, carbon or plastic waste they have helped to save. Quite a few companies also go for statistics about the craftsmanship that goes into what they do, so people can understand why they are not getting an offer but are instead being thanked for choosing a quality provider. These campaigns can be really effective, and you don’t need much customer data.”
Although data storytelling can help push up sales levels, that is not its sole aim. It empowers companies to assure consumers they are ‘seen’ and to summarise the difference their spending decisions are making. So, in addition to fighting churn and improving revenue, it also has the long-term effect of strengthening customer loyalty. Consumers feel a strong bond with a brand that ‘gets’ them, rather than only ever appearing to be interested in selling to them.
To find out how you can benefit from data storytelling, take a look at Marigold’s recently published guide, ‘Getting Started With Data Storytelling’.