Looking for content ideas? You could be sitting on a goldmine without even knowing it. Here’s how small marketing teams can make the most of what they have.

Data-driven storytelling is the process of analysing large sets of information to reveal and tell gem stories. It involves finding data and then filtering, analysing, and telling a story in a fitting format.

Within journalism, data-driven storytelling has become a staple for many publications. The Financial Times runs a column called ‘Chart that Tells a Story’. The Guardian, on the other hand, has a section dedicated to its data visualisations.

There are also plenty of organisations using data within their content marketing. Think Google’s annual ‘Year in search’. Likewise, Spotify collects billions of data points every day based on songs, playlists and artists its millions of users listen to. It then combines this with users’ demographics and location data to produce new and interesting content for its Spotify Insights blog.

But you don’t have to be in the game of ‘big data’ to utilise data for content marketing. Many companies already have access to, or potential to access, a wealth of data that could be turned into unique stories.

The advantages of using data for storytelling

And it’s that ‘unique stories’ point that is vital. Data-driven storytelling is not a handful of common-knowledge stats in a powerpoint. It is a blending of worlds – of numbers and narrative – to create a story that only you are telling.

It can offer your audiences new ways of seeing and discovering your content, and offer your team the opportunity to discover new stories or angles.

Stories based on your first-party data are inherently unique since no other brand has access to this data. When regurgitated content is abundant, data-driven storytelling can help you stand above the noise.

Data also gives you a lot of illustration points, with solid evidence to support your argument – cold, hard numbers anchor your claims and drive your story forward. All while giving a sense of authority to your organisation.

The bitsy nature of data also gives you options to break down your findings and repurpose the data into new content. One point can provide infographics and social assets that continue driving back to your main story for months.

And if your insight is interesting enough, it should go across all your channels. Take a holistic approach and plan how you’ll repurpose the content to suit all the channels your audiences are on, including how you’ll get earned media coverage, right from the start.

Some other advantages of including data in your content marketing are:

  • Audience-first: No matter what, audiences want useful content that helps them solve problems or expand their knowledge. Data-driven storytelling can help your audience connect the dots and gain insights quickly.
  • Originality: Rather than regurgitating what the rest of your industry is saying in their content, sharing your company data allows you to present something that can’t be found anywhere else.
  • Demonstrating authority: With a lot of content out there, presenting strong first-party data demonstrates the knowledge you have in your own industry. Make yourself the go-to source for industry analysis. It can also lead journalists and others to cite your content.

Data is an opportunity to prove that you understand your audience, their peers and the industry backwards. And if you provide real value to your audience, you build a relationship.

Finding the right data

There’s a difference between numbers and numbers that matter. Not all data is interesting.

For example, your audience or media you pitch to wouldn’t be interested in hearing that a survey you ran among your own customers found they liked your new product – or not unless there was some extra insight offered alongside that story.

Trends and opportunities are much more interesting than talking about yourself. Find the sweet spot of what your audience wants to hear, what you want to say and what no one else is doing well to understand what is relevant outside the boardroom.

Your organisation is probably sitting on more first-party data than you realise. One Mahlab client, for example, built up data through multiple case studies showing their work with clients, including the cost, productivity and environmental savings of transitioning to a paperless workplace. Comparing that data to clients in the same industry would give you unique content showing which industry wastes the most money on paper processes.

While choosing data be very careful. It is easy to misunderstand or misrepresent it, and privacy must always be paramount. Questions that should be front of mind during the process include:

  • Can you use this data without contravening your privacy policies or any regulations?
  • How did your company originally collect the data?
  • Does it represent the population you say it does? Would it be misleading to say it came from the entirety of a certain industry or region?
  • Are there any outliers affecting the results?
  • Can you actually establish causality between, for example, the use of a certain technology and revenue, or are you talking correlation?
  • Is your analysis based on any assumptions? Would other conditions make your analysis invalid?

Where do you find this data?

The types of data that marketers have access to depends on the organisation. Some large organisations have whole departments dedicated to data research. But even smaller marketing teams may be able to find hidden gems.

Most companies have a wealth of information in their databases, processes, software and reporting that can be harnessed for content marketing. This can include:

  • Results from surveys
  • Analytics
  • Sales trends
  • Customer habits
  • Software use trends
  • Operational trends
  • Marketing intelligence
  • Internal research
  • Internal reports
  • Customers’ personal and browsing data

The problem is a lot of the data reporting and analysis companies undertake doesn’t always end up in marketers’ hands. Even when it does, marketers are sometimes unable to spend the time and resources digging up the hidden stories.

Make sure that everyone has access to data and is motivated to use it. In work Mahlab does with Salesforce, data from global surveys usually sits with teams in the US. However, the APAC team has access to the raw data so that we can take a local cut and create content that is important to our audience.

Working closely with other departments may also make you aware of useful information that was sitting under your nose all along. Client-facing teams like sales and customer service often record handy information as part of their processes – another reason content marketing should never operate in a silo.

Telling a story

It is the narrative that causes data-driven storytelling to have an impact.

The process of finding that narrative is simple: keep your audience in mind so you use your data to tell a story that is helpful, entertaining, educational – just as you would with other forms of storytelling. And as with any other story, kill your darlings – you can overload people with all the data in the world but if it’s not actually adding anything to your story, it’s getting in the way.

Mine deep into your data and you may find unexpected stories hidden in those excel spreadsheets. It’s just another way you can use every resource at your disposal to create valuable content for your audience.

Hannah Dixon contributed to the writing of this piece.

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