April 27, 2017
/ by Chris Lynch
People who work in the marketing communications field have grappled with a very existential question in recent years: If marketing comms is becoming a more data-driven profession, then what happens to the art of storytelling I’ve cultivated my whole career?
The science of data and the art of storytelling shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. In fact, I know from experience, they coexist nicely. In my days as a journalist, the narratives from the interviews I did with business people, along with my research, informed the stories I crafted. When I later moved into software product marketing – and spent more time with engineers and data scientists by extension – I also learned that tools could help me collect, aggregate, and analyze massive volumes of data about my target customers.
Coming from a bachelor of arts background, it’s one thing to say, “yeah, I should be more data-driven.” It’s another thing to actually to do it. And it’s here where I feel the industry has been short on specifics.
So I went through an exercise recently that helped bring some clarity: I defined the things I believe make great stories. Then, I borrowed data attributes I know are commonly used for targeting in marketing, and mapped data to storytelling buckets.
Despite advances in machine-learning and automated content development, great stories that have major economic or social impact are still consumed by real people. As a result, it’s important to work with specific audience data that helps you understand who they are. This data isn’t about what they say; it’s about what they do.
People are emotive creatures; and social media created a scenario where we started publishing those emotions with fewer barriers to entry than the old days of print publishing. When crafting a story leveraging this pillar, we’re talking less about what people do, and more about what they say. The social networks can be helpful for this. For consumer B2C brands and retailers, Instagram and Facebook reign supreme. B2B marketers are starting to glean a lot of insights of this kind from LinkedIn and Twitter.
Originality represents the biggest challenge in 21st century storytelling. That’s because, well, so many stories have been told at this point in human history. Proof of this has permeated the dramatic arts. Hollywood is doing constant remakes from movies 20, 30 and 40 years old. Broadway is copying movies now (didn’t it used to be other way around?).
To be original, you need to look at data even more intuitively. These data points are as much about what people are not saying. Start with your competitors, but also I’d argue timeliness is vitally important here. Often, the originality or freshness of a story will very much depend on the timeliness.
As communicators want to leverage data for their pillars of storytelling, it’s important they identify stakeholders that possess that data. The social teams usually work in close proximity to comms, so getting that social listening data can be easier. Web analytics owners can be a good place to get valuable data about your target audience. Marketing CRM (B2C) and sales automation systems (B2B) are also worth the outreach.
The faster you can incorporate this data into the campaigns you craft, the more your stories will resonate with your target consumer and the influencers that reach them.
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