How Effective Data Storytelling Can Improve the Bottom Line

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Click to learn more about author Peter Jackson.

In an increasingly data-driven world, where companies have recognized the value of building data cultures and developing solid data strategies, too many organizations still have trouble mastering the language of data. 

Data has real business value. It holds answers to the questions that can give leaders visibility into their organizations, help them better understand the business landscape, and make informed decisions that drive revenue growth. Given its potential, it makes sense that achieving data democratization – the idea that everyone should be able to access and make use of data – has become a priority for many organizations. 

However, it doesn’t end with making data accessible to everyone. Unless people can communicate effectively, the insights gleaned from the data may be lost in translation. That’s why skills such as data storytelling have become increasingly coveted by organizations – it’s what everyone knows they need, but very few currently have. 

Business leaders are believers in the effectiveness of data storytelling’s ability to improve business decisions, but many admit that their own presentations often fall short of putting their information into a cogent narrative. When it comes to using data to communicate with C-suite executives or other business stakeholders, they too often lose the room. 

In our company’s survey*, for example, 93% of decision-makers said that successful data storytelling can help increase revenue. About a quarter of the respondents, though familiar with the idea of data storytelling, don’t currently use it. And many of those who try to employ data storytelling have yet to master its techniques. What’s more, 83% of respondents said they regularly let dashboards do the talking, which results in a lot of valuable information getting lost in translation. 

Dashboards are often overloaded, becoming so cluttered that they hinder analysis and understanding of the data. According to the aforementioned survey, more than half of business leaders (54%) said dashboards are too cluttered with information, and about the same (53%) said dashboards are often ignored because they’re too hard to interpret. Just less than half (46%) of respondents cited the inability to tailor dashboards to individual executives as a drawback. 

Executives clearly see the need for clear, succinct data storytelling – 87% percent agree that leadership teams would make more data-driven decisions if insights gathered from data were presented more simply, and in a way that was easier to understand. But they’re not sure how to go about it.

Context Is King

In order to communicate the most relevant insights from their data to better inform decision-making, organizations need to pare down the data in their presentations into clear, concise chunks. But perhaps the most important element missing from dashboards and other overstuffed data presentations is context, which can explain the contributing factors behind key data points and help indicate the way forward. 

A dashboard, for instance, has no trouble showing that sales in a certain division were down during the previous quarter. Effective data storytelling will in the next breath tell executives why, whether it be supply-chain hiccups, workforce problems, a pandemic-related slowdown, or any other reason. By putting the insights into context, data storytelling gives decision-makers the “why” behind any data set, helping them make informed choices about the next steps.

Our survey supports that view of data storytelling’s value, with executives citing the ability to focus the story (72%) and provide context (64%) as its principal benefits.

Cut to the Chase – Quickly

Why do so many organizations fall short in giving meaning to their data?

One thing often missing is speed. Organizations need fast access to their data in order to quickly sort results, perform analytics, and craft the most salient data into shape for effective storytelling. The business leaders and data professionals that we surveyed recognize this need, with 89% of them saying that faster access to data would help them better use insights collected from it in their decision-making. A data platform that can handle massive amounts of data from multiple sources, and also query, analyze, and identify the most important information in near-real-time, can provide the foundation of effective storytelling.

Even with faster access and analysis, though, organizations still need the skills to make the best use of the data. Those skills include Data Literacy, along with expertise in their field and strong communication skills. Many organizations have two out of three already, as we found that 77% of leaders surveyed are both data-literate and knowledgeable about the business. But nearly half (49%) said their organizations lacked storytelling skills, regardless of data literacy. 

Organizations would benefit from both educating existing employees, but also bringing new people into their teams with strong storytelling skills. Coupled with an emphasis on strengthening data literacy across the board, this would support true data democratization and help businesses make the most of their data. 

In every sector, the whole point of big data and analytics is to identify actionable information. By adding speed, context, and effective storytelling techniques, organizations can present their data findings clearly, concisely, and in a way that makes its meaning easy to grasp. Effective data storytelling will help organizations communicate better, make more informed decisions, and ultimately help to improve their overall bottom line.

*Our company surveyed 500 business leaders and data professionals in U.S. enterprises with more than 1,000 employees.

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