Visual data-driven stories are a powerful means for communicating information to a broad range of audiences. Practitioners such as data journalists are increasingly creating popular data-driven stories that have been described as attractive, absorbing, engaging, or immersive. Most of us know Hans Rosling’s BBC performance that has been viewed by millions of people on YouTube alone. In the video, Hans Rosling narrates the improvements of 200 countries in terms of average life expectancy and income over the past 100 years. The mentioned narration included simple mixed-reality visuals, and a compelling script. It was an instant hit because we people love to hear storytelling, our brains are built for storytelling.
The same applies to business-related data. But instead of using data stories we have been consuming dashboards with gazillion lines of numbers like in Excel and some trend lines. Those have dictated the business-related data visualizations for a couple of decades.
While dashboards are not going to die totally despite some claim it to happen, the data stories will be de facto approach in some of the use cases. For those in love with dashboards, it might feel like a fast-track train hitting your precious bus.
What's wrong with dashboards then? Dashboards are now created by specific people with needed skills in companies. Thus the process is too slow for fast-paced business. Also the developed dashboards are rarely offering exactly what the user needs. Instead, dashboards are always compromises. One-size-fits-all does not work here either. Dashboards tell you what has happened or what is the trend. Dashboards do not tell you why something happened.
Great data stories give you also the reasoning why things happened but above all tell a story which helps you to understand the message and remember it better.
What are data stories?
The goal of visual data-driven stories (in short, visual data stories) is generally to reach a wide or targeted audience by putting together visualized findings or messages with connections such as temporal or causal relations.
Data story consists of three parts. Firstly, visual data stories must include a set of facts backed by data (i. e., facts must be data-driven). Secondly, most of these facts must be visualized to support an intended message (i. e., representation must be visual). Finally, the visualization must include a meaningful order or connections that support the intended message = story.
Emerging tools to craft data stories
Building data stories is something that has caught the attention of scholars just recently, but some tools have been developed for that purpose too. One of the well-known examples is SketchStory, which is a data-enabled digital whiteboard that facilitates the creation of personalized and expressive data charts quickly and easily. SketchStory recognizes a small set of sketch gestures for chart invocation and automatically completes charts by synthesizing the visuals from the presenter-provided example icon and binding them to the underlying data.
Researchers have also developed authoring tools to enable people with little or no programming skills to create a narrative visualization that supports interactions and animations. Ellipsis helps storytellers generate narrative visualization using templates with a domain-specific language (DSL) and a graphical user interface. DataClips is an authoring tool that helps non-experts create data videos.
Future marketing is about telling data stories
Hans Rosling's presentation was also marketing even though it contained education elements. The future marketing videos and other materials are going to be data stories driven. Companies are already using data to refine their products and for example customer experience and sales process. Thus expanding wide usage of data is going to be a fundamental part of any marketing in the future.
Data stories are based on facts, there is a narrative that keeps the listener on board and there's a story they remember. That sounds like a perfect marketing tool.
Your marketing people must become data storytellers if you wish to succeed.
Data stories in everyday decision-making
In addition to marketing, data stories will also be a significant part of utilizing data in everyday decision-making. Crafting data stories is one capability you should include in your data literacy program aims. Your staff needs to learn skills to make data stories. Otherwise, you are again stuck with a handful of people like it is now with creating dashboards.
Crafting data stories is one capability you should include in your data literacy program aims.