Show Me the Data: 4 Ways You Can Win Customers with Data and Not Just Tell Stories

Feb 21, 2019


We live in a world full of data. We are surrounded by smart objects. We spend at least 3.5 hours on our phones daily, engaging with apps for everything from finding flights to Bermuda to tracking the number of steps we take in a day, and, of course, we can’t forget the time we spend on social media.

This means a stampede of new data. And marketers everywhere are dreaming of the possibilities.

Right now, there’s nothing hotter than storytelling with data. Attention spans are short. Content and media are in abundance. Heavy use of digital apps and programs also means that we’re more distracted than ever. If content doesn’t captivate us instantly, then we simply don’t pay attention. As the adage says, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?” That adage could be said of storytelling, too: if no one is there to listen, was the story ever told?

So, what are companies doing to be heard? They’re filling their stories with data and expecting results. But that’s not enough. You must be hyper-relevant. Point blank: you need to show that you’re listening with your data...and that you care. And that takes a combination of creative storytelling, strategic data harvesting, and audience intelligence.

In this article, I’ll discuss four ways you can win customers with data and not just tell stories.

  1. Use transactional or usage data to sweeten the customer experience—There’s huge room for improvement in what can be done with internal data—especially when your company has technology that consumers or customers use frequently. With AI, companies can start to recognize patterns. With patterns, come predictions. Predictions about when a consumer might need to go in for their next oil change or when they need to buy their next pair of running shoes. We as marketers can then deliver messages at the exact time consumers are most receptive to them. Not only does this beat the “spray and pray” model in terms of ROI, but it provides value to consumers. Let’s imagine that you’re an airline company and you have access to all that transactional data. You might have a decent number of customers who fly the same route every year, maybe every month. What if you were able to scan all this data and recognize when some of these customers stopped taking their regular flight? You could deliver personalized marketing the moment you were able to see that behavior change. Or maybe a few days before their next flight, you send them a map of local restaurants and hot spots near the city they’re about to visit.
  2. Tell a story with data, then make your customer a key character—Emotions are pivotal in helping our brains come to conclusions. Neuroscientists have shown that when a person is engaged with a story, more areas of the brain are stimulated. If I described the smell of lavender in a field, and it reminded you of when you used to pick lavender as a child, your olfactory sensory areas in the brain would respond as though you were still in that field. Your empathy areas would light up as well. Now that your brain is fully engaged, you’ll have a deeper experience, understand the information on several levels, and remember it longer than if you were reading an article with graphs and numbers.When talking to your audience, find a way to layer in their experiences and desires into your story with the data. Adding that extra contextual layer may pay off in increased engagement.
  3. Create opportunities for interaction—If you want to stay ahead of your competitors, then think about how you can make your data-loaded stories interactive. The more you invite your customers to engage, touch, and go deeper into the data, the more persuasive your stories become. Here’s an industry example of this: IBM wanted to showcase their AI technology by demonstrating its effectiveness in early detection of the deadliest cancer in Australia. The data? Every six hours, one person will die from melanoma in Australia, and cutting-edge AI can detect melanoma with 31% more accuracy than the naked eye. The story? Most people with melanoma, aren’t aware they have melanoma. Which is disheartening since we know all too well that early detection can mean better survival rates. So, IBM partnered with Watson to add that contextual layer by launching an AI-loaded mirror that Australians could stand in front of during peak season in Bondi Beach. Over a single weekend, more than 800 people were helped, with 22% of them being referred to an onsite specialist. This was an example of a highly personalized and engaging experience where participants could become highly engrossed in a data story while Watson and IBM brilliantly proved themselves as a first-rate tech brand to potential customers.
  4. Realize that data can have feelings—Yes, you read that right. Data can have feelings if we’re talking about natural-language processing (NLP) and sentiment analysis. Companies are using a combination of tools to scan language for emotion. If you know how people feel about a certain topic, you have the opportunity to respond to those feelings. More to the point, you’re able to address negative emotional responses. If you’re not ready for the full AI method, you can partner with an agency that specializes in social media monitoring to analyze sentiment. Social monitoring tools will sift through the data and help you build insights around how segments feel about topics related to your services and your brand. From there, you’ll want to create brand stories that either support positive reactions or mitigate negative ones.


A perfect example of a brand going beyond your typical data storytelling scenario of throwing numbers up on a digital screen is the Snickers ‘Hungerithm’ campaign. The premise of the campaign was that the price of the Snickers bar would increase or decrease based on the emotions of American consumers.  Snickers measured this by analyzing 14,000 social posts per day from Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook with a custom algorithm that measured sentiment.  A quote from Forbes states,
The campaign managed to create a real-life connection to the product that captured everyone’s attention and imagination. Hungerithm hit the exact digital sweet spot we were going for—the point at which media, content, and commerce collide.” And this, folks, is why Snickers reaped the benefits of a 67% spike in sales.

The moral of the Snickers story is this, when you fuse customer data, audience insights, and clever storytelling—you win.

Now it’s your turn. Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What data do I have access to?
  2. Out of all that data, what insights would be the most interesting to my customers?
  3. How can I turn these insights into stories that show our customers we care?

Use the answers to those questions to tell stories that people want to hear. Find ways to get customers and prospects emotionally invested in your data, so they can later invest in your brand.

As marketers, we often spend so much of our time pushing out messages into the digital world, telling customers what to think, and waiting for praise, when we ought to pay more attention to how customers feel. There’s a story in the data for marketers as well, all we need to do is listen.


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