Analytics Unleashed: Telling your digital story

At Analytics Unleashed, Emma Warrillow, senior vice president of research and data insights at Shift Paradigm, highlighted the importance of effectively telling your digital story. 

“Stories have the power to help people understand, and bring data to life,” she said.

According to Warrillow, telling an effective story starts with three steps: the set-up, the build-up, and the payoff. “We all remember the fairytales of our youth…those rules that applied when Cinderella was written, are the same kind of rules that apply to storytelling.” 

The set-up introduces the plot, the build-up uses facts and information to take the audience to the ending, and the payoff is the conclusion.

However, when it comes to thinking about data, Warrillow said this practice is forgotten.

“These same principles apply to analytic storytelling. When we think about our analytic story, we still have to think about what is the setup, how do we build to the conclusion, and what is the conclusion,” she said.

For example, a company may realize they have a problem with customer churn and want to do something about it. Using the same three story steps, here’s how Warrillow breaks this story down:

Set-up: A company noticed an issue with customer churn on their database, so they look to identify the causes. 

Build-up: The company looks at only the facts that help them build the conclusion. They examined the churn by age cohorts, customer source, and churn by offer.

Pay-off: At the end of this, the company decided to remove the two for one offer on their website, because it’s costing more money than they earn from customers, and 90 per cent of those customers don’t stick around past a year. 

Warrillow added that it’s easy to get off track when it comes to examining a problem, but when it comes to the story, “we need to make sure that we’re thinking about what it is that we are supposed to be answering, and make sure that’s what our first focus is.”

Visualizations can be an effective way to tell a story too, but again, she added, sometimes visualizations can be confusing and overwhelming. 

She introduced the acronym “MEGO” which stands for “my eyes glaze over.” “That’s how a lot of people feel when an analyst does a presentation. They get there and they think, ‘oh my God will they ever stop?’”

A few simple steps that can be taken to effectively and easily tell a clear story to an audience include: Identifying the audience, narrowing down on the main message, deciding what the audience should feel, and finally, establishing a call to action. 

“We need to be clear what we’re trying to convey to build a good story,”  Warrillow said. 

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Samira Balsara
Samira Balsara
Samira is a writer for IT World Canada. She is currently pursuing a journalism degree at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson) and hopes to become a news anchor or write journalistic profiles. You can email her at [email protected]

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