How to Tell the Right Stories with Data in 2018

How to tell data stories in 2018

I stumbled across an interesting story from eMarketer recently titled Marketers Struggle to Tell the Right Story with Data.

It caught my eye as the topic of data-led storytelling continues to grow in popularity.

We can ‘blame’ a few brands for this:

I say ‘blame’ in jest as nothing is more powerful than a really great story powered by data – when done right, it can be the special sauce that makes people stop in their tracks.

However, it can also be executed poorly too. I’m not going to link to these examples, but they’re out there.

So, I thought it might be useful to do a couple things on the subject of data-led storytelling:

  1. Cobble together a quick list of do’s based on the good, the bad and the ugly
  2. Collate some of the best resources that can be referenced when tackling data-led storytelling

Here we go…

Data-led storytelling: Do’s

1) Think story first, visualisation technique second

It might seem obvious, but the most amazing data visualisation technique(s) are wasted / worthless if the story fails the ‘so what’ test. What passes the ‘so what’ test? Making it personal and valuable is usually a pretty good place to start.

The so what test data stories 2018


2) If possible, personalise the story even further

Humans are weird creatures and we love comparing ourselves to other people (even though that isn’t an especially useful thing to do). In any event, knowing if I spend more or less on pizza than the average person is kinda interesting (I do love pizza). But, as Uber proved with the Year with Uber campaign, we also love it when the story is specifically about us. I imagine most brands would love to re-create something like this, but easy-to-personalise (interesting) data is in short supply.

year with uber data stories

3) If you can, make it about trends (and source them from unique locations)

Did you know that fried calamari peaked in popularity in 1996? This revelation was made by analysing the number of times fried calamari appeared in the New York Times between 1975 and 2014 (seriously, read the full backstory). Being on top of trends is a human truth that will never go away. Use it.

Fried calamari peaked in 1996

4) Make your data interactive

Just because story comes first, doesn’t mean we can hate on the visualisation aspect (this is also usually the sexy part). There are countless examples of data being used beautifully to tell stories, especially via video and animation ( is a great place to start). Developing interactive environments also adds value to the storytelling package. One of my favourites is The New Yorker – a month of citi bike. Go Play.

The new yorker citi bike data story example

5) Do some good while you’re at it

Sometimes, data can be used to tell a story. Cool. However, it can also be used to do some good which makes the story a secondary benefit (imagine that). The best example of this comes from Whirlpool and its Care Counts campaign. This is really worth a read (via

Data-led storytelling: Additional resources

Telling stories using data isn’t anything new (media outlets have been doing it for yeaaaaaaarrrrrssss).

However, (contemporary) brand storytelling is still a relatively new thing and the role data is playing in this evolution is worth keeping an eye on.

If you have any examples you love, please drop them in the comments box.


Note: I’m going to make this a dynamic post and continue to add useful resources to it over time.

Be first to comment