It wouldn't be right to start a blog post about data-driven stories without data. "In 2020, the U.S. saw a more than 15 percent increase in deaths over the prior year, the highest year-on-year rise in deaths across the U.S. since 1918, which experienced both a global flu epidemic and the First World War."
That's from National Geographic, which, in a recent article, used data sets to 'visualize' 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S.
Here's a less depressing data-driven story:
"How did the French keep smiling through the Covid lockdown? Not by saying 'cheese' but by eating it, figures suggest... It was Italian mozzarella that benefited most, with a 21.2 percent rise in sales in 2020. Others on the rise were raclette — a mostly winter specialty cheese melted and eaten with charcuterie and boiled potatoes — up 12.2 percent, comté (8.2 percent), and Emmental (7.8 percent)."
That's from the Guardian, which recently reported on record cheese sales in France.
These are two extreme examples, and not necessarily the best ones, but you can see the purpose of the data-driven narrative: To communicate facts through hard data. Comparisons, correlations, and causations. Rankings, trends, and lists. Well-sourced stories anchored by evidence.
Sometimes that evidence is a little shaky. So journalists get into trouble for not checking their sources. But, for the most part, it's data that's defining the news agenda, and that's a good thing.
Clever marketers use data for branding purposes. They incorporate data into press releases, white papers, and other media and marketing material, hoping to catch the attention of the media. Not only does data give a brand more credibility, but it serves as a promotional tool by exposing the company and its products and services to a broader audience.
A recent example is United Airlines, which co-funded a study about COVID-19 risk on airplanes. The research concluded that such a risk is relatively low, prompting the airline's chief customer officer to proclaim, "Your chances of Covid exposure on a United aircraft are nearly nonexistent, even if your flight is full." Here, data served a dual purpose. It both provided genuinely valuable insights for consumers, but it also gave United an enormous media boost.
Marketers use third-party data or carry out research in-house for a broad range of purposes: to increase brand awareness, improve credibility, or promote products and services. It's difficult for marketers, and even CMOs, to get the balance right, or frame data in a way that benefits the brand. That's why it's a good idea to call in the professionals, like a talented external PR and media team.
It all depends. Marketers might partner with a third-party research organization or frame stories around the data they already analyze in-house. For example, clothing retailers tracking consumer behavior on a data analytics platform might create a data-driven story about the enormous demand for a particular shoe, say the latest Nike sneaker from an NBA player. The media might pick up on this story, mention where the research came from, and inadvertently advertise the retailer. You'll typically see the name of the company after the phrase, "According to research from..."
A recent phenomenon expressed in numbers or percentages to demonstrate a rise or fall in something.
A relationship between several items that are arranged in order of popularity, quality, greatness, or importance.
An estimation of the differences or similarities between two things, typically people or companies.
Data in spreadsheets and dashboards only tell us what is happening, they don't tell you why it's happening. That's why we need a clear narrative to tell the story that the numbers are telling us.
Want to tell data-driven stories for your brand? Work with BAM's PR and marketing pros to tell data stories that move the world. Learn more here
Alex Wilhelm of TechCrunch+ answered your questions about technology and journalism.