Storytelling in marketing is usually assumed to be driven by empathy and emotion rather than data and analysis.

However, when it comes to creating compelling stories, data plays an important role (though is perhaps underused).

According to the interviewees in Econsultancy’s Storytelling for Marketers report, which included a number of senior practitioners and experts, there is a lot more work to be done in using data for the purpose of storytelling.

So, how exactly can data be used to optimise and enhance brand stories? Subscribers can download the report in full, but in the meantime, here’s a few key points to consider.

Finding the moments that matter

Lazar Dzamic, co-author of ‘The Definitive Guide to Strategic Content Marketing’, suggests that great storytelling must have strong emotional resonance combined with good ‘intent utility’.

This means that as well as telling stories that are meaningful to customers in a general way (i.e. themes that most people can relate to) – brands should be answering questions and doing so in a way that speaks to the context of a customer.

This is where data comes in, as it can help brands to identify what questions consumers have, when they have them, and to enable brands to answer them in a compelling way.

Google’s ‘Moments that Matter’ framework can be useful here. It highlights the importance of finding the most common queries for your brand or category. For a beauty brand, for example, this could be “how to apply mascara” or “what lipstick shade will suit me?”

In turn, it is up to marketers to use this data and combine it with human empathy and understanding to create compelling stories. Customer surveys and in-store interviews can also be helpful for determining these moments of need.

Sephora is a great example of a brand that does this. Its current tagline: “Let’s beauty together” articulates its aim to have a two-way conversation with consumers, and to produce meaningful and valuable content on this basis.

As well as turning data into insight for storytelling, the brand also utilises it to deliver valuable and highly personalised communication across all channels, including its loyalty-based app, mobile, and email.

Transparency and data-driven campaigns

Many brands are starting to be more transparent in their use of customer data in marketing campaigns.

Spotify is one prominent example of this, with its outdoor campaigns since 2016 drawing on why and what users are listening to on its platform. One billboard read: “Dear person who played ‘Sorry’ 42 times on Valentine’s Day, what did you do?”.

This data-driven approach is interesting, and perhaps a bit of a gamble on Spotify’s part. Despite users being aware that their data is integral to the platform and the personalisation it offers – having it splashed all over billboards is a different story.

Spotify thanks 2016

However, with the campaign and the data itself being rooted in emotion (and the emotion of music), it resulted in a relevant and highly relatable message.

Another clever example of data being used to inform marketing is Snickers’ ‘You’re not you when you’re angry’ campaign – specifically its ‘hangerithm’ algorithm, which measured the mood of Australian consumers.

The idea was that the price of a Snickers bar would drop or rise based on the level of the country’s mood. In order to determine this, the brand analysed 14,000 social posts per day from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, in relation to common subjects like politics, sporting events, traffic jams, and bad weather.

According to reports, sales and engagement on social increased on the back of the campaign, with the brand seeing a 1,740% increase in Facebook traffic alone.

A shrewd example of how to marry customer data, insight, and clever storytelling – it proves there’s more to data within marketing than basic segmentation.

Creating convincing internal narratives

Storytelling is typically seen as part of consumer-facing marketing. However, it can also play a part internally, specifically when it comes to bringing data to life.

After all, data is often the basis for businesses cases (which is used to secure investment in projects, campaigns, or technology). However, with data presenting a complex and often confusing picture, it can be much more effective to build a narrative based on that data – one that communicates the argument and conclusion much more clearly than a set of numbers can.

Disney is one brand that understands this approach, using data in different ways to validate internal strategy.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Richard Ellwood, EMEA head of audience strategy at The Walt Disney Company said: “Data on its own is not intelligent. The intelligence comes from recognising what are the appropriate variety of sources to include and for each of these, ensure you work with the data specialists.”

In doing so, Disney is able to combine data with qualitative exploration, or to ask the “why’s behind the what’s”, such as “why are people watching or not watching this movie?”. By using data more intelligently, the brand is able to validate decision-making (and deliver greater value to consumers).