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Oracle Data Cloud Blog

Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic on the importance of data-driven storytelling

For this week’s blog, we spoke with Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, founder, speaker and author of Storytelling with Data, to understand why data-driven marketers should connect data with narrative for better business outcomes.

Oracle: In your book, Storytelling with Data, you focus on teaching the fundamentals of data visualization and how to communicate effectively with data. What are the most common challenges you see when telling a story with data?

Nussbaumer Knaflic: When communicating using data, many people often end up looking for quantity over quality – for example, a team will run an analysis and then want to show their audience all of the data at once. But it’s important to remember that it’s overwhelming for your audience to see so much data. My advice would be to narrow the scope in order to tell a better story.

Additionally, those who work with data are often trained in a quantitative field – and used to showing data for others to interpret. However, that is also the best position to drive action with data – and by moving from exploratory analysis to explanatory analysis, we can better guide our audience through the world of data.

Oracle: Why is telling a story with data important for data-driven marketers in a B2B environment and how this can help them get the edge on the competition?

Nussbaumer Knaflic: Incorporating data and story together can help yield higher credibility for businesses. But it’s not just about showing our audience metrics – it’s about providing a narrative that will motivate them. Ask yourself, what keeps your audience up at night? What will resonate best with them? By understanding the way your audience wants to hear a story, you can choose the best content to fit their needs.

Oracle: What are your top three tips for marketers who are starting out on the storytelling with data journey?

Nussbaumer Knaflic: When it comes to incorporating data into your story, my top three tips would be:

  1. Declutter. Whether it's an individual graph, a presentation slide, or something on your website: identify any unnecessary visual elements and strip them away.
     
  2. Be smart in the way that you use color. Too often we use color just to make something colorful – but color is a powerful storytelling tool that can draw attention to the more important parts of your message.
     
  3. Use narrative. Don’t just show data – take the time to think about your audience and really tell a story that can resonate with your audience. That overarching narrative will help tell the story.

Oracle: Is there anything else marketers should focus on when telling their story with data?

Nussbaumer Knaflic: You have to be OK being uncomfortable – you might not know exactly what you’re doing at first, and that’s normal and you will get better at it with time. Also, force yourself to get off Excel and onto a whiteboard or blank piece of paper. Using this method, think about how you can get your message across to your audience in a way that will be compelling – then think about the tools to take from paper to reality. I hope these tips have inspired you to try data-driven storytelling for your next campaign.

About Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic:

Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic is the author of Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals. She’s worked at and with some of the most data-driven companies on the planet, including Google, Adobe, Genentech, JPMC, Target, and the World Bank.

Her well-regarded workshops and presentations are highly sought after by data-minded individuals, companies, and philanthropic organizations all over the world. For more information on Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic and her workshops, visit www.storytellingwithdata.com.

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