Data Storytelling: Definition, Benefits, Examples, and Strategies

Investing in knowledge helps you to make strategic enterprise selections primarily based on insights relatively than intuition or opinion. It reduces danger and drives smarter investments.

But knowledge has no worth with out understanding. While the information would possibly make sense to you, it’d seem as meaningless numbers on a web page to folks outdoors of your position. 

The advantages of knowledge lie in the best way you talk it. 

In this text, you’ll be taught why knowledge storytelling is a vital ability and how you can use knowledge presentation and visualization to affect your viewers.

What is knowledge storytelling?

Data storytelling is the method of reworking knowledge findings into an comprehensible, relatable story for a wider viewers. It simplifies the advanced and presents insights in fundamental phrases to affect decision-making, interact clients and stakeholders, and encourage motion.

The significance of knowledge storytelling: placing insights into context

Data is a vital contributor to progress. Its energy is within the what: what number of gross sales, how a lot site visitors, how typically actions are taken, and many others. 

Without evaluation, knowledge lacks the why to supply context: why do these numbers matter, why are these figures essential, why ought to we care?

As Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change writer Brent Dykes says, “People hear statistics, but they feel stories.”

Also from Dykes:

Your knowledge might maintain large quantities of potential worth, however not an oz of worth could be created except insights are uncovered and translated into actions or enterprise outcomes. [via Forbes]

Humans are hard-wired to share stories as a manner of speaking data. It’s in our nature to wish them. We assume in tales, bear in mind in tales, and flip experiences into tales.

On this, Jonathan Haidt, writer of The Righteous Mind, says:

The human thoughts is a narrative processor, not a logic processor. 

An exercise at Stanford University, carried out by Made to Stick writer and professor Chip Heath, reveals how tales resonate.

Heath divided his college students into teams and gave them statistics on crime patterns within the United States. Half the scholars within the group then needed to give a one-minute presentation in help of non-violent crime being a significant issue. The different half needed to give a one-minute presentation on non-violent crime not being a significant issue.

In every presentation, the standard pupil used 2.5 statistics. One in 10 college students instructed a narrative. When the scholars had been requested to recall the speeches, solely 5% remembered a statistic, however 63% remembered the tales.

Data storytelling takes this in-built attraction to story-led communication and pairs it with visuals to simplify studying.

Humans reply extraordinarily effectively to visuals. Dr. John Medina, writer of Brain Rules, discovered that we bear in mind 10% of data we hear after three days, however pair the knowledge with a picture, and we bear in mind 65%.

This is why knowledge, visuals, and story go so effectively collectively. For instance, this visualization on alcohol consumption by PSResearch for Drinkaware is rather more compelling than merely stating percentages. 20% and 7% imply nothing with out context.

Screenshot of Alcohol Consumption Visualization by PSResearch for Drinkaware

Narrative provides weight to the bar chart, serving to us perceive the folks behind the numbers.

Combining narrative with visualizations can have a robust impression in your viewers. It makes it simpler to carry their consideration, clarify essential factors shortly, and have them retain the message. 

The outcome? Added worth that may be changed into actionable steps to enhance advertising campaigns and develop your online business.

The means to show numbers and insights into tales is why Brent Sykes says knowledge storytelling expertise are important for knowledge scientists and why demand for knowledge analysts is projected to grow 23% by 2031, a lot sooner than the typical for all occupations.

As a marketer, studying how you can analyze and talk your individual insights begins by understanding what makes a robust knowledge story.

The three important components of knowledge storytelling

Every knowledge story is constructed on three predominant elements:

  • Data. The basis of your story and the knowledge used to grasp the massive image.
  • Narrative. The storyline used to speak insights, present context, and hook the viewers.
  • Visuals. The visualization of your knowledge and narrative to speak the story successfully and make data straightforward to compute.
  • The diagram beneath reveals the connection between these components and how they overlap.

    Screenshot of Data Storytelling

    For a narrative to have the specified impression, every part has to work in tandem.

    Narrative explains the information, visuals make content material partaking, and good knowledge delivers insights and backs up the narrative to drive change (e.g., improved advertising campaigns, new product improvements, or private improvement).

    In Letterboxd’s Year in Review, readers are pulled into the story from the beginning with well timed and relatable woes from the coronavirus pandemic.

    Screenshot of Letterboxd’s Year in Review

    A touch on the content material followers had been consuming positions the information and builds intrigue. The intro is adopted by an inventory of the highest motion pictures Letterboxd’s customers had been watching. 

    Each one is accompanied by an auto-playing trailer, evaluate, and hyperlink to the corresponding web page on the Letterboxd web site.

    Screenshot of top movie Letterboxd’s users were watching

    The story concludes with a poignant message and a name to motion to entice non-members.

    Screenshot of Letterboxd’s Movie poignant message

    It’s an ideal instance of how knowledge storytelling can flip one thing dry into partaking, interactive, and significant content material. 

    Letterboxd’s knowledge might have simply been a throwaway prime 10 record on the corporate’s weblog. Instead, it’s a content material expertise that makes customers wish to shout about their favourite movies and will get them enthusiastic about motion pictures they haven’t seen.

    How to make use of knowledge storytelling to compel your viewers (with examples)

    Data, narrative, and visuals are the framework for efficient knowledge storytelling. The overlapping advantages—interact, clarify, enlighten, and change—are what your tales ought to search to attain.

    Here are 5 steps to hanging the proper steadiness in your knowledge storytelling.

    1. Who is your story for?

    A knowledge story will solely hit dwelling if it’s related to (and resonates with) the correct folks.

    Ask: Who is the viewers? 

    Be clear on who will likely be consuming the story. Nailing this may dictate the way you inform the story and what language you employ.

    For instance, if you happen to’re presenting to an inner viewers, you might be able to get technical with language and use phrases that your buyer base won’t perceive. 

    However, the way you converse to completely different folks inside your organization can even range. Data and language that engages board members won’t have the identical impression with ground workers.

    If your story is for purchasers, guarantee it maintains consistency along with your advertising campaigns to ship familiarity.

    Look carefully at your model tips and advertising technique. Think of your knowledge story as one other advertising tactic, so the content material ought to match your branding and tone of voice.

    For instance, GasBuddy’s driving insights electronic mail matches the colour scheme, imagery, and conversational messaging of its web site:

    Screenshot of GasBuddy’s Driving Insights

    The type of content material is acquainted to clients, making it extra naturally partaking. Had GasBuddy strayed from this aesthetic, it will have risked complicated the viewers, making a breakdown within the belief it had constructed by sustaining consistency. In doing so, the message would have been misplaced.

    2. Find a narrative your viewers cares about

    Your story is constructed across the central component of the information storytelling framework: change. 

    • What are your targets? 
    • What are you making an attempt to elucidate? 
    • What change do you wish to drive?

    For instance, in its annual report for stakeholders and the general public, Oxfam reveals how its work advantages folks worldwide and motivates its viewers to get behind the trigger.

    Screenshot of Oxfam audience goals

    The knowledge, narrative, and visuals deal with targets which are essential to Oxfam’s viewers:

  • The proper to be heard;
  • Advancing girls’s rights;
  • Saving lives;
  • Sustainable meals;
  • Fair sharing of pure assets;
  • Financing for improvement and important providers.
  • This makes it simpler to maintain folks engaged, which helps Oxfam talk the information insights that can encourage motion.

    Consider what your viewers cares about. Use these subjects to search out the hook (e.g., a theme, query, or conundrum) which you can take the viewers on a journey to resolve to assist them resolve an issue or enhance their lives.

    Oxfam is aware of its viewers cares about advancing girls’s rights. Looking on the knowledge, it discovered that youth unemployment for younger girls was an issue and used storytelling to indicate how Oxfam helps.

    Screenshot of Youth Unemployment

    Here are some approaches to determine a hook in your story.

    What’s on the rise? What’s on the slide? Are there flattening developments? How does this impression the longer term? The peaks and troughs of developments can warrant additional inspection.

    Instagram, for instance, used viewers insights from 2021 to create a visual outlook for 2022.

    Screenshot of Instagram audience insights


    Side-by-side datasets and how they modify over time could be analyzed deeper to search out why one is extra profitable than the opposite. 

    For instance, you would possibly examine a collection of adverts to see which was more practical. From there, you would take a look at the weather like headlines and CTAs to supply insights that assist your viewers enhance future campaigns.


    Interesting and stunning connections between datasets can present perception for a significant narrative. 

    For instance, this scatterplot by Column Five reveals the correlation between time spent writing weblog posts and leads generated.

    Screenshot of correlation of times spent on blog posts vs lead generation

    Through visualization and narrative, Column Five reveals that because the variety of hours spent writing a submit will increase, so does the variety of leads. 

    This data could be expanded additional to have a look at completely different components of longer weblog posts that convert and how you can use these components to enhance content material advertising campaigns.


    Data outdoors of the norm is an prompt level of study. Why is it performing that manner? What’s inflicting it? 

    For instance, if the vast majority of your clients often spend $1,000–$1,500 a 12 months in your product however three spend $10,000, why is that this the case? Has a selected upselling marketing campaign made the distinction? Do these clients work together with the identical gross sales rep?

    Look out for astonishing knowledge; the surprising could make for nice tales.

    To uncover insights price speaking about, comply with Gramener’s BUS formula. Focus on knowledge factors which are Big, Useful, and Surprising.

    Screenshot of how to create data stories with big, useful, and surprising insights

    If knowledge is numerically vital, actionable, and non-obvious, it has the substances to have interaction audiences.

    3. Develop a compelling narrative to take the viewers on a journey

    When crafting your narrative, it pays to comply with a tried-and-tested narrative construction. While buildings differ in the best way they navigate from starting to finish, the preferred story arcs—Freytag’s Pyramid, The Hero’s Journey, The Three Act Structure, and many others.—deploy the identical 4 elements in some form or kind:

  • Context. The scenario and why you might be telling the story.
  • Characters. The predominant gamers (e.g., folks or locations).
  • Conflict. The downside that knowledge presents.
  • Solution. The key insights, actionable steps, and worth to be gained from the story.
  • We can see these play out on this modified model of Freytag’s Pyramid.

    Screenshot of Freytag’s Pyramid and Data Stories


    The introduction is the context. This is the place you element the rationale in your story and place your hook — the inciting incident that kickstarts the journey. 

    For instance, Nadieh Bremer units the scene and builds intrigue for her “Why do cats and dogs…?” knowledge story by introducing widespread questions.

    Screenshot of why do cats and dogs homepage

    The hook is questioning why cats and canine do what they do, however not with the ability to ask them straight. Data will uncover the solutions. Bremer’s intro additionally helps the viewers perceive what they’ll be taught and introduces the characters (cats and canine). This instantly brings the story to life.

    Your intro’s purpose is to get folks to maneuver down the web page. Provide context on time intervals, knowledge sources, developments, and questions to assist the viewers orientate themselves and get excited for what’s to return.

    Rising motion

    The rising motion is the battle—the supporting details that carry readers to the height of the journey (e.g., what influenced or contributed to alter? What different proof is useful?) 

    But supporting details are simply that: supporting. The central characters are folks, animals, or locations.

    In “Why do cats and dogs…?” pets are the principle gamers within the story. In Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Report knowledge story, persons are the heroes:

    Screenshot of diagram that shows layers of inequality

    In each circumstances, knowledge takes a again seat, offering the supporting details that assist transfer the story ahead. Add a relatable central character to your story to make it resonate along with your viewers. 

    People care extra about characters they’ll envision of their each day lives. Numbers, because the hero of the story, will fail to strike an emotional connection.


    The climax is the “Aha!” second—the key discovering or central perception of your knowledge. 

    In conventional storytelling, that is the place the viewers strikes from figuring out to empathizing with the principle character, solidifying their emotional connection. 

    For your narrative, it may be a part of the story the place all the things falls into place. The viewers acknowledges the issue or profit and begins to marvel what could be carried out about it.

    In the Goalkeepers Report, a story backed by supporting details results in a climax of geography and gender being deciding components in your future.

    Screenshot of Goalkeepers Report Climax that shows geography and gender being deciding factors in your future

    In “Cicadas: A data story,” created with Juicebox, the climax is the variety of U.S. counties that will likely be impacted by periodical cicadas.

    Screenshot of Cicadas Data Story Climax that shows the number of U.S. counties that will be impacted by periodical cicadas.

    In each examples, the difficulty is obvious. What follows are options.

    Conclusion (Next steps) 

    The closing part delivers the answer. What would you like folks to do subsequent? In the Goalkeepers Report, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation encourages readers to look at further knowledge in additional element to see the progress being made on completely different points.

    Screenshot of Goalkeepers Report Conclusion

    In “How my dad fishes for the future,” The Marine Stewardship Council offers workouts for the viewers to assist reply questions like “how can we conserve fish stocks?”

    Screenshot of How my dad fishes for the future website

    Leave readers with some actionable takeaways. If what they’ve seen is more likely to have them enthused about your model, present a call-to-action to encourage additional interplay.

    4. Find visuals that simplify and make clear the message

    Visualization does plenty of heavy lifting in any knowledge story, so your chosen methodology should assist show data successfully to get your level throughout. 

    For instance, in its fan research, Spotify makes use of a bar chart to show the share of weekly prime songs from outdoors North America and Europe.

    Screenshot of Spotify Weekly Top Songs Chart

    This helps readers shortly course of data, whereas clearly demonstrating the distinction in quantity. Had that data been offered as textual content or a desk, it could not have had the identical impression.

    If you wish to present variations in proportions between teams, a horizontal or vertical bar chart is the simplest approach to do it. But different datasets are greatest displayed in numerous methods. 

    Here are some widespread sorts of visualizations to make use of in your tales.

    Line charts

    This is the easiest way to indicate adjustments in steady knowledge over a time period. 

    For instance, Spotify’s line chart shortly demonstrates the rise in artists’ followers.

    Screenshot of Spotify Artists Followers Line Chart


    If you’re protecting a number of classes on the identical time, a desk will let the viewers course of a considerable amount of data at a look. 

    This pattern desk from reveals how monetary knowledge evaluation has been simplified to indicate enhancements over time.

    Screenshot of Beautiful Ai Financial Analysis

    When designing tables, use icons and colours to attract consideration to particular classes and numbers which are essential to your story. 

    By highlighting the newest 12 months in inexperienced, is ready to shortly focus its viewers on probably the most spectacular figures. 

    Pie charts

    Use pie charts to speak the sum of proportions throughout classes. 

    For instance, MicroStrategy makes use of pie charts to visualise survey outcomes and shortly present how the bulk compares to the minority:

    Screenshot of MicroStrategy Pie Chart that visualizes survey results


    Use maps to indicate geographic developments and location breakdowns at a look. 

    Cicadas, for instance, makes use of Google Maps to indicate how a brood will impression completely different counties.

    Screenshot of Cicadas on google maps

    To enhance interactivity and improve person expertise, every dot on the map reveals details about the county and the Brood Cycle Time, permitting customers to pinpoint how their space will likely be affected. For extra context, use interactive maps so as to add extra worth to your knowledge.

    Notice how the map additionally makes use of darker and mild colours? These are a helpful approach to shortly exhibit greater inhabitants densities or elevated exercise in sure places.


    Use infographics to attract consideration to data. Huff Post’s infographic on the economics of going inexperienced is a good instance of how footage could make statistics extra partaking.

    Screenshot of huff post infographics on the economics of going green


    Use scatterplots to discover the constructive or adverse correlation between knowledge, as proven within the Column Five instance of time spent writing weblog posts vs. leads generated.

    These are nice for making interactive knowledge visualizations, and you possibly can add variables (reminiscent of density, weight, or quantity) by making your scatter factors bubbles:

    Screenshot of a scatter plot where the size of the points indicates a numerical value

    Visual storytelling greatest practices

    If you wish to wow your viewers and ship a transparent message, you’ll wish to be taught some knowledge storytelling fundamentals, reminiscent of:

    • Simplicity and readability are key to serving to your viewers perceive data at a look.
    • Use whitespace to attract readers’ consideration to the information.
    • Use coloration to spotlight key knowledge factors you wish to draw consideration to.
    • Ensure graphics match the information. For instance, if you happen to’re presenting gross sales knowledge for various areas, bigger circles ought to symbolize greater volumes.
    • Remove chart borders, gridlines, and axes that distract from the information.
    • Use standardized models persistently to keep away from complicated your viewers. For instance, if you happen to’re measuring distance, use ft and yards or centimeters and meters, not a mix of the 2.

    Excel and PowerPoint present knowledge visualization instruments inside their merchandise. But to wow your viewers, you’ll wish to take a look at specialist platforms with enhanced design options.

    There are a number of highly effective instruments you need to use to simplify and visualize knowledge in your tales:

    Each software program comes with its personal advantages and consists of completely different options and restrictions relying on the subscription plan. 

    Weigh up the professionals and cons for every primarily based on the sort of tales you wish to create. Most instruments supply a free trial or package deal. Take benefit of this to check options and usability earlier than committing.

    5. Draft, take a look at, and edit your story

    To create a draft that engages your viewers, comply with the linear story arc: introduction, rising motion, climax, and decision. A transparent starting, center, and finish will make it straightforward for folks to comply with alongside and offer you a transparent construction so as to add visuals the place they make sense.

    Use visible hierarchy to put data. Most folks in Western cultures learn from left to proper in a Z-pattern. Follow this sample to information readers by means of your story and assist the viewers course of data.

    Work with a designer or use a template to deliver your story collectively and take a look at it with members of your workforce. Ask customers to reply the next questions:

    • Does the story inform the reality? Do statistics add up? Do insights make sense? Data ought to dictate the narrative and not be manipulated to suit. Getting caught massaging knowledge for a greater story can injury your credibility. Stick to the details.
    • Is the story related to the viewers? Will they have an interest within the findings? Do insights present real worth? If something appears repetitive or not helpful, reduce it.
    • Is it offered clearly? Is the story straightforward to learn and perceive? Visuals and copy ought to contribute to the narrative and transfer the story ahead. Look for any factors of confusion and ambiguities that will drive the viewers to conclusions that differ from the general purpose.
    • Did the story interact, clarify, and enlighten them? After studying your knowledge story, the viewers ought to have the ability to reply their questions, make higher selections, or enhance an consequence.

    The greatest insights will fall flat if the story doesn’t do them justice. Use suggestions to enhance conciseness and readability in order that knowledge has a robust impression.

    The do’s and don’ts of knowledge storytelling

    When creating your knowledge tales, preserve the next guidelines in thoughts to remain heading in the right direction.

    Data storytelling don’ts

    • Don’t cherry-pick knowledge. Don’t solely favor insights that help your concept, give readers the entire image.
    • Don’t supply single details with out worth. The what’s nothing with out the why.
    • Don’t make the “Aha!” second troublesome. Use clear comparisons to assist folks perceive why knowledge is critical. For instance, if you wish to spotlight the importance of gross sales in a selected area, examine it to a competitor’s gross sales, gross sales from a earlier 12 months, or gross sales in one other area.
    • Don’t overcomplicate design. Stick with a small variety of colours that distinction if printed in black and white. Use photographs of acquainted objects to assist readers join knowledge. For instance, if you happen to’re describing distances, use soccer fields to assist readers simply visualize size.
    • Don’t present a insecurity. Share opinions and ship suggestions. Show off your experience at each alternative.

    Data storytelling do’s

    • Do guarantee knowledge is full and dependable. List sources and embrace hyperlinks the place related so readers can additional discover insights. Avoid assumptions.
    • Do present key takeaways. Give readers data they’ll use going ahead.
    • Do preserve consistency. Use repetition in colours, labels, and conventions between visuals. Use language that matches the viewers.
    • Do clarify knowledge tales in levels. Present advanced data in digestible chunks to make it simpler to course of. For instance, in case your knowledge story focuses on new markets for progress, introducing completely different components step by step by product-level demand, regional demand, and world demand will assist make information simpler to grasp than if it was bundled collectively. It additionally permits you to strengthen your argument with each step.   
    • Do current authority. Cut filler words that don’t add worth. The beneath hack from Grizzle editor Erica Schneider reveals how delicate tweaks could make a giant distinction to notion. 
    Screenshot of Erica Schneider Twitter Post about cutting filter words


    Data storytelling is the distinction between knowledge analytics wanting constructive to entrepreneurs and getting shopping for in from stakeholders and clients.   

    Design tales for the viewers and your targets. Insights should be partaking and enlightening, however they need to even be strategically related to affect enterprise selections and change outcomes. A very good story leaves folks with new concepts and views they’ll put to make use of.

    Learn extra about presenting clear and partaking knowledge in our Data Presentation and Visualization course.