Have You Hugged Your Data Today?

  |  September 14, 2011   |  Comments

Humanizing your data is a surefire way to connect with peers and give life to your data.

As web analytics professionals, marketers, and businesspeople, we often find ourselves immersed in digital data. Our technologies allow us to track and analyze nearly every conceivable interaction that occurs on websites, mobile properties, and digital apps. These tracking methods accrue voluminous stockpiles of anonymous data, where many attempt to be data-driven by scouring the numbers looking for patterns and anomalies to guide their businesses. The diligent take extreme care to develop metrics and key performance indicators with statistical rigor that align with corporate business goals and cascade down through their organizations to resolve in operational metrics. These are the visits, views, time on site, bounce rates, and conversion metrics by which many of you manage your daily activities.

Yet, often times the metrics that we work so hard to quantify and make sense of are met with confusion, questions, or, worse still, ambivalence. This is because the web analytics data we share is often cold, calculated, and devoid of any emotion. These digital data points become antiseptic metrics that evoke no empathy whatsoever because there is no clear connection to the business. More often than not, this occurs because we disenfranchise the data from the people behind the numbers.

Today, I'd like to issue a not-so-subtle reminder of why we got mixed up in web analytics in the first place. We collect, analyze, and operate in the realm of digital data to understand people and how we as businesses can deliver value to them. To do this effectively, web analysts must humanize their data by telling stories with the numbers and not just reporting more metrics. Here's how you can make your data more lovable:

Become a storyteller. Everyone loves a good story. This holds true for business managers, directors, VPs, and executives. But the de facto method of reporting analytics data in spreadsheets, dashboards, and emailed reports prevents most web analysts from doing a good job of storytelling. I've been preaching the art of telling a story with your data for years and have a simple recipe that you can follow to translate your metrics into narratives worthy of a cozy fireside (or boardroom) chat.

Step 1: Create a vivid setting. Start by giving your audience a chance to assimilate to their new surroundings with a vivid description of where your story begins. If your data story takes place on your website, offer the background about your content, promotions, or timeframe. Alternatively, if your story is about a social media channel, describe the buzz on network and capture the sentiment of your visitors. Provide this context in your data stories by sharing the time, the channel, and the main characters.

Step 2: Draw your colleagues in with an epic struggle. Make your business the hero of the story and work to present a plot that guides characters (your customers) through one of your key challenges or toward a business goal. You can accomplish this by revealing how your marketing initiative either succeeded, failed, was abandoned, or refined. Take this further by humanizing the challenges, triumphs, and tribulations that your online visitors experienced; exemplifying where things worked and where they didn't.

Step 3: End your stories with a solid recommendation. Leave no doubt in the mind of your audience about what you learned from the story. Crystallize your findings with a clear summary about the outcome of your specific activity and how the people in your story responded. Follow this up with a recommendation about what to do next. This can be a single recommendation or a series of options that describe how the data within your story indicates what you should do next.

Clearly I'm not the first to wax poetic, or exemplify the virtues of a good data story. So, following my own advice...I'll close this out with a recommendation. In my years of analytics consulting experience, I've found that humanizing your data is a surefire way to connect with peers and give life to your data. By providing context around the numbers and crafting a story about the people behind the metrics, you will gain more supporters for the work you do. Start telling stories with your data and you just might find that your business stakeholders want to give you and your data a hug today.

But I'm curious to know...does data storytelling work for you? What are your best data stories?


John Lovett

John Lovett is a veteran industry analyst and expert consultant who has spent the past decade helping organizations to measure their digital marketing activities. As a senior partner at Web Analytics Demystified, Lovett regularly consults with leading enterprises to offer strategic guidance for building innovative digital measurement programs. Lovett is also a trusted advisor to vendors within the digital measurement community. His deep industry knowledge and forward-thinking perspective help both vendors and clients alike to transcend mediocrity by changing the shape of business using strategic measurement practices.

Prior to joining Web Analytics Demystified, Lovett was a senior analyst with Forrester Research, where he was responsible for analytics and optimization technologies. Currently, Lovett is the vice president on the Board of Directors for the Web Analytics Association and has pioneered efforts like the Web Analyst's Code of Ethics with the WAA Standards Committee. He is co-founder of the Analysis Exchange program that is introducing eager students to analytics by helping non-profits with mentored analysis. Lovett is anticipating the publication of his first book, Social Media Metrics Secrets (Wiley & Sons, Summer 2011). He lives in New Hampshire with his wife, yellow lab, and three boys.

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