Data, What’s Your Story?

On Tuesday, the “Leading With Facts! Using Data To Build Your Story” panel at New York’s Social Media Week brought together an all-star, all-female team of marketers to shed light on how companies and agencies can leverage data to execute marketing goals.

As data analysis becomes more integrated and sophisticated, both clients and agencies will have more objectives to reach. Sam Lim, Features and Branded Content Director at Stylecaster, added “people love facts and information and numbers, especially when you’re trying to sell them something.” Clients want to be reassured by quantitative proof that campaigns are successful and consumers like to see data points in marketing collateral. Though the purposes of data vary among different parties, the primary objective is to glean a story from the data.

But the numbers can’t speak for themselves. We have reached a point where we can no longer just look at the numbers without contextualizing where they come from, what they represent, and how they can inform future marketing decisions. The general consensus among the panel was that the industry is building bridges between marketers and editorial teams.

There will no longer be a divide between data analytics and creative/editorial teams. In fact, this hybrid is so valuable that the panelists agreed across the board that they were looking to only hire candidates that exhibited strengths in both quantitative analysis and creative production. Lindsay Kaplan, Vice President of Communications at Casper, summed it all up in her observation that marketing and creative teams must work together. “One doesn’t lead the other.”

Casper is currently running a campaign that is updated in real time and powered by numbers submitted by polled users. The numbers represent hours spent on Casper mattresses, but they are packaged in consumer-friendly, 21st century figures like hours spent watching Netflix or days spent spooning.

Jess Bahr, Senior Client Strategist at Social Flow, brought in another perspective in which data not only tells a story externally to the client or the consumer but also internally. She said, “People don’t just want data–even internally.” They need a holistic view to understand what the data means beyond the numbers. “Data for data’s sake is just hoarding numbers.”

Of course, “holistic” on the internal side can become difficult as the numbers come in from multiple sources and analytical tools. With regards to harnessing the varied data Bahr sees opportunity for a default metric that can standardize what clicks or impressions mean across different platforms.

With so many numbers and expectations of the numbers, it’s easy to get lost in the data. The panelists offer three leaves of wisdom to live by:

  • Anticipate and plan accordingly: Figure out what the client wants to measure and take the time to set up your metrics so you can measure things down the road. If you wait until you need a metric, it will be too late and you will have no data.
  • Practice quality control: Make sure data that you’re using is clean and accurate. Don’t take spikes or dips at face value. Consider the surrounding conditions to make sure what you think what something means is actually what it means.
  • Be curious: Ask questions that you didn’t even know you had. Why did a certain post spike, flatline, or dip? What day or time did this occur? Of course, all questions lead to the skeleton key to successfully wrangle data: Is there a pattern or unifying theme here that we can replicate?

Most importantly, data is a new world, so don’t be afraid to experiment with it and push the limits of what you can utilize. As long as you remain curious and careful with your data, there are countless useful stories that you can tell. Rest assured, “The thing we need is never all that hard to find…”

Jacqueline Ly is a MA/MSc Candidate in International and Global History at Columbia University. She is also a freelance editor in lifestyle, travel, tech, and sports.