Data-driven storytelling is a buzzy phrase right now, but what does it mean? In broad strokes, the phrase suggests a new era of demographic-tailored brand messaging. Brands are experiencing a new wave of creative freedom, where they can finally leave behind market research and strategies that began in the 1920s.
Data allows the dynamic of storytelling to meaningfully engage with consumers and audiences. Because companies have access to technology and new data-capture techniques, it’s now possible to collect, store and decode billions of information bytes about customer likes, dislikes and behaviors, allowing us to predict what people are doing, what they might want or consume in the future. It’s a formidable leap for brands, which as we know, are in the business of storytelling. And storytelling is deceptively simple. It’s using messaging and the brand’s attributes to make people’s lives better. Adding data to that equation can inform brands in developing content and media or champion ideas that people will want, and that matter.
Let’s be clear, data contains dazzling potential, but it’s still pieces of information, numbers, and part of a social context. While we can use data from social media tracking, for example, to build models, predict tastes and wants, it’s still difficult for data and science to reveal all. Whether culled from samples, surveys, research or charts, data works when paired with the dynamics of everyday life. Along with data, our worlds are “thick,” as cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz described it, with codes and meanings.
As Director of Strategy and Research at Oishii Creative, providing context for this data for our clients and using it to shape our approach is a key part of my role. It’s important to combine raw numbers with culture and culture dynamics and the applicable disciplines of studying how we humans invent and form ideas, values and behaviors, opinions and experiences in everyday life.
For example, we recently partnered with 24-hour preschool network Sprout on a series of brand spots as part of a rebrand. As a network for kids and parents, we knew we had to reflect and tell the story of modern families, and the family mindset. For the campaigns, not only did we look at the raw numbers of what makes up a family today, such as birth, marriage and divorce rates, but we also looked at sentiment, feelings and values people have around their families. We found that even with relatively high divorce rates, people believe in love and the institution of marriage. Most research points to a new era of marriage and family, whereby people don’t just blend, but they create their own version of the marriage ideal, one that works for them. That’s the power of culture. It’s the remaking of tradition in the new context. Commitment to family in its core form remains strong; it’s taking shape in new ways. Culture and data together help us understand this.
So, when you’re strategizing your next campaign, it’s important to run the numbers. Market research samples can be small and biased, so sometimes, in order to get a real idea of what your audience is looking for, it helps to merge a broader cultural picture with a more rigorous scientific view. And to do that, you’ve got to go to the source. After all, numbers don’t lie.