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Why You Should Hire an Empirical Storyteller | By Stephen Tracy, Data & Insights Lead, Southeast Asia, SapientNitro Singapore

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It has been another milestone year for the digital analytics industry. For one, the International Data Corporation predicted that the annual compound growth rate of the big data and analytics market (including hardware, software, and services) will be 23.1 percent between 2014 and 2019, culminating in an annual spend of $48.6 billion in 2019. In addition, while automation will allow companies’ human resources to shift from data preparation to data science, Forrester argues that this year will see firms turning more and more toward insights-as-a-service and data science-as-a-service providers.

This points to an important trend in the digital analytics industry. That is, many organizations today seem to be less constrained by the choice of which solution, platform, or architecture best suits their needs as they are stifled by how to find and nurture the right talent to succeed with analytics. And this issue isn’t limited to big data analytics. No matter what volume, velocity, or structure of data you’re working with, the issue for many business leaders is the same: How can I use the data that I have to make better business decisions?

What seems to be missing from most conversations related to analytics talent today is the role of communication – or more specifically, storytelling.

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Why You Should Hire an Empirical Storyteller | By Stephen Tracy, Data & Insights Lead, Southeast Asia, SapientNitro Singapore

  1. 1. STEPHEN TRACY WHYYOUSHOULD HIREANEMPIRICAL STORYTELLERAS YOURNEXTDATA ANALYST
  2. 2. OUR PERSPECTIVES 2 It has been another milestone year for the digital analytics industry. For one, the International Data Corpora- tion (IDC) predicted that the annual compound growth rate (CAGR) of the big data and analytics market (including hardware, software, and services) will be 23.1 percent between 2014 and 2019, culminating in an annual spend of $48.6 billion in 2019.1 In addition, while automation will allow companies’ human resources to shift from data preparation to data science, Forrester argues that this year will see firms turn- ing more and more toward insights-as- a-service and data science-as-a-service providers.2 This points to an important trend in the digital analytics industry. That is, many organizations today seem to be less constrained by the choice of which solution, platform, or architecture best suits their needs as they are stifled by how to find and nurture the right talent to succeed with analytics. And this issue isn’t limited to big data analytics. No matter what volume, velocity, or structure of data you’re working with, the issue for many business leaders is the same: How can I use the data that I have to make better business decisions? What seems to be missing from most conversations related to analytics talent today is the role of communication – or more specifically, storytelling. 1 IDC. “New IDC Forecast Sees Worldwide Big Data Technology and Services Market Growing to $48.6 Billion in 2019, Driven by Wide Adoption Across Industries. “http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS40560115. 2 Forbes. “6 Predictions for Big Data Analytics and Cognitive Computing in 2016.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/gil- press/2015/12/15/6-predictions-for-big-data-analytics-and-cognitive-computing-in-2016/2/#6ed9a35f6cd1. The predicted annual com- pound growth rate of the big data and analytics market between 2014 and 2019. 23.1% The predicted annual spend of the big data and analytics market in 2019. $48.6B No matter the volume, velocity, or structure of data, the issue is the same: How can I use the data to make better business decisions?
  3. 3. OUR PERSPECTIVES 3 Why does data need a storyteller? The concept of telling a story based on data is not new. The proposed marriage of strong communication skills with deep technical and statistical understanding can be traced back to the emergence of the data scientist. In 2012, Thomas Davenport and D.J. Patil described this role as one that requires not only programming and statistical smarts, but it also requires people who can “communicate in language that all their stakeholders understand ... [and who can] demonstrate the special skills involved in storytelling with data, wheth- er verbally, visually, or – ideally – both.”3 In Emily Duarte’s book, Resonate, she explores what it takes to be a great communicator in business. She makes a great case for why facts or data alone are often not enough to convince decision makers to follow a particular course of action. In particular, she highlights that the information you present needs to incite an emotional response from the audience in order for it to resonate. Google’s analytics advocate, Daniel Waisberg, also touched on the impor- tance of storytelling when using data to drive strategic decision making: “Most organizations recognize that being a successful, data-driven company requires skilled developers and analysts [but few] grasp how to use data to tell a meaningful story that resonates both intellectually and emotionally with an audience.”4 Interestingly, both Waisberg and Duarte mention the importance of triggering an emotional response from your audience when communicating through data. When it comes to data-driven decision making, organizations don’t need data, they need insight. Data is simply a means to an end. It’s the raw, unre- fined material that you use to obtain insights with business value. But insight alone often isn’t enough to convince a boardroom or stakeholder. Time and time again, we’ve seen a killer insight (one with the potential to transform the business) fall flat because of poor presentation. You need to consider how to communicate the insight to your audience – and the best way to do this is through a great story. In the past, industry practitioners have loosely referred to people who use data to communicate a point of view or course of action in business as “data storytellers.” This moniker is somewhat lacking as it doesn’t quite capture the full range of skills needed to be an effective storyteller in the field of digital analytics. As such, we prefer to refer to these analytical superstars as “empir- ical storytellers.” Empirical storytelling effectively captures the intersection at which the art of eliciting an emo- tional response meets the science of analytics. 3 Harvard Business Review. “Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century.” https://hbr.org/2012/10/data-scien- tist-the-sexiest-job-of-the-21st-century/. 4 Think With Google. “Tell a Meaningful Story With Data.” https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/tell-meaningful-sto- ries-with-data.html. [Few organizations] grasp how to...tell a meaningful story that resonates both intellectually and emotionally with an audience. – Daniel Waisberg Analytics Advocate, Google
  4. 4. OUR PERSPECTIVES 4 5 Discover Magazine. “Why Scientific Studies Are So Often Wrong: The Streetlight Effect.” http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jul-aug/29-why-scientific-studies-often-wrong-streetlight-effect. What makes a great empirical storyteller? To stand out from traditional number crunchers, empirical storytell- ers possess several key skillsets. MULTILINGUAL In the world of marketing, busi- ness, and analytics, empirical storytellers are those who speak the language of multiple teams and have the ability to traverse varying levels of abstraction. They are just as comfortable dis- cussing business objectives in a boardroom environment as they are reviewing system architec- ture and tagging requirements in a campaign war room.
 INTERPRETERS Beyond understanding different business and tech- nology languages, empirical storytellers also possess the ability to interpret and sim- plify concepts into a unifying language that stakeholders from different functions can understand.
 CRITICAL THINKERS In his book, entitled Wrong, renowned statistician David Freedman introduces a con- cept known as the streetlight effect whereby individuals analyzing data sometimes spend their time “looking for answers where the light is better rather than where the truth is more likely to lie.”5 This is an important concept that separates the empirical story- tellers from the rest: Empirical storytellers always delve deep into the data and unpack lay- ers of complexity as a means to discover truth.
 COLLABORATORS Today’s digital analysts desire collaboration. They want to work closely with their contemporaries, and participate in conversations and projects that benefit both their personal and business goals. This is especially true of empirical storytellers, who cannot be stuck in a silo or chained to a desk. They thrive when working across disci- plines and want to see the insights that they deliver creating impact.
  5. 5. OUR PERSPECTIVES 5 How do empirical storytellers turn data into impactful stories? The recipe for telling great stories has been covered extensively in the past. Duar- te, for example, explores the process and core elements of successful storytelling in her book. But storytelling as it applies to digital analytics is a much less explored space. As such, the following thoughts can get you started on your path toward empirical storytelling in data and analytics. 6 Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik. “The Biggest Mistake Web Analysts Make… And How To Avoid It!” http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/biggest-web-analysts-mistake-how-to-avoid/. 1Start with purpose While writing about being an effective analyst, analytics guru Avinash Kaushik stated that the number one mistake that analysts make is “working without purpose.”6 Empirical storytellers always start with a clear objective or purpose in mind. They ask questions like: What is the business challenge that I’m trying to solve? What is the key message that I’m trying to communicate or what hypothesis am I attempting to prove? Defining a purpose will help you devel- op a narrative that grounds the story and ensures that it’s told in a structured and logical way. Example: A business-to-consumer company that focuses on youth in Indonesia is losing sales online while, simultaneously, there has been an in- crease in local smartphone penetration. Although the website is responsive, it is not fully optimized for a mobile-first ex- perience. In this case, your purpose (as an empirical storyteller) is to prove two things: (1) that there is an upward trend among your target audience toward surfing the web on mobile devices and (2) whether or not existing users are getting the best possible experience while visiting your site.
  6. 6. OUR PERSPECTIVES 6 2Create a storyline This is the context or scope of your analysis. Think about the setting and consider the geo- graphic, demographic, and psychographic boundaries of your story. The narrative grounds your story, which is derived from your purpose. The plot should outline how you will take the audience on a journey that intertwines the context, charac- ters, conflict, and solution. Characters play out the plot and give your purpose context. They are usually the sources of data that you leverage in order to prove your hypothesis or point of view. The conflict deals with the business challenge or gap that you are attempting to address or overcome. This is your recommended action for resolv- ing the conflict. For empirical storytellers, the solution is discovered through and support- ed by data. The setting for our purpose is Indonesia. Mobile is fast becoming the screen of choice for Indonesian youth. Financial, website clickstream, and research data. Our website isn’t providing a good experi- ence for our core audience and could poten- tially be losing us business. Develop a mobile strategy that prioritizes mobile and build a mobile-responsive site. After defining their objectives, empirical storytellers need to map out a storyline. It’s generally accepted that a good story typically includes five core elements: a setting, a plot, characters, a conflict, and a resolution. Interest- ingly, these five elements apply equally well to the thought process that an analyst might go through when design- ing a story. Here’s an example of how to create a storyline using the aforementioned purpose: SETTING PLOT CHARACTERS CONFLICT SOLUTION Description Example
  7. 7. OUR PERSPECTIVES 7 3 4Choose your medium Know your audience Choosing your medium wisely speaks to the larger issue of needing to under- stand the audience with which you are communicating. Are they marketers, human resource professionals, public relations experts, finance gurus, or a mix of business functions? What level is the audience (e.g., junior versus C-suite), and how comfortable or com- petent are they when it comes to data and data visualization? Once you know your audience, you’ll need to tailor the flow, language, and vernacular that you use so that it applies to the group. This is especial- ly true when it comes to using data. Some individuals understand chart interpretation and data visualization, while others are less comfortable with these. When it comes to data visualization, empirical storytellers not only understand and adhere to good standards, but they also know how to represent data in the best possible way based on the audience’s competence and comfort levels. Example: The stakeholders in our Indo- nesian example are senior members of the brand team who oversee marketing and technology within the business – meaning that they are comfortable with marketing terms and digital strategy. However, low-level language and spec- ifications related to coding languages, technology, and data architecture, or analytics implementation and tagging, are likely to be too technical and not appropriate. Why your next hire should be an empirical storyteller While the importance of communica- tion and storytelling as a function of digital analytics has yet to emerge as a critical issue, the digital analytics in- dustry continues to mature and evolve. Recent trends in this field suggest that progress in both technology and governance is quickly paving the way for a new focus on people and the communication of data and insight. Storytelling is at the root of this issue, and the business leaders who recog- nize and invest in empirical storytellers will succeed in nurturing data-driven cultures within their organizations and, subsequently, enabling impactful and strategic decision making. Next, an empirical storyteller chooses a presentation medium that is best suited to communicate the story. Whether this is an infographic, a standard Power- Point deck, a video, or an interactive presentation platform like Prezi, the medium should be carefully selected based on its ability to communicate the message and elicit an emotional response from your audience. Example: The Indonesian client is more familiar with traditional presentation methods, so a PowerPoint deck is the best way to communicate the setting, plot, characters, conflict, and solution that will make a compelling business case for a mobile-first strategy. What seems to be missing is the role of communication -- or more specifically, storytelling.
  8. 8. Stephen Tracy Data & Insights Lead, Southeast Asia SapientNitro Singapore stracy@sapient.com Stephen is an award-winning analytics and research practitioner, analytics evangelist, blogger, teacher, and all around designer of things made with data. At SapientNitro, he works with clients to develop creative and impactful measurement solutions that trans- form data into actionable insight. SapientNitro® , part of Publicis.Sapient, is a new breed of agency redefining storytelling for an always-on world. We’re changing the way our clients engage today’s connected consumers by uniquely creating integrated, immersive stories across brand communications, digital engagement, and omnichannel commerce. We call it our Storyscaping® approach, where art and imagination meet the power and scale of systems thinking. SapientNitro’s unique combination of creative, brand, and technology expertise results in one global team collaborating across disciplines, perspectives, and continents to create game-changing success for our Global 1000 clients, such as Chrysler, Citi, The Coca-Cola Company, Lufthansa, Target, and Vodafone, in thirty-one cities across The Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. For more information, visit www.sapientnitro.com. SapientNitro and Storyscaping are registered service marks of Sapient Corporation. COPYRIGHT 2016 SAPIENT CORPORATION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. INSIGHTS WHERE TECHNOLOGY & STORY MEET The Insights publication features the marketing intelligence, trend forecasts, and innovative recommendations of boundary-breaking thought leaders. The SapientNitro Insights app brings that provocative collection – now in its digital form – to your on-the-go fingertips. Download the full report at sapientnitro.com/insights and, for additional interactive and related content, download the SapientNitro Insights app.

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