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Use data and statistics to tell your tale

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This is the fourth in a series of blogs to mark National Storytelling Week 2017, focused on the words companies and brands use to tell their stories.

In their very readable book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, brothers Chip and Dan Heath quote the following statistic with self-conscious irony: “After a presentation, 63% of attendees remember stories. Only 5% remember statistics.”

Businesses selling to other businesses often use statistics to obscure from potential customers why their products or services exist. It’s as if they think throwing numbers at an issue will make it obvious how they could help. They could learn a lot from consumer-facing businesses, which routinely use data and statistics as the evidence-base to justify the value of what they do and why they do it.

Businesses like Dove, whose Campaign for Real Beauty for was born from consumer research that showed that only 2 percent of the world’s women would describe themselves as beautiful.

Businesses like Tesco, with its “Producers as heroes” campaign celebrating farmers and Britishness.

Businesses like AVIVA with its “Safest driver” campaign which turned safe driving into a game.

And businesses like McDonald’s, whose straightforward, grounded language makes light work of a lot of statistics. By using numerical values familiar to consumers, set in context which offers a meaningful comparison with other values, the fast food giant is genuinely advancing consumer understanding.

“A lot can change in 10 years. For us, it’s been our relationship with salt. We’ve seen less salt across our menu –  including in a typical Happy Meal. Compared with 2003, the total amount of salt in a typical Happy Meal (Chicken McNuggets, Fries and Fruit Shoot) has been reduced by 47%. Or to put it another way, 0.92g of salt in 2015 compared with 1.75g in 2003. We’ve come to realise our Chicken McNuggets actually taste just as good with less salt in the coating. The same goes for our Fries, as we now add less salt than we used to after cooking, taking the total amount of salt in a portion of small Fries from 0.91g in 2003 to 0.44g in 2015.” (Flesch Kincaid reading ease score 80.7 – more details on Monday’s blog, here).

As screenwriting coach Robert McKee is fond of saying, “A business leader should think like an author about their brand.” This is particularly true when it comes to using data and statistics to shape their corporate storytelling.

In tomorrow’s blog, we’ll look at why companies and brands should observe the cocktail party rule when talking about themselves – and avoid boasting. At the end of this week, we’ll be publishing a full report on the best and worst of corporate speak entitled “Heroes & Villains”. Register your interest in receiving a copy of the report here.

Sam Knowles
Sam Knowles is Founder & MD of Insight Agents. He helps companies, brands, and third-sector organisations find simple, true, and authentic language. This gives them the tools, permission, and confidence they need to communicate effectively. His purpose is to help organisations talk like people.

Sam has recently written a book called “Narrative by Numbers: How to Tell Powerful and Purposeful Stories with Data”. It will be published in April 2018 by Routledge.