14 June 2019: Magic often comes from having the right mix of two key elements. The perfect salad dressing carefully balances oil and vinegar, a champion sports team attacks with flair but defends resolutely, the best technologies are easy to use but make our lives easier or somehow richer.
The same is true of business storytelling. Marketers and communicators must provide balance between the head and the heart – cold, hard statistics that prove their assertions and real, warm stories that show meaningful impact. The same basic rules apply regardless of what industry you’re working in.
An explosion in available data volumes during recent years has provided access to incredibly detailed information about customers, citizens, employees and other key stakeholder groups. But data alone has never solved a problem or told a memorable story. That requires a human element. Striking this balance effectively is the art and science of great business storytelling.
For the past five years we’ve been sending people to the world’s leading creative events – like the Cannes Festival of Creativity and SXSW – then sharing the leading trends with clients. Each year we see this balance of data insights and human emotion pervading the best examples of work.
Wanting to explore this storytelling balance in more detail, we invited a small number of senior marketing and communications professionals to a roundtable discussion. It was a great mix of consumer and business brands including Canon and eBay as well as Cabcharge, Isentia, NSW Business Chamber and SAP.
Powerful but precarious
Our group discussed the powerful and yet precarious position that business storytelling finds itself in. Powerful because technology has opened up incredible opportunities to find story ideas, craft them in different ways and get them in front of the right audience. Precarious because the rise of fake news and misuse of data has made those audiences increasingly suspicious.
Striking the right balance means using data to deliver insights that are valuable to your audience without overstepping the line and becoming intrusive. It also means connecting in a personal and emotional way.
Julie Nestor, eBay Australia’s CMO, shared an example about tapping into cultural moments based on what people are buying or searching for on its website. So data might show the bestselling toys in the lead up to Christmas, for example, and a morning segment on breakfast TV gives parents valuable insights into whether they’re a good gift for their kids. This mix of data and emotion can lead to hundreds of thousands of extra site visits during the day.
We also spoke about the impact of high-profile misuses of data, like the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal. This proved fatal for Cambridge Analytica, which closed its doors permanently within months, and investors knocked $US100 million off Facebook’s share price when it emerged that the consulting firm had been harvesting its user profile data for political advertising.
For marketers and communicators, stories like this have heightened sensitivities around data privacy and security. The acquisition and use of data, for business storytelling and any other purpose, must be transparent and part of an equitable exchange.
From this business storytelling discussion we’ve developed the first in a series of ‘Table Talks’ – The Art and Science of Great Business Storytelling. These reports will be focused on the challenges and opportunities facing communications and marketing professionals. The next Table Talks report, due to be published in August, will look at ethical communications.