Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Selling and stories: Data without a narrative is just numbers on a page

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

By Lauren Kroll, Customer Success Manager, Permutive

Do you remember earlier this year when GameStop stocks went wild and all of a sudden everyone became an expert in ‘short selling’? Through a Reddit-led frenzy, the GME stock went from $3 a share to $347 a share in less than a month. That’s an astounding 11467% increase. If you are sitting there nodding your head, then you likely know more than just the numbers I’ve presented you with; you know the story behind what happened and you know that there was a niche audience on the subreddit r/WallStreetBets who led the charge. 

Without understanding those users, without understanding why they did what they did, then that 11467% is simply a number on a page without context or meaning.

This same concept can be applied to publishers and the data behind the users on their sites. Permutive partnered with Forrester research and uncovered that 34% of brands say ‘having the insights to understand my target audience’ is one of their top challenges working with customer data for marketing. If this is one of the top challenges for brands, then it should be one of the top priorities for publishers as a way to provide value and deepen the relationship with their clients.

In today’s privacy focused environment, publishers who prioritize collecting first party data on their content are in the best position to provide these insights for brands. But, to be ‘insightful’, this data has to go beyond numbers. While there are many departments that could benefit from using these types of insights, the sales teams are at the front line of building relationships with brands. They should be trained on not only how to read data but also how to translate it into a narrative that speaks to their client’s requests.

Train your sales teams

There are a number of ways you can go about training your sales team, and they all start with getting them in the room with an expert. Whether it’s the Client Success Manager for your Data Management Platform or an internal data manager, put some time on the calendar and walk them through how to use the tools they have access to. Train them on how to read charts, on where the data is being sourced from, and different ways to interpret the numbers they are looking at. I’ve found that the best training is interactive and requires those in the room to pull reports themselves and talk through their findings. 

This step is important because it helps remove internal silos; it’s now not only on the data team to source insights for every request or post campaign report that comes through the door. It also creates self sufficiency for your account managers, which in turn leads to better efficiency and a deeper understanding of what they are presenting back to their customers. Ultimately, account managers own the relationship with brands; they know what is best for their partnership and understand what it is they are looking for. By training sales teams on how to access and interpret data themselves, you are putting them in a better position to succeed. 

Turn data into a narrative

Here comes the fun part. Now that you understand how to read the data, it’s time to get creative with it. Data is up to interpretation, so there isn’t a right or wrong way to develop a narrative around it that fits your customer. Let’s go back to the example from earlier: Say a brand manager at GameStop wants to capitalize on all the hype from the stock fiasco. They want to understand more information about people who are interested in video games to expand their reach beyond what they believe to be their typical user – what else are they interested in? What content are they reading? 

Using the tools at the sales team’s finger tips, they may be able to uncover some surprising data points like: More than 60% of people who read our gaming content are female and are also interested in Pulitzer prize winning novels.

Share your narrative in a compelling way

Everyone loves a great visualization, and a great way to tell the story of your audience is to design a template which highlights each of the data points in an easy to digest way. Focus on the things that differentiate your users from another publisher; why should this brand buy your audiences instead of another publisher? If you have case studies of how your audiences drove success for another brand, share it. If you have data points on how your audiences engage with your content (maybe your gaming audience spends on average 10 minutes on site and are super engagers), share that as well. It’s also important to ask for feedback when appropriate to understand how the narrative resonates with your customers. From there you can iterate on it, learn from it, and continue to refine the narrative.

Build your first party narratives today

We hear it every day: the end of third party cookie is upon us with the expiration looming closer and closer. When this happens, brands will need to rely even more on publishers to understand their audiences and to reach the right users with their ads. If you don’t already have the tools to capture and analyze your first party data, then that should be your number one priority. Once you are able to do that, build out your audience narratives and start taking them to market. Now is the time to get ahead of the changes in the industry, future-proof your brand relationships and strategies, and start telling stories that sell.