My firm has worked with the top performing brands in the world; we looked at a cross section of thousands of slides from multiple brands in a cross-section of industries — consumer, hardware, software, social media, search, pharmaceutical, finance, and consultancies — it became clear that across industries, the language we use to talk about data matters.
The way you communicate data, even down to the parts of speech you use (hello, middle-school English), can make a big difference in whether you get the results you want.
Here are three strategies some of the best brands in business use to communicate data to their audiences for maximum impact.
Identifying Your Data Point of View (DataPOV)
The greatest value of data is to help us find a problem or opportunity. As you cruise through data, you’re picking up signals the data is telling you and you start to form a perspective about what people should do to solve the problem or exploit the opportunity. It is a career-defining skill to communicate to others the unique insights you’ve found. Sometimes, though, what you’ve uncovered will not be evident to anyone but you. Also, there may be gaps in the data. In those cases, you’ll have to use a bit of intuition and possibly (*gasp*) couple the data assumptions simply because there’s data missing.
A DataPOV is a problem or opportunity you found in the data. Your DataPOV is your perspective about an action you recommend happen from your insights. Then, you need to explain what is at stake.
This example identified a problem in the data:
DataPOV: We need to divest our services division immediately…
What’s at stake: …or we’ll burn through too much cash.
Here’s an example that’s identified an opportunity:
DataPOV: Changing the shopping cart experience and shipping policies…
What’s at stake: …could increase sales by 40 percent.
DataPOVs are written in the form of a sentence and become the Big Idea for what you plan to communicate. All other supporting material is in service of your DataPOV.
Choosing the Best Verbs
Remember the parts of speech from English class? How you shape your verbs becomes important when communicating data. When communicating a DataPOV it’s best to relay it as a complete, well-constructed sentence, similar to the examples above. This means you need at least one noun and one verb.
Choosing the best verb for a DataPOV requires choosing the most valuable action others need to take. People’s actions today drive future data and you may need customers or employees to take action so the data heads in a desired direction. The verb makes it clear exactly what you’re recommending. Some verbs may drive performance of KPIs such as the verbs “increase”, “acquire” or “scale.” Some verbs might simply state the process needing to be done like “connect”, “define”, or “learn.”
For example, your DataPOV might have a pretty high-level verb. Just like the verb “run” has several sub-verbs to make it happen like to “breathe”, “swing arms”, and “pump legs”. Your recommendation may be supported with supporting verbs.
You might have a recommendation from data to “disrupt the market through flavor innovation to regain our market share.” Three verbs to support that DataPOV could be:
- Research regional influences of artisanal flavors
- Develop flavor profiles to capitalize on emerging trends
- Invest in updating the spice lab and test kitchen
It’s your job to identify which verbs most effectively solve the problem or exploit the opportunity you found in the data.
Tell a Story
Another important element to help you communicate data is to apply Aristotle’s fundamental three-act story structure. The beginning states the situation, the middle has a complication, and the end yields a resolution. Others refer to it as order, disorder, order restored. Brain science proves that the sensory parts of our brains light up when a story is being told. So, using the three-act structure is the best way to present information in a way that people will remember, including data.
The beginning of a DataStory will make the company’s current situation clear.
- Example Act One: Our two-year pilot of onsite college campus recruiting for software developers was well-attended.
The middle of the story is where the conflict occurs in the form of a problem or opportunity. What does the data show us needs to change?
- Example Act Two: 642 highly-qualified leads came in from the webinar and surpassed all other marketing channels by 22 percent last month.
The end of the story is how the action you’re asking others to take will solve the problem or opportunity in the middle:
- Example Act Three: It’s time to extend our campus program to five more universities to increase our acceptance rate.
Communicating data in a verbal or written format requires words, and the words you choose and the way you organize them can mean the difference between success and failure for your organization. Words are one of the most powerful devices we have to push ideas forward and have them adopted. Choose wisely!