Can storytelling transcend technology?

Discussion
Nov 23, 2015

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Spieckerman Retail blog.

Despite the rush among many retailers to establish technology-driven platforms, several conversations and presentations given during the recent IBM Insight conference confirmed my ongoing belief that another skill set will soon take center stage. Data storytelling should emerge as a major differentiation-driver for retailers and for any company competing in the technology space going forward, for several reasons:

Stories will trump transactions: The world of "user-declared" data is exploding, as are the accompanying advances in visual data interpretation and social listening, including advanced Twitter analytics. Therefore, the stories that consumers tell about their lives, not just the data about the purchases that they’ve made, will become more visible and actionable. Consumers’ stories and multi-touch point journeys will inform retail decision-making and brand creation as never before. Retailers will have an unprecedented opportunity to gain a multi-dimensional view of their customers, and there will be innumerable angles from which to approach personae creation and other segmentation strategies. In a world of seemingly endless insights, stories will unify and crystallize opportunities.

Social media data stories

Internal evangelists will be needed: Mike Weaver, Coca Cola’s group director of data strategy, emphasized the need to remain "resolute" against internal opposition to data insights. Holly Devine, Urban Outfitters’ executive director of planning, spoke of her organization’s "disbelief" upon seeing the "real nature" of some of Urban’s customers uncovered, to include their ages and locations. She spoke of the need to "trust data that contradicts" one’s intuition and, at the end of the day, to be more focused on winning the war than individual data-driven battles. Clearly, it takes more than numbers on a spreadsheet to win teams over regarding data’s dividends, and the ability to articulate these benefits in a way that resonates with multiple functional areas is critical. In the end, resistance to data may prove futile, but progress can be delayed if teams aren’t on the same page.

Data-sharing will be subjective: Soon, the days of "vendor-managed" operations will be a bygone era as retailers build ever-more valuable stockpiles of data, leveraging the many tools showcased at Insights. It’s already happening. My supplier, brand marketing and solution provider clients tell me that they are having to "earn" access to retailers’ data. Retailers tell me that when they do divulge their data insights, they expect immediately actionable, above-and-beyond takeaways in return. Simple analysis and observation won’t cut it. The data stories that suppliers deliver to retailers will impact their future access. Ultimately, the data-earning arguments that suppliers craft will make the difference between having a competitive advantage and losing it.

What role does storytelling play in data interpretation? Will storytelling emerge as a retail differentiator and, if so, where will it have the most impact?

Braintrust
"Carol has it exactly right, a very refreshing piece. When you think about it, the entire existence of human kind has been built and sustained by stories."
"Human beings simple cannot NOT tell stories, it’s the Rosetta Stone of how we communicate. Without stories data are just chaotic numbers. Successful retailers are great storytellers. Everyone else is just a merchant."

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13 Comments on "Can storytelling transcend technology?"

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Zel Bianco
Guest
2 years 19 days ago

Data storytelling is already a retail differentiator and the gap between those who can leverage data for insights and actions and those who don’t will continue to widen. Using data well and being able to discuss it will have far reaching implications throughout the business world.

Max Goldberg
Guest
2 years 19 days ago

Every customer has a story and retailers who can become a part of that story will reap the rewards. Data can provide the touch points, it’s up to the marketing department to put that data in perspective. But in order for this to happen, retailers need to commit the resources necessary to properly mine and gather the data. To date, few have done this.

Ian Percy
Guest
2 years 19 days ago
Carol has it exactly right, a very refreshing piece. When you think about it, the entire existence of human kind has been built and sustained by stories. From stories carved into cave walls to seeing the stories that Big Data is trying to tell us. Entire religions have been founded on story. Good sales people know that if you can’t put the customer into the story (imagine guiding this Tesla down the coast highway in the wonder of absolute silence) you’re not likely to make a sale. Unfortunately we’ve got ourselves into a battle of story vs. data, which frankly… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
2 years 19 days ago

When it comes to data — especially Big Data — storytelling is now, and always has been, a critical skill. And while I’m at it, storytelling is exactly how retailers have always differentiated themselves, both consciously (through branding) and unconsciously (through practice and customer experience). Human beings simple cannot NOT tell stories, it’s the Rosetta Stone of how we communicate.

Without stories data are just chaotic numbers. It takes a story to organize data into information and another story to communicate that information. Successful retailers are great storytellers. Everyone else are just merchants.

Gib Bassett
Guest
2 years 19 days ago
This post points out the problems many companies are having with Big Data or advanced analytics projects where they are looking to leverage new and existing data sources to uncover some new actionable insights that will really move the needle. Collaborating with business managers who understand the opportunity is becoming critical and getting them engaged upfront is necessary in almost any project. That will include involvement in the analytic process, including data interpretation. So you have IT, analytics and business professionals collaborating around a business issue. That is not a commonplace scenario in most retailers. Doing this well and at… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
2 years 19 days ago

The numbers in and of themselves do not present solutions. Numbers do not provide customer understanding. Without customer understanding, we are doomed to predict the future from past behavior. Consumers are dynamic — constantly changing and evolving. As a result predicting future consumer behavior from past behavior without understanding the consumers’ perception of their current reality is doomed to miss the mark. Identifying patterns, trends and changes in perspective requires interpretation of quantitative and qualitative data. Interpreting the data and using storytelling techniques for presentation are requirements for impact.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
2 years 19 days ago

Great post, Carol! (That’s because I agree with her!) With the myriad sources of data, you must begin to synthesize the structured and unstructured data into a story that brings the desired capabilities into play and leverages key external sources that also affect the retailer, like social, news, events, weather, etc. Once this “story” is woven, inventory visibility should improve dramatically and more optimized in-stock conditions will follow.

Frank Beurskens
Guest
2 years 19 days ago
For an alternative perspective on the use of story, see “The story trap“: “We use neat stories to explain everything from sports matches to symphonies. Is it time to leave the nursery of the mind?” From the article: “This economic storytelling isn’t just the art of charlatans and false prophets. It is endemic to the discipline [In the field of market analysis]. The standard theory of market fluctuations attributes them to ‘exogenous’ causes, meaning that they are induced in a potentially stable market by external political events. This makes it permissible to tell a story about what ’caused’ the market… Read more »
Chris Carroll
Guest
Chris Carroll
2 years 19 days ago

Whether you’re B2B or B2C, you’re always B2P (Person) and the best way to inspire action is to offer a great price or an emotional investment. Storytelling is how you pull at the emotions and capture memorable attention. Never mind having the data and trying to parse a story out of it, it’s hard enough making sure you’re capturing the right KPIs.

The customer needs to see the ROI, whether it’s a great deal, helping a good cause or a great customer experience.

Michael Day
Guest
2 years 19 days ago

“Great marketing starts with great storytelling … Either you’re going to tell great stories that spread, or you will become irrelevant … ” — Seth Godin

No different when it comes to data-driven retail. Those retail brands who can tell the best stories around how they are actually leveraging the data and managing the technology to understand their customers, and in-turn speak to them directly as individuals with highly lifestyle-relevant products and services, should have competitive advantage.

charles pavia
Guest
charles pavia
2 years 19 days ago
We see an integration of two factors: 1.) percentage of ACV and 2.) the package’s ability to provide a visual difference at the consumer’s moment of choice. Great packaging makes people fall in love with themselves first and then the product. So the question becomes, is the packaging a conversation starter and story maker? Is it even part of the conversation? You can’t change how people think until you change how they feel. Strong brands are story makers, they facilitate the stories people are creating and sharing. From the data perspective, sales is the ultimate measurement, a function of distribution… Read more »
Martin Mehalchin
Guest
2 years 19 days ago

As the amount and diversity of data increases, storytelling (aka data visualization) becomes ever more important. All the more so in sectors like retail where some of the end audiences (district managers, GMMs etc.) might not be used to or might resist a data-driven approach.

One thing that I will add to the excellent points already made in the article is that it’s important to take a tops-down (i.e. proving hypotheses, prioritizing investments) as well as a bottoms up (i.e. finding pockets of opportunity in the customer base) approach to your data strategy.

Shep Hyken
Guest
2 years 19 days ago
Knowing your customer’s “story” will allow you to deliver what they want, when they want it and on their terms. For example, the people that sell ice cream should know I love ice cream. I tweet about it and post pictures of ice cream desserts on my Facebook page and on Instagram. They should also know when my birthday is — again through social media posts. In other words, they should know “my story.” Now, what they do with that can be advantageous to both of us. Send me promotions that are customized; birthday, favorite flavors and at the right time.… Read more »
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Braintrust
"Carol has it exactly right, a very refreshing piece. When you think about it, the entire existence of human kind has been built and sustained by stories."
"Human beings simple cannot NOT tell stories, it’s the Rosetta Stone of how we communicate. Without stories data are just chaotic numbers. Successful retailers are great storytellers. Everyone else is just a merchant."

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