Content Marketing: Statistics are not engaging stories
What if I told you 42% of U.S. cell phone owners used their phones to fight boredom? Who cares, right? It’s a factoid. It should pass through one ear and out the other.
But, let me tell you about a completely fictional teenager named Jamal. Jamal wakes up every day at 6:00 a.m. and eats breakfast while checking his phone. He plays Angry Birds on the school bus, and checks his Facebook page in the bathroom during class.
“I use it when I get bored,” Jamal says. “Most of my friends are the same way.”
This little anecdote adds life to the stat. It shows us that 42% is not just a number on a screen. It represents something real.
Storytelling with data
Before going on, let me say that I love data. You cannot argue with good data. Data is fact. But it’s just information. It’s not a story, and it’s not engaging. You have to illustrate the meaning of data. Otherwise, only nerds like me will care, and I’m not your audience.
So here’s a suggestion: go through your blog posts, press releases and other content. Find stuff about your company gaining market share, launching a new product, or some other type of cheerleading. Read the piece and ask yourself, is it engaging? Or is it just a bunch of numbers?
Newspaper reporters understand this concept extremely well. They often use personal stories to illustrate trends in data. Let’s look at a recent example from USA Today:
Story behind the data: Middle class’ share of the nation’s income is shrinking
Aside from illustrating that the news is often depressing, this article shows us how to build a story around data. Here’s the first line:
“For Reno car salesman Tim Ticknor, the squeeze on his middle-class existence gradually has turned into a chokehold.”
The article starts telling the story of a man, Tim Ticknor, and continues to do so for another four paragraphs. This sets the stage for the stats we’re about to read. It provides a specific story behind the data. We don’t start getting the raw numbers until paragraph five when we hit a transition:
“Ticknor’s story reflects how, across the nation, the middle class’ share of the nation’s income is shrinking.”
Some news articles follow a similar approach but lead with statistics and follow with the story. Here’s an example about veterinary costs. A quick personal example is included in paragraph four.
A story is one of many tools
Good stories can add life to your content, but are they the only engagement tools? Absolutely not. Being helpful is certainly a good approach, as is being entertaining. Just think of the amazing Will It Blend videos from Blendtec.
I’m sure you remember the viral clips of this company’s blender grinding cherished consumer gadgets into dust. A personal story certainly wasn’t included. The company destroyed hard-to-find gadgets to highlight the durability of its blender. The marketing team gave me and a whole lot of other people a good laugh, and I’ll always remember where I can find a tough margarita machine.