Adam T. Sutton

Content Marketing: Statistics are not engaging stories

December 20th, 2011

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.


Related Resources:

Content Marketing: Case studies are stories — so be a storyteller

Consumer Marketing: All that stands between you and Walmart is a good story

Content Marketing: Focus on value, not length

Inbound Marketing: Unlock the content from your emails and social marketing

Content Marketing: Effort reduces cost-per-lead 90% and achieves 30% clickthrough rate on barrier page


Adam T. Sutton

About Adam T. Sutton

Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter, MarketingSherpa
Adam generates content for MarketingSherpa's Email and Inbound Marketing newsletters. His years of experience in interviewing marketers and conveying their insights has spanned topics such as search marketing, social media marketing, ecommerce, email and more. Adam previously powered the content behind MarketingSherpa's Search and Consumer-marketing newsletters and carries that experience into his new role. Today, in addition to writing articles, he contributes content to the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa blogs, as well as MECLABS webinars, workshops and summits.

Prior to joining MarketingSherpa, Adam was the Managing Editor at the Mequoda group. There he created content and promotions for the company's daily email newsletter and managed its schedule.

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  1. December 27th, 2011 at 02:19 | #1

    I could not agree more Adam, the story behind the data is most often more effective than the data itself and is something I talk about with my clients all the time.

    While most people love info-graphics, the design and pictures are often remembered but the stats are forgotten not long after it is closed, add a story or character to the stats and the story brings a relatable life to mind.

    Great post, thanks for sharing it with us!


  2. December 27th, 2011 at 10:23 | #2

    Content is very important to a website, in that it contributes to its SEO. Without valuable content, users would not be intrigued to visit your website. It is necessary to have this unique, interesting content to draw in an audience to your site. We just wrote an article on blogging and how it is necessary to have engaging content:


  3. January 25th, 2012 at 05:54 | #3

    Nice examples. Some of us have trouble figuring out how to really tell stories like this, but you’re right: Statistics don’t keep people engaged.

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