Teach your data to talk

Teach your data to talk

Remember when Michael Gove said, “the people in this country have had enough of experts”?

A shocking stat will often make a great point, but a great point doesn’t always make a great sell.

Whatever you may feel about this or the man who said it, it reflects the age-old public perception of experts being ivory tower-dwelling academics who know a lot but don’t understand the realities of everyday people.

The relationship between large and small businesses is very similar. Enterprise vendors have plenty of insight to offer, but very often don’t make it past their first unread mailshot. And why is that? Because facts alone don’t change people’s minds.

A preoccupation with polar dichotomies, such as rational vs. emotional, soft skills vs. hard skills, or left-brain thinking vs. right-brain thinking has led people to see facts as being in opposition to feelings instead of them being two sides of the same coin.

Reeling off lists of stats is easy. It’s also boring and highly forgettable. In fact, only 5% of attendants remember statistics. But 63% remember a story.

In his APG Workshop, “Telling Stories with Data”, Dr. Sam Knowles argues that, in order to persuade, you need to turn numbers into something memorable, compelling and buyable. You need to turn numbers into a story.

Here’s the advice Knowles offers on how to go from number soup to killer pitch:

Keep it relevant

Let’s say you’re working on a brief for bookkeeping software. When you’re digging through national papers and accountancy trade press, plenty of the figures will be relevant to your product or brand, but few are relevant to your story – so ask yourself:
– How do I want my audience to feel after hearing this?
– Does my stat cause or justify that feeling?

Keep it human

A shocking stat will often make a great point, but a great point doesn’t always make a great sell. So you could say that ‘only 5% of accountants are working efficiently’ and grab some people’s attention, but remember – accountants have feelings too.

Keep it structured

Every marketer knows the feeling when the research starts to reveal a pattern or point to a gap in the market. But to land the importance of it, you need a structure. Aristotle’s three-act structure is a great starting point:

1) Set-up: Present your audience with something – a brand, an idea, a situation.
2) Confrontation: Introduce the villain – a competitor, a market slump, apathy.
3) Resolution: Reveal the solution – your brand or product that will defeat the villain.

Or you can use the Pixar template. Basically, the most important thing is presenting and resolving conflict. If your story doesn’t have a twist, it isn’t a story.


Once you’ve got the broad story in shape, make sure that your figures are being presented in the most effective way possible. Here’s are Knowles’ tips for this:

Using the same number more than once makes it memorable –‘we’re the 5th largest software provider with 5 industry awards and a 5% YoY growth’

Steer clear of billions –they’re hard to process. Turn ‘billions a year’ into ‘millions a month/week’

Pick a hero stat – find your killer number, and make it the centrepiece of your story. Signal to the audience that if they want to take one thing away, it’s this.

False dichotomies are a blind alley. That’s why, as an agency, Earnest doesn’t talk to clients about ‘rational sells’ or ‘emotional sells’. We talk about how to turn reliable information into a persuasive message. Something that business buyers big and small see as credible and empathetic.

And if that piques your interest, we’d love to hear from you.


[Header photo: h heyerlein on Unsplash]


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Rahul Savadia


I'm a Strategist at Earnest and my hobbies include unearthing great audience insights, looking stuff up, and frequently sitting down.