Analytics Should Tell Stories and Compel Action

I have become a fan of the power of analytics in order to help you identify what is and isn’t working in your platform, career, or organization. That analytics can be a critical tool in optimizing your efforts to achieve greater return on investment. Whether you are blogging, leveraging social media, trying to increase sales, or create greater efficiency across your organization, analytics are meant to empower you to make smart decisions.

This is a core part of what I offer publishers and media companies I work with, and today I wanted to talk about how I view analytics, and how to best leverage them. If you are a writer, don’t worry, I think this applies to your career as well. Let’s dig in…


Everything is Storytelling

Stories are all around us. Our minds are just WAITING for stories we want to hear. We tell ourselves stories to align to our worldviews. If we walk around a small town and see a bookstore that is closing, we may immediately say to ourselves “Amazon just killed another indie bookstore.” But that is just a story. Perhaps the reality of that indie bookstore is that they are moving, or the owner is retiring, or the landlord raised the rent 1,000%, or it was grossly mismanaged for a decade, or a combination of other reasons. But we wanted to hear the story of the evil behemoth (Amazon) crushing the little guy (the indie bookstore) because it aligns with a story we tell ourselves about the world, and our place within it. Perhaps we see ourselves as “the little guy,” which is why we immediate jump to blame Amazon if a small bookstore closes.

Stories are built into marketing, built into design, built into products, built into language, built into how we communicate with each other. The way an employee greets you at J Crew is different than the way they greet you at a skateboard shop because they are supporting different stories. A J Crew staff member may be preppy and upbeat and engaged, whereas the skateboard shop may be “of the streets,” jaded, untrusting of authority, having a contempt for fake pleasantries. And a customer walking into each store tells themselves a story about who they are, about which of these things they align to. This is why a parent could walk into a J Crew with their teenager who then rolls their eyes. To the parent, J Crew is just a clothing store; To the teenager, it is an affront to what is wrong with the world, it’s not “real” to them.  Two different stories for the same action.


Story is Wrapped Up in Identity

Those you hope to engage already have stories in their head. You simply need to find a thread – a path – into them. You are really picking up their story in the middle, and helping to resolve it.

Do you want more people to buy your book – you need to align to their existing stories. Do you want others in your company to change the way they operate – you need to align to their existing stories.

Don’t underestimate how often these stories are really about identity – about who each of us are. When we see a cat walk by, we think: another animal, one of many, all very similar. But when WE walk around, we carry a set of ideals, of experiences, of challenges, of hopes, of dreams. We define ourselves partly by our past, but also by our aspirations. Who we hope to become, what we hope to do, where we hope to align with.

A good story places the reader somewhere in the center.

When you tell your story that you hope encourages others to take action, ensure it is framed from the perspective of that person. Include them in the story, even if never stated directly. (or especially if not stated directly)


Stories Compel Action

In your career, as you work to identify what compels others to take action, stories are a core part of that.   Stories should ENCOURAGE action. And because of this, when you leverage analytics to reach your goals, they should compel action as well.

When I work with a large media company, they are often trying to create a behavior change within their organization or outside of it. They never say that directly, but that is the goal. They want their audience to grow, or get them more engaged. They want products to perform better, and more revenue added to the bottom line. They want their employees to rethink how they operate and adopt new practices.

The key is to encourage people to WANT to take action of their own accord by aligning them to stories they already believe in, not FORCE them to change because you pressure them to do so.

So when I work with these companies, a key thing I do is tell stories. This too, is never overtly stated. The phrase I found that works is “case studies.” I work with them on specific projects, aligned to specific goals, and create case studies to show the effects of our performance.

A case study project often works like this:

  • Outline clear goals and measures for success.
  • Create a small – SAFE – experiment. So if we are trying to increase engagement at a conference via social media, we will do so in a way that risks little, requires a subset of their resources, and will give us insight quickly.
  • Measure before, during, after. This is critical, many only measure after which makes it hard to show progress or understand what worked and what didn’t.
  • Track every step of the project, and interview key players before, during and after.
  • Create the case study. This is a text document, often several pages long at a minimum. Create a narrative with clearly defined sections that illustrate the goals, process, results, and lessons. Be honest about what worked what didn’t, and what resources were expended. Use data selectively to show hard evidence.  When dealing with numbers, focus on a handful of things, not reams of spreadsheets.
  • Identify key actions to take for improvement.
  • Communicate this broadly within your company, with partners, with those who support your work.

Implicit in this is a process of iteration. Of running lots of small safe experiments, analyzing as I mentioned above, sharing it, and then doing it all again. I have done many of these case studies throughout my career, with different organizations and teams. They are a powerful way to empower change. If you are in publishing, media or a writer, you are neck deep in a time of change!

If I can help you as you navigate new waters, please feel free to reach out to me.