3 strategies high-performing brands use to communicate data

Nancy Duarte

Written by

Nancy Duarte

Whether it’s a billion dollar pharmaceutical company driving to cure cancer or a local accountant who touts her ability to consistently get customers more money back on their taxes, all companies are using and communicating data in some form or another.

However, not all companies are doing so with the same degree of success. We know that data is critical to improving businesses including making customer experiences to better, marketing that is precisely targeted, and ultimately improving the company’s bottom line. So, what do the brands who are doing it right know that the rest of us don’t?

The way you communicate data, even down to the parts of speech you use (hello, middle-school English), can make a big difference in whether you get the results you want.

Since my firm has worked with the top performing brands in the world, we looked at a cross section of thousands of slides from multiple brands in a cross-section of industries — consumer, hardware, software, social media, search, pharmaceutical, finance, and consultancies — it became clear that across industries, the language we use to talk about data matters.

Identifying your data point of view (DataPOV™)

All data sets are not created equal. Sometimes data obviously finds a problem or opportunity that’s so blatantly obvious, almost everyone could align around it. Sometimes, though, what you’ve uncovered will be less clear and there are gaps in the data. In those cases, you’ll have to use a bit of intuition and possibly, gasp, make some assumptions.

A DataPOV is the big idea you’d like to communicate that’s been identified in the data. Your DataPOV would state your position on the data and the action that you recommend. Identifying the action to take is most of the battle.

Choosing the best verbs

Remember the parts of speech from English class? It turns out they’re really important when thinking about how to communicate data. The best way to make your DataPOV clear is by expressing it in a complete, well-constructed sentence. This means you need at least one noun and one verb.

Choosing the best verb for a DataPOV means choosing the strongest action others need to take to help the data head a desired direction.  The verb makes it clear exactly what you’re recommending. Some verbs may drive performance of KPIs such as the verbs “increase”, “acquire”, or “scale”.

Some verbs might simply state the process needing to be done like “connect”, “define”, or “learn”.

The verbs associated with data also have three distinct modalities:

  • Change: We need to change who we are or what we are doing.
  • Continue: We need to keep going in the same direction.
  • Finish: We need to complete this.

How does this all come together?

It’s your job to identify which verbs most effectively solve the problem or exploit the opportunity.

Tell a story

Another important element to help you communicate data is to apply Aristotle’s fundamental three-act story structure. The beginning states the situation, the middle has a complication and the end yields a resolution. Others refer to it as order, disorder, order restored. Using the three-act structure is the best way to present information in a way that people will remember, including data.

The beginning of your data story will make the company’s current situation clear.

  • Beginning: Our two-year pilot of onsite college campus recruiting for software developers was well-attended.

The middle of the story is where the conflict occurs in the form of a problem or opportunity. What does the data show us needs to change?

  • Middle: 642 highly-qualified leads came in from the webinar and surpassed all other marketing channels by 22 percent last month.

The end of the story is how the action you’re asking others to take will solve the problem or opportunity in the middle. The end of the story will also be where you present your DataPOV:

  • End: It’s time to extend our campus program to five more universities to increase our acceptance rate.

Communicating data in a verbal or written format requires words, and the words you choose and the way you organize them can mean the difference between success and failure for your organization. Words are one of the most powerful devices we have to push ideas forward and have them adopted. Choose wisely!