June 03, 2022
Data is a pretty loaded four-letter word. It means everything and nothing; it’s everywhere and nowhere. It defines who we are and how we see the world; it’s misaligned and misunderstood. Like any other four-letter word, data is universally recognized but not comfortably embraced by all.
But data’s acceptance has come a long way in the past two years. Think about news coverage during the pandemic. From early graphics urging people to flatten the curve to social media feeds filled with heat maps, charts showcasing transmission patterns, detailed infographics, and live-tracking dashboards pinning down to a county level — a variety of interesting, data-heavy content pieces were consumed and shared among “non-data” people. Data literacy via data visualization has taken a quantum leap as a result.
Seen through the lens of a data professional, this is an exciting development. Many of us are trained in data journalism — analyzing and filtering large data sets to create or elevate news stories. But data journalism is hard to convey to a “data-illiterate” public. How refreshing, then, when heavy data vocabulary like “flattening the curve” is widely understood and everyday people have little trouble reading through data-driven conclusions accompanied by elaborate, detailed charts in myriad publications.
Break on Through
Granted, data has a dark side. Depending on whichever side of the COVID-19 vaccine spectrum one lies, data points such as efficacy could be (mis)interpreted and (mis)used in nefarious ways. There are multiple instances in the past two years when evolving research has made it into up-to-the-minute news reporting with premature conclusions, misinterpretations, and ambiguity.
If there is one key takeaway from all of pandemic reporting and forwarded shareable content, it’s that all parties involved should prioritize verification and be 100% certain about the data sources and interpretation. Data-driven marketing needs to prioritize rigor, accuracy, authenticity, and shareability, especially while the role of data is not just in the back-end informing strategy but is also becoming more consumer-facing. Only then can the content be distributed (and shared) responsibly.
Now that we realize that consumers have advanced in their data journeys with evolved expectations, marketers should work to weave more numbers into brand narratives. But what else could marketers and content creators do differently to cater to this data-ready, data-fluent audience who want to be acknowledged for their appetites for all things data? It requires the right kind of value exchange.
A Higher Standard
Here are a few key strategies for marketing and brand leaders to better utilize and present data in the most effective ways while addressing audience needs and preferences as the use of data continues to evolve:
- Get back to the basics.Understand the context, visualize to aid interpretation, and work toward being right rather than sounding intelligent. Balance data with intuition, as not all data is equal or relevant. And be cognizant that researchers have to make many choices; there are plenty of caveats and nuances.
- Build credibility over a sustained period. Get involved in the evolution of data and own up to mistakes if any occur through the creation or distribution process. Make all stakeholders a part of the whole journey. Whether it is medical research, psychology, or sociology, it’s always helpful to be skeptical and critical. Understand the intention and incentives. This helps eliminate unconscious bias and promotes objectivity.
- Prioritize the most important aspects of storytelling. Think of this as impact versus information overload. Don’t share data research just for the sake of it. Be clear on the intentions and desired actions. Use research data to craft a brand story, make your consumers a part of that story and evolve together. Just remember: Data can be used as a weapon, so responsible interpretation is crucial.
Ultimately, brands need to shift from one-way communication about the product to crafting the brand narrative together in a two-way dialogue. As content creators, brands have a role to play in behavioral change: We shape people’s thinking and influence society in broader ways than brand tracking could ever measure. Brands have the responsibility and the ability to impact the social fabric with powerful and meaningful conversations.
It’s not all about sales and shares. It’s about improving data literacy for everyone’s benefit.
Shravya Kaparthi, , has experience in people interpretation, innovative problem-solving, and developing marketing strategies that inspire creative solutions.