The Story and its telling
Updated: Nov 4, 2022
Data driven storytelling: The transmutation of quantitative data into qualitative experiences
What is a story? To understand the story, we must first understand life. To tell a story, we must understand life and then have something to say about it. Life is not a journey, it is a struggle. As said by Robert McKee. A story is how we make sense of life. We live our life in the middle of scenes and acts all intersecting each other, characters interacting and defining our circumstance. Circumstance intersecting itself and defining character. As William Shakespeare put it, "The world's a stage and we are all playing our part."
“You may have heard the world is made up of atoms and molecules, but it's really made up of stories. When you sit with an individual that's been here, you can give quantitative data a qualitative overlay.”, William Turner
Everything now is data driven.
In our present world, this statement runs high on the scale of profound knowledge. Everything now is data driven. Apps, websites, supermarkets, schools, hospitals, games, social networks, everything is collecting some sort of data as it is the most important resource in the postmodern era. Consumer behavior, market data and all that jargon really fills up a lot of magazines. Yet, the story and its telling is more important than ever. Every business now has a key person employed in their workforce. The Analyst. The role of the analyst is to understand and advise the direction of decisions for maximum impact and in turn profit.
Let’s take an example of a character called Noob Noob. Now Noob Noob has just had a break up and to fill the iron fisted void, has turned to a song called Oceans he had first heard by John Butler, half a decade back. After all that was his go to song to feel better ever since. Of late he had been going to that same song quite a lot. He clicks on the youtube app to go to that song and as he clicks on the link, he is greeted by a 10 second video of a beautifully crafted spanish guitar being played by a person without a care in the world. Noob Noob is mesmerised at the free flowing carefree nature of the man in contrast to his own resilient conflict. Struck with a stroke of creative aspiration, he has a mental checklist of things that, on being met, act as triggers for small bursts of dopamine that, in an otherwise miserable scene, bring him joy. He continues on to the video and after 7 minutes or so, is empowered to tell his own story. So he goes on to amazon and buys himself a guitar that is supposedly going to be delivered to him in a day. He thinks he is getting it for a steal because of the high discount percentage that is shown on amazon after markup. Afterall it is the most productive use of time: learning a musical instrument. One day he will write a breakup song just like Taylor Swift. Seems like today, he won. Great going Noob Noob.
Let’s think about this process a little more.
Noob Noob is a human character whose decisions, no matter how logical, are still affected by emotion. For Noob Noob, his story is powerful, relevant and the story that is closest to him. His emotional conflict leads him to find a resolution that leads him to purchase an instrument that will help him express himself to relieve himself of an internal struggle. At the moment, for Noob Noob, life is not a journey, it's a struggle.
He is trying to understand the ‘who, what, why, where and how’ of his own conflict. Now Noob Noob may not have thought of purchasing the guitar in the beginning of the day because the guitar as a product had no relevance to him in his story or his struggle but given his current emotional struggle, a slight nudge from a aspiration and a possible avenue of release, purchasing this product is a no brainer. The product that started out irrelevant in his lifestyle is now more than a guitar. It is his friend that helps him express and continue his story, through his difficult time.
A quantitative analysis would generate the data that this person is visiting the same link multiple times, after the link, he visits some other pages, motivated by the content that is designed to rouse interest and aspiration and although he closes the purchase link more times than ever, because his logical centers tell him otherwise, he still has his heart clawing away behind his thoughts. On a qualitative approach, the analyst decodes this quantitative data to try and recreate the archetypical story of similar individuals and applies the takeaway to guide business decisions of the guitar company that ended up selling their guitar to Noob Noob in the first place. Noob Noob's emotional state had made him act in a certain way that generated quantitative data. Consider it like this, the emotional data was encoded into a series of timestamped digital flags. The analyst sees a pattern in this and studies other relevant sources to decode this data to understand the motivational datapoints, understanding these motivational data points across multiple sources gives him a hypothesis.
He is effectively creating a projected storyline for a group of consumers going through similar experiences. He takes this story and advises the branding team to create content that resonates with this archetypical group. The content is designed to hit the right spots for the viewer as it offers the resolution that they are seeking on a deeper story level. The guitar company has effectively used the analyst to transform their product through the power of storytelling into something more than just a lifeless instrument. They have made it a character in someone’s story. The brand goes on to becoming a cult for everyone through shared experiences because who hasn't gone through a heartbreak, right?
Your brand is a part of a greater human experience.
In present times, with the burst of content creation and brands struggling to stay relevant every day. Story is more important and difficult than ever. I remember a few years back I was having a debate with a friend over a simple question. Does product/ content move the market or does the market flow according to the content/ product. Honestly, the way I see it, there are two things that matter. The story, and the telling. The product and the consumer are the characters in that universe.