Digital Analytics: From Data to Stories and Communication

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This will be a quick little post as I try to pull together what seems to be an emerging theme in the digital analytics space. In a post late last year, I wrote:

I haven’t attended a single conference in the last 18 months where one of the sub-themes of the conference wasn’t, “As analysts, we’ve got to get better at telling stories rather than simply presenting data.

Lately, though, it seems that the emphasis on “stories” has shifted to a more fundamental focus on “communication.” As evidence, I present the following:

A 4-Part Blog Series

Michele Kiss published a 4-part blog series over the course of last week titled “The Most Undervalued Analytics Tool: Communication.” The series covered communication within your analytics teamcommunication across departments, communication with executives and stakeholders, and communication with partners. Whether intentionally or not, the series highlighted how varied and intricate the many facets of “communication” really are (and she makes some excellent tips for addressing those different facets!).

A Data Scientist’s “Day to Day” Advice

Christopher Berry, VP of Marketing Science at Syncapsealso published a post last week that touched on the importance of communication. Paraphrasing (a bit), he advised:

  • Recognize that you’re going to have to repeat yourself — not because the people your communicating with are stupid, but because they’re not as wired to the world of data as you are
  • Communicate to both the visual and auditory senses — different people learn better through different channels (and neuroscience has shown that ideas stick better when they’re received through multiple sensory registers)
  • Use bullet points (be concise)

Christopher is one of those guys who could talk about the intricacies of shoe leather and have an audience spellbound…so his credibility on the communication front comes more from the fact that he’s a great communicator than from his position as a top brain in the world of data scientistry.

Repetition at ACCELERATE

During last Wednesday’s ACCELERATE conference in Chicago, I tweeted the following:

The tweet was mid-afternoon, and it was after a run of sessions — all very good — where the presenters directly spoke to the importance of communication when it come to a range of analytics responsibilities and challenges.

A Chat with Jim Sterne

At the Web Analytics Wednesday that followed the conference, I got my first chance (ever!) to have more than a 2-sentence conversation with Jim Sterne (I’m pretty sure the smile on his face all day was the smile of a man who was attending a conference as a mere attendee than as a host and organizer, and the plethora of attendant stresses of that role!).

During that discussion, Jim asked me the question, “What is it that you are doing now that is moving towards [where you want to be with your career].” We’ll leave the details of the bracketed part of my quote aside and focus on my answer, which I’d never really thought of in such explicit terms. My answer was that, being a digital analyst at an agency that was built over the course of 3 decades on a foundation of great design work and outstanding consumer research (as in: NOT on measurement and analytics), I have to keep honing my communication skills. In many, many ways I have a conversation every day where I am trying to communicate the same basics about digital analytics that I’ve been communicating for the past decade in different environments. But, I’m not just repeating myself. If I look back over my 2.5 years at the agency, I’ve added a new “tool” to my analytics communication toolbox every 2-3 months, be it a new diagram, a new analogy, a new picture, or a new anecdote. I’ve been working really hard (albeit not explicitly or even consciously) to become the most effective communicator I can be on the subject of digital analytics. Not every new tool sticks, and I try to discard them readily when I realize they’re not resonating.

It’s a work in progress. Are you consciously working on how you communicate as an analyst? What’s your best tip?

6 Comments


  1. One thing I try to do is prepare for my audience by thinking through analogies/metaphors they might use. It requires putting yourself in their shoes and thinking through how they live and work day to day. I do this because I see a lot of sports analogies being tossed around (pun intended) but not everyone knows how to score a “touchdown” versus a “home run”, etc. For instance, I see Avinash use dating, relationships and sex a lot to explain certain aspects of #measure…that’s a nearly universal experience, so easier to understand.

  2. Tim,

    Great post. Thank you.

    I like what you’ve been doing.

    You started professionally blogging in 2007. You’ve been tweeting since then. You’ve been telling great stories.

    Great stories.

    Best tip:

    Pay attention to the analytics on your own blog.

  3. @Dan Thanks for the link to the presentation. In my presentation at ACCELERATE last week, I actually walked through the data-pixel ratio as well!

    @Adrian That’s a great tip. Evan LaPointe of Search Discovery has been harping on the (under)-use of metaphors by analysts quite a bit of late, and I’ve tried to take that to heart. I’d never consciously thought about identifying metaphors that specifically would resonate with a given audience, and that now seems so obvious. Especially if you’re presenting to a very small audience, seeking metaphors that resonate with their individual personal interests seems like a powerful way to connect, get their attention, *and* drive whatever the main point is home.

    @Christopher So…now you have me thinking you put an open-end comment in my 4Q survey to check how often I’m reviewing them! :-)

  4. This is a good one Mr. Wilson!

    Most of us communicate every day and mistakenly assume we are good at it. The burden of understanding rests on the speaker, not on the listener (though they do own the listening part.)

    “Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw” – I highly recommend joining Toastmasters and/or taking some public speaking classes. These things help you to become more aware while speaking and give you honest and constructive feedback. They will help 1 on 1 communication as well.

    Who knows, this type of thing might even help some of our socially inept, super geeky, analytics brothers and sisters get a date ;-)

    Rock on,
    Matt

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