3 Katie Thrive Part 4

Thriving as a Small Business – Part 4: The Power of Data Storytelling

by Katie Rucker on January 21, 2022 Comments Off on Thriving as a Small Business – Part 4: The Power of Data Storytelling

Over the years, we’ve partnered with brands of all shapes and sizes in leveraging customer insights to support their growth and development. While the projects vary based on each client’s specific goals, one area that holds the same weight regardless of any other details is the insights application phase. For the true power of customer insights to be realized, they need to be put into action and used as a guide when making decisions. But as you may well know, it’s not always clear what the insights are telling us to do.

It’s at this point, where the rubber hits the road, that many brands hit roadblocks. They have plenty of data but are unsure of how to move forward. Sometimes it’s a matter of being hesitant to trust the data, which I fully understand. When our preconceived ideas, opinions, or experiences are challenged, it’s human nature to push back and question the findings. But as leaders, it’s important to put any personal thoughts or beliefs aside and do what we set out to do – allow the voice of our customers to lead the way.

In other cases, it can be uncertainty around what the data is telling us. There may be plenty of trust and desire to follow the insights, but the voice of our customers seem to be muffled or muted. Whether a matter of trust or the findings being unclear, it can be really frustrating to have gathered all these insights only to feel stuck where we’re standing. Furthermore, part of our role as leaders is communicating key takeaways and action items to our team. But if we struggle to draw meaningful conclusions ourselves, what do we share with others?

With that, we arrive at the topic of this article: Data Storytelling. I spent the previous parts in this series laying the customer insights framework by covering strategies and tactics. Now, it’s time for putting the outcome of those efforts into action. The more effectively we bring our customer insights to life, the more effectively they will be used within our business.

The basic idea of Data Storytelling is having data be the driving force behind, you guessed it, a story. Where spreadsheets, charts, and graphs may fall short in communicating key points, presenting customer insights through a compelling narrative offers much needed context and supporting details.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of completing a Data Storytelling certificate program through Duarte and ever since then I’ve been learning as much as I can about this approach. I could go on and on about the technical details and principles, but that would end up being a series of books rather than articles. So here, I’d like to share some of the benefits I’ve seen through my own experiences applying Data Storytelling within my business.

Keeping audiences engaged.

Part of ensuing data analytics are applied toward business objectives is making sure the key takeaways are received, understood, and retained by the audience. This often comes down to the preferred learning style of each individual. One of my favorite aspects of running a small business is the sense of familiarity within my team. I’ve come to know and appreciate how each person is different in the way they process and retain information. As leaders, we provide others with the tools they need to be successful. So, keeping each person’s unique learning style in mind helps do exactly that.

Through Data Storytelling, we are tapping into a universal method of presenting information. For centuries, compelling narratives have been an effective way of delivering messages. Within the framework of a story, we still have opportunities to include data tables, charts, graphs, and other elements to meet the varying needs of our team. It’s the way we present those elements, through character development and scene setting, that makes such a big difference. There’s a great quote from data strategist Brent Dykes that illustrates this concept, “People hear statistics, but they feel stories.”

Establishing real-world context.

One of the biggest hurdles when dealing with customer insights is understanding how facts and figures are applicable in a real-world setting. As I previously mentioned, it’s important for small business leaders to provide our teams with the tools needed to be successful – and to do so efficiently. Rather than having to refer to a list of written conclusions and recommendations, individual team members can reflect on the data story’s outcome to determine the best course of action.

At its core, Data Storytelling is lifting insights off a two-dimensional page and placing them into a three-dimensional, relatable world. We can use situations and scenarios directly aligned with what our team experiences on a day-to-day basis. With that, our team is processing and understanding information within a familiar and comfortable context.

Providing empowerment and autonomy.

Coming full circle, the true power of customer insights is found when they are applied toward our business goals and objectives. Where Data Storytelling differs from traditional reporting methods is that we aren’t necessarily looking for bullet point solutions. Instead, we are looking to convey themes and lessons distilled from data-driven customer insights. We aren’t outwardly telling our teams what to do, we are providing them with information in support of their own problem solving and creative thinking skills.

Data Storytelling empowers team members to take ownership of how the customer insights are applied. There is an established framework of purpose and meaning that can guide decision making which, I believe, is more impactful than handing over a set of concrete conclusions. Through this approach, we offer direction and support by highlighting next steps while at the same time allowing the freedom and autonomy to determine how those steps are taken. As a small business, our people are our greatest asset. From a leadership standpoint, I want to tap into that resource rather than confine it.

At MacKenzie, we’re customer insights enthusiasts and we encourage all our clients to consider this approach. It is applicable regardless of a project’s scale, scope, or objective. But most importantly, it increases success likelihood by ensuring customer insights are received, understood, and applied in meaningful ways.

This is the final piece of my Thriving as a Small Business article series. If you missed any of the first three parts or want to revisit topics I previously covered, they can be found here:

Series Intro: Thriving as a Small Business
Part 1: The Role of Customer Insights
Part 2: Customer Insights Strategy
Part 3: Benefits of Pulse Surveys


A people-first, purpose-driven business leader and operational expert with a passion and proven aptitude for unlocking potential. Katie brings a unique blend of strategic business acumen, analytical skills, and business development know-how to her role as Chief Operations & People Officer at MacKenzie Corp., a second-generation family business that provides consumer insights and data solutions for clients across a variety of industries. Having joined the family business in 2008 and transitioned to co-owner in 2012, Katie's focus as a leader has been to mirror MacKenzie's outward mission internally by strengthening internal processes, evolving company culture, and promoting employee engagement.

Katie RuckerThriving as a Small Business – Part 4: The Power of Data Storytelling