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Once upon a stat…5 ways numbers can tell a story

Posted by Suzy Timms - June 19, 2015

I have a confession.

Scarred by algebra and formidable maths teachers, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with numbers, as I think many of us do.  Fast forward (ahem…) a couple of decades, and I see numbers from a whole new perspective.

We’re not talking quadratic equations or calculus, rather we’re talking storytelling. From an early age, we see numbers being pivotal to stories.

What would Snow White be without the seven dwarves and why are underdog heroes offered three wishes, never just one or even ten? The power of three is a whole other phenomenon that we’ll cover in another blog post….

seven dwarfs

From a business perspective, numbers help to elevate stories from a place of rhetoric and wordsmithery to something that is sometimes surprising, but that is certainly more grounded and believable. Numbers help to inspire trust.

You don’t have to commission your own research to come up with your own numbers. In the age of big data, we have never had so many numbers at our disposal. It is what you do with them and how you use these in the context of stories that counts.

Here are five ways you might want to think about using numbers to help tell your story and give your marketing communications some added oomph.

1. Big numbers get attention

Whether you’re talking about 90% of CIOs worrying about big data, or extrapolating the potential money that a business can save by updating its enterprise software, this is often the stuff of headlines and getting the audience interested.

2. Small numbers can help inspire action

If only 5% of businesses are currently in the best practice group for how they manage their websites, what does it mean for the other 95% – do something or get left behind usually.

3. Comparing numbers adds context

Looking at how finance and retail compare on key metrics can help paint a picture of sector performance and attitudes in a number of areas that goes beyond mere stereotypes and stops content being too generic.

4. Tracking numbers boosts credibility

Analysing numbers year-on-year can tell a story over time and pinpoint upcoming (and waning) trends. Furthermore, having a branded barometer of some kind in any sector helps you to “own” that space.

5. Thinking beyond stats makes you look clever

We know that if Facebook was a country it would be the most populous on earth, but what about thinking in terms of time: how long does an organisation have before it starts to struggle if it doesn’t invest in infrastructure, what age will we have children if we live till 200, and when will smartwatches change how we work and market ourselves?

There is magic and depth in numbers. We just need to look for it and unlock it to tell better stories.

We’d love to hear how you use numbers to tell stories so do drop us a line, pop in for a chat, or tweet me via @suzytimms


Image source: Typewriter via
Image source: Seven dwarfs via

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