One of our clients, a leader in the financial services industry came to us to create a compelling report on their small business economic development program. Sounds relatively straightforward, right? Here was the challenge: we were confronted with a massive amount of data that only an economist could love.

How on earth would we get anyone to care?

In business, complex data sets are the mark of transparency. Yet, the average person doesn’t correlate human experience with numbers. If we want to effectively communicate ideas or advocate for a cause, complexity has to be simplified. When we help someone make connections between data and the human condition, it becomes personal and more memorable. We can’t forget that statistics represent people—real live human beings with families, hopes and dreams.

Data tells only half of a story. Qualitative information—a personal anecdote, for example, softens the chill of mathematics with nuance. It provides a more complete and compelling context.

When we began our assignment, we spoke to many of the participants who had completed this particular program. Through hours of conversations we came to understand that it had been a transformative experience. The transcripts revealed stories that were more deeply meaningful than the numbers initially disclosed. People not only experienced business growth, they earned the respect of their families and communities. They developed leadership skills; they impacted others in positive ways. In turn, these achievements were reflected in elevated self-esteem, levels of happiness and generosity to others.

In business communication, data rules large with little room for sentiment. Yet, a story with universal emotions creates connection, stimulates memory and inspires retelling. These connections have intrinsic value in the marketplace because they build loyalty to services, product and brands. Numbers provide facts, but rarely is a human being moved by statistics.

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