Stories are perhaps the most important way that humans understand the world. Whether they concern the people around us, the places we visit, or the products we purchase, the stories we tell ourselves define these interactions. While perhaps an obvious observation, it can at times seem out of place in our industry. After all, we are so used to assuming that everything is “data-driven”, believing that as long as we sample the right data or perform the correct analysis our work will be successful. Yet, as more insightful data becomes available, it is even more important to remember that we are “story-driven” at heart.
This has a particular role when it comes to choosing the metrics that drive our businesses. It is not sufficient simply to look at data and reflect on what story it tells, we also need to consider the story that we are looking to tell in the first place. This is nothing new and, as
Hauser & Katz wrote in 1998, “if a firm measures a, b and c, but not x, y and z, then managers begin to pay more attention to a, b and c.” You treasure what you measure. One great example can be found in the rise of fitness trackers. How many people really cared about the amount of steps that they took in a day before the rise of wearables and apps?
If you know what story you want to tell, you know where to begin. At Google, our philosophy is to focus on the user and we always start by understanding their needs and behaviours. As technology plays an increasingly important role in people’s lives, it is critical that we understand the new types of behaviours that this facilitates. Whether it is a student ordering take-away food on their phone, a parent using their mobile device to look up directions to the museum, or a couple sharing a selfie on holiday, these are the “moments that matter”.
With the rise of mobile devices, there are now more of these moment than ever before, providing valuable opportunities for brands to connect with consumers in meaningful ways. For example, one food brand wanted to understand how it could best reach consumers looking to host a holiday party. By looking at the search signals, it uncovered that most of its audience was leaving matters to the last minute and then desperately looking for “quick fixes” to make their gathering a success. This provided the brand with a clear remit to provide relevant content both reassuring and informing its target audience. This brand did not start with a set of metrics - it started with the story that it wanted to tell.
There is an interesting corollary to our story-driven nature, namely that while we like to say that “data beats opinion”, our brains do not always work that way. For example, while a research study might find that, “men have a strong preference for brand X”, you can imagine a listener countering with, “that’s nonsense - my husband hates brand X.” Being aware of this bias will help in ensuring that you can strike the right balance between being data- and story-driven.
At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Yet, by using a “story-driven” approach to identifying the moments that matter, acting in those moments, and having the right “data-driven” metrics in place, you can make the web work for you and your brand.