The power (and perils) of data

A couple of interesting articles that caught our eye recently got us thinking about the growing importance of — perhaps even dependence on — data in media and marketing. Data is now the foundation for a lot of journalism and increasingly fuels publishing and marketing campaigns as well, both as a source of insight (on audiences and how to reach them) and collateral (by demonstrating an organisation’s knowledge or expertise).

This piece from Germany’s C3 references a couple of great examples of the latter, including dating site OK Cupid, which trawls through its data to produce interesting tidbits on the contemporary dating scene (shock finding: older men are more inclined to message younger women than vice versa) and Expedia’s crunching of data to generate sound travel advice for the jam-packed US Labor Day weekend.

We could add others with which we had the pleasure to be involved, including this groundbreaking report from Philips, which combined the results of an ambitious international survey with third-party data to develop a roadmap for the future of healthcare.

So far, so good. But as C3 rightly points out, whether you’re a journalist or marketer, in approaching and using data it’s important to be aware of its limitations. Data is no more inherently conclusive or free of bias as any other source of information, and should be subject to the same levels of scrutiny.

This isn’t a new story, of course: the phrase, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics” was popularised by Mark Twain more than a century ago. Which means that if you’re not questioning your own data, someone else very likely will; a recent survey by KPMG and Forrester Consulting found that most decision-makers don’t even trust the data insights their companies generate internally.

Beyond the issue of trust, there’s the question of whether data really connects on an emotional level. As one of the most powerful quotes in this excellent Vanity Fair piece on how data has transformed decision-making puts it:

“No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.”

Having seen firsthand what data can (and can’t) do, we’re staunch advocates of putting it to good use. But as our recent reading has underlined, it’s important that data is used with principles in mind. Here are those that we see as the bedrock for any solid data-driven storytelling:

*Strive for transparency: Being as open and specific as possible about where the data comes (without sacrificing privacy standards) will add to its credibility; avoiding the matter will do the opposite. In publishing the results of a survey, this would include details such as the methods used and the number and composition of respondents.

*Practice acceptance: Maybe you’ve commissioned a poll and the data doesn’t quite tell the story or support the thesis you had envisioned. That’s okay, and no reason to discard the results — surely they contain other information worth sharing, and if they’ve confounded your expectations chances are other people would find them interesting as well. Also avoid cherry-picking findings to fit a pre-generated thesis, as it’s almost always obvious when this tactic has been adopted and it risks discrediting the whole exercise.

*Be selective: At the risk of appearing to contradict the above point it’s also important to be at least somewhat selective about the data you use and share. The ‘big data’ term exists for a reason; any data-gathering exercise inevitably produces a staggering amount of statistics. Rather than attempting to ‘go broad’, pick one theme or issue to target through research or a survey and ‘go deep’; the results will inevitably be more interesting. And when you do have findings, don’t plan to publish them all. Instead, look for consistent patterns or data points that seem to challenge conventional wisdom, and concentrate on examining and sharing those if they stand up.

*Remember data is a starting point: Regardless of the topic (yes, even the wild and wonderful world of online dating) audiences aren’t engaged by data alone, and a page chock-full of statistics or charts, no matter how tastefully designed, will cause a lot of eyes to glaze over. Proprietary data should be seen as a starting point for stories and campaigns that are fleshed out with anecdotes from internal and external experts, case studies and research from other sources, to build credibility and bring the numbers to life.

New Narrative expands with key hire of former Euromoney Managing Editor

HONG KONG/NEW YORK, June 13, 2017 — New Narrative, Asia’s leading custom media agency, today announced that Lorraine Cushnie has joined the firm as a partner in its Hong Kong office.

New Narrative creates custom research, thought leadership, multi-platform editorial content and publishing campaigns for top-tier corporations and media organisations worldwide.

Cushnie, an award-winning financial journalist and editor, has spent 15 years covering financial and professional markets in Europe and Asia. Drawing on her extensive experience in banking, asset management and the legal industry, Cushnie will consult on, devise and execute market-leading content campaigns for New Narrative clients across these sectors.

Cushnie joins from Euromoney Institutional Investor where she was the managing editor for the banking and capital markets group in Asia. Based in Hong Kong, she oversaw the editorial teams and publishing schedule for the company’s financial titles including Asiamoney and GlobalCapital.

While at Euromoney, Cushnie established the first news site dedicated to covering the internationalisation of the renminbi, which now publishes under the brand GlobalRMB and is the leader in its field. She also produced custom reports and content for the region’s leading banks and has been a regular moderator of panels and roundtables at major industry conferences.

Cushnie holds a degree in German from King’s College London and a postgraduate diploma in Newspaper Journalism from City University London for which she received a bursary from the Guardian Media Group.

Cushnie joins at an exciting time for New Narrative which launched an office in New York in February and is expanding its operations in Hong Kong.

“We are delighted to welcome someone of Lorraine’s calibre,” said Joseph Chaney, Hong Kong-based co-founder of New Narrative. “Her joining is a tremendous boost for our team from both the editorial and business development standpoints.

“Since its founding by experienced financial journalists in 2013, New Narrative has shown consistent growth in a wide range of sectors, particularly financial services. Lorraine’s credentials as an experienced journalist and editor mean she is ideally positioned to drive the company’s expansion in this field in Asia and beyond.”

About New Narrative

New Narrative Ltd. (n/n) is a content consultancy and custom media agency founded in Hong Kong in 2013. The firm conceptualises and creates tailor-made content campaigns that drive value for a range of global companies, media organisations and research institutions.

New Narrative partners have decades of experience as senior editors and executives in leading media organisations, reporting on market-leading events and producing insightful commentary and analysis for an audience of senior decision-makers.
Press enquiries:

US:

Glenn Mott, Partner
glenn.mott@new-narrative.com
+1 646 330 3282

Hong Kong:

Joseph Chaney, Partner
joseph.chaney@new-narrative.com
+852 9411 7441