How Weird Data Stories Can Save You Thousands

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What are data stories? They’re the context behind statistics and data. If data tells you what happened, data stories tell you why it happened.

Why do data stories matter to your business? Because if data tells you what’s happening, data stories also tell you how to turn those events into money saved.

Knowing your data is only half the picture. To get at the lucrative narrative behind the base facts, you need to dig into your data and figure out why it’s behaving the way it is.

And for that, you need business intelligence software.

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With BI software, you can start the digging process and begin cataloging all the whys that can mean success or failure for your business.

Let’s take a look at a few weird-yet-intriguing data stories and see how these companies and individuals saved money or improved their product by discovering the stories behind their data.

We’ll unlock the lessons these data stories offer your business, and learn how BI software is your key to achieving the same success.

Data stories provide location intelligence

The data story

Carl Goodwin, author of the blog Thinkr, wanted to better understand where his readers were coming from—literally. To know that, he started tracking the IP locations of his blog visitors. Applied to marketing, this practice (called IP tracking) can help companies better target their marketing efforts. It’s also one form of location intelligence (knowing geographic info about your electronic visitors).

When Goodwin tracked his visitors’ IP addresses, he found that over 2,000 page visits were apparently coming from the Cheney Reservoir in southern Kansas, a lake 45 minutes west of Wichita.

Though Goodwin initially “imagined someone drifting in the expanse of water…whiling away the hours absorbed in my blog,” the real story was different. MaxMind, the company that determined the geographic location of those IP addresses, was using Cheney Reservoir as a watery placeholder.

If MaxMind couldn’t determine the location of a certain IP address, they’d default to Cheney. Those 2,000 views weren’t actually coming from readers enjoying summer lake days, but from unknown locations. It also meant that Goodwin didn’t need to start focusing his blog posts on what kind of sunblock was suitable for the outdoors and backlit screens.

the sandy lakefront shore of Cheney Reservoir in Kansas

Cheney Reservoir, Kansas

What your business can learn from this

 Location data is valuable.  The location analytics market could be worth over $15 billion just three years from now. In your small business, customer location data can help you discover things like how quickly an online offer turns into a brick-and-mortar visit.

Remember: you have to put work into data to get value out of it. The hype surrounding big data often focuses on its potential, and rarely discusses what’s needed to realize that potential.

Data ≠ insights. You may not be working with location data like Goodwin, but you do need to work with your data to obtain insights the same way he did.

Data stories aid cybersecurity

The data story

Finding the story behind your data can keep you safe from cybersecurity breaches. Just ask Dmytro Moroz of Kanbanize.

When examining which search terms led people to his personal website, Dmytro Moroz found some strange data points. “Deep in the list of search queries that brought users to my website from Google, I’ve found a bunch that mentioned movie downloads. Not just any movies but some of the most recent ones, and for free.”

Since Moroz’s website is legal and unrelated to movies, he found this odd. When he dug in, he discovered that the oddity was due to hacking. A plugin Moroz used on his site had a vulnerability.

The hacker in question “used the loophole to hack into thousands of websites and create pirate content pages.” Not only was this bad for Moroz’s cybersecurity, it could have turned into legal and financial trouble down the road. Neither is good for business.

What your business can learn from this

 Tracking your data and knowing how it’s used is part of cybersecurity  (this falls under data governance). Moroz used Google Search Console to find out that he was hacked, but that’s not the only program that can help wrangle your data.

Other business intelligence software programs can help with this, too.

When shopping for business intelligence software, check on what data connectors the vendor offers. More often than not, you can find a vendor who has connectors to the data you collect, or has a partner who can build a connector.

Data stories facilitate better planning

The data story

Lee Feinberg, of DataViz, a data and analytics consultant, was examining seemingly solid client data when he discovered a hidden problem—one that could only be found with a data story.

Feinberg’s investigation found that his client had misunderstood their data. One metric that the client used for all their future planning—average number of downloads per month—was up. This trend, though, didn’t reflect overall success.

The problem was in what Feinberg calls “the treachery of averages….Customers and downloads were both DECREASING every month, even though the average was increasing.” Though the data point (overall average) looked positive, the data story wasn’t.

Because the client misunderstood averages, what they thought was good news actually wasn’t. Once the client understood the story behind the data, they were able to adapt their strategy, and craft a plan based in the more nuanced reality. “The impact was a holy cow moment— they were doing all this work, planning around the idea that they were growing, but they weren’t looking at growth metrics in the right way.” Understanding the why helped them look at their data in the right way.

A graph showing an increasing average but decreasing customer number

The “treachery of averages,” where the average is up but overall numbers are down (via Lee Feinberg, Decisionviz.com)

What your business can learn from this

 If you want to benefit from data, you need to understand the story behind it.  It isn’t enough to simply find out what an average is, you need to know the context surrounding that average.

“The lesson learned is, averages are OK, but you can’t just look at averages alone,” Feinberg explains. “If you’re not really looking underneath the hood and looking at the numbers creating the averages,” it’s possible to miss a story that could save you time and money.

To avoid this, consider investing in self-service business intelligence software. These programs let you dive into the data in the same way Feinberg did for his client.

Data stories that helped you make money

Has your business found profitable whys behind your data? Have you improved products or processes using a data story? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Looking for Business Intelligence software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Business Intelligence software solutions.

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About the Author

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Geoff Hoppe

Geoff Hoppe is a former Capterra analyst.

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