Narrative by Numbers How to Tell Powerful and Purposeful Stories with Data
Shortlisted for the Business Book of the Year Awards in the Sales and Marketing category.
As jobs become increasingly similar, there are two skills that everyone needs if they’re going to thrive. These are the ability to interrogate and make sense of data, and the ability to use insights extracted from data to persuade others to act. Analytics + storytelling = influence.
Humans are hardwired to respond to stories and story structure. Stories are how we make sense of and navigate the world. We respond best to stories that are based on evidence. But storytellers need to use data as the foundation of stories, not as the actual stories themselves. To be truly impactful, rational facts need to be presented with a veneer of emotion.
The Big Data revolution means more data is available than ever. The trouble is, most people aren’t very numerate or good at statistics. Many find it hard to look at data and extract insights. Meanwhile, those for whom numbers hold no fear don’t always make the best storytellers. They mistakenly believe they need to prove their point by showing their workings.
There are some simple and effective rules of data-driven storytelling that help everyone tell more compelling, evidence-based stories, whoever they need to convince. Narrative by Numbers shows you how.
1. The two skills everyone needs today
2. Keep it simple
3. Find and use only relevant data
4. The 4Es of effective storytelling
5. Beware the Curse of Knowledge
6. Talk human
7. Five gods of data driven storytelling
8. Why facts matter more than ever
"Narrative by Numbers shows readers how to do what its title promises: tell powerful and purposeful stories by using data and statistics as the foundations…. Overall, it provides the tools, permission, and confidence to use data with more impact when crafting stories, and shows how powerful the combination can be."
Admap, July/August 2018
"We need this book! Evidence and numbers help us to make sense of the world, to transcend how things appear, and find out how they really are. But this is not a technical journey – it’s a human one, of meanings and relationships, and Sam Knowles shows why we need to grasp that first. With an armful of words, a poem crafts meaning or passion or action. But what do we do with an armful of statistics? Sam Knowles has the answers.”
Tracey Brown, Director, Sense About Science
“Numbers aren’t the enemy of narrative – quite the opposite. Relevant data should be the foundation stones of stories with impact. This approach is clearly relevant for the research and insights business, but also today for every kind of organisation: public, private, and third sector. Sam Knowles makes the case for storytelling by numbers powerfully and persuasively, while at the same time offering a clear how-to guide. To be recommended."
Lord Cooper of Windrush, Founder, Populus
"We live in a world of uncertainty. What and who can we trust – and how will we know? Sam Knowles helps to unravel today’s biggest question. His thesis – that data is a trusted friend which provides life's 'True North' and the certainty we yearn for – is compelling."
Michael Greenlees, 'Godfather of London advertising', Founder, Chairman & CEO of Gold Greenlees Trott
"John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends, said: 'We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.' Today, we are drowning in data and starving for wisdom. In this book, Sam Knowles teaches us skills that are practical and easily applied to make sense of data that every marketer needs."
Bharat Avalani, Former Unilever marketer; storyteller and memory collector
“People who are good with words are seldom good with numbers and vice versa – or so conventional wisdom has it. Sam Knowles appears to be very good at both. His book is a persuasive case for why combining narrative and numbers is essential in an age of big data and short messages. I will be recommending it to my students.”
Professor Trevor Morris, Richmond University
“Sam’s book is the perfect embodiment of the principles he uncovers and outlines. He looks at and makes sense of the data, and weaves it into a story that is both convincing and inspiring. He ably demonstrates his central premise: analytics plus storytelling equals influence. And with this book: QED. Essential reading for anyone in the insight industry, or anyone who has written or sat through an interminable presentation of loosely related data points and cried out for some story to make sense of it all.”
Jem Fawcus, Founder & Group CEO, Firefish
“Over the last several years many books have been written to help organizations make sense of marketing data. Unfortunately for those marketers and communicators on the front lines, many of those books were written with the analyst in mind. That angle, while valuable for the analysts, dismisses the people who need to use data the most. // “The good news for that audience is that Sam Knowles has been in their shoes many times before and brings that perspective to Narrative by the Numbers. Sam presents an excellent overview and guide for how marketers can utilize data to tell better stories within their organizations. The framework that Sam presents will allow you to understand marketing performance, grow your budget and expand your influence within the organization. It is a must read.”
Chuck Hemann, Author
"The thesis of this book is spot on. Storytelling has been a defining part of humanity since we came down from the trees, sat in front of the fire, and painted caves. With the abundance of data that surrounds us all today, our stories have the potential to be that much more relevant and powerful.”
Michael Karg, Group CEO, Ebiquity
"The wealth of information that swirls around corporations today also threatens to overwhelm them. But if the right data is captured and it’s analyzed in the right way, the insights extracted truly can drive corporate strategy. Sam’s approach to storytelling with statistics as the starting point is both practical and actionable. This is a polished primer from a seasoned practitioner.”
Chris Deri, President, Teneo Digital
“This book is the 101 for anyone who wants their insights to shine. Sam guides the reader on an engaging journey, from data to impactful delivery, by explaining the methods to craft a data driven story.”
Tim Ward, Head of Analytics, Square Enix West
“Analytics is so important in guiding decision-making and turning insights into action. But drowning your audience with facts and numbers is a real turn-off. Turning these numbers into stories is the way to engage people – consumers as well as customers and employees – making them real and tangible and injecting them with relevant emotionality. Sam knows how achieve this with impact, and this book shows you how."
Vera Markl-Moser, Global Sustainable Business Development Director, Unilever
"The separate worlds of art and science merge in the masterful hands of Sam Knowles as he expertly guides us into understanding how to find the art in the science. This hugely important book is essential reading for communicators, scientists, academics, and anyone who needs to understand how to find stories in the numbers."
Tim Johns, Business Coach and former Head of Communications for Sainsbury’s, BT, and Unilever
“The Big Data revolution has confused the world’s communicators for too long. What really matters is the relatively small and self-contained neighbourhood of relevant data. Sam’s book shows organisations what to look for, what to avoid, and how to exploit the power of data to tell engaging and impactful stories.”
Neville Hobson, Social media strategist at The Internet Society
"For as long as we can remember, data merchants and storytellers have been quite content to plough their separate fields – the storytellers wanted no truck with numbers while the data merchants remained blissfully ignorant of the power of the narrative. With Narrative by Numbers, Sam Knowles has shattered this cosy co-existence and produced a timely synergy of hard data and storyline. Like an ingenious alchemist, he’s succeeded in fusing together two elements that once occupied very separate worlds. In the process he’s created a new and explosive compound, the reverberations of which we’re going to hear for many years to come."
Dr Peter Collett, Psychologist and Body Language Expert, University of Oxford, UK