Why Your Testing and Optimization Team Needs a Data Storyteller

A data storyteller is part numbers-cruncher, part internal marketer, and part ace correspondent from the testing trenches. He or she is someone who can take the sheer data of testing — the stacks of numbers, the fractional wins and losses, the stream of daily choices — and turn it into a narrative that will excite the team, the office, and (especially) the C-suite.

Storytelling doesn’t just mean bragging about successes. It can also mean sharing failures and other less-than-optimal outcomes. The point is not just to highlight wins: it’s to reinforce a culture of growth, to generate interest in experimentation, and to explain why testing is so good for the company.

“Our test success rate is about 10%,” says Jesse Nichols, Head of Growth for Nest. “We learn something from all our tests, but only one in 10 results in some kind of meaningful improvement.” That means that a big part of the data storyteller’s job is to keep people interested in testing and show them the value.

If you’re the data storyteller for your team, here are three points to remember:

  • Take the long view.  Gaining support for testing is like rolling a rock up a hill: slow going at first, but once you cross the summit the momentum will take over fast. It takes time, so lay the groundwork with lots of short reports. Don’t wait to make formal presentations: Look for chances to drop your message into weekly wrap-ups and other group forums. In short, don’t be afraid to over-communicate. 
  • Be specific. It’s better to present one great number than 10 so-so ones. Think mosaic rather than mural: Look for specific stories that can represent your larger efforts and broader plans. 
  • Keep your eye on the bottom line. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. You may be thrilled that a call-to-action change from “see more” to “learn more” increased clicks by .03%, but what will really get the CMO and other executives interested is moving the profit needle. As a litmus test, ask yourself, “So what?” If your story doesn’t clearly answer the question in terms the audience cares about, consider giving it a rewrite. 

And remember that it won’t always be small victories. “The things you’re so sure are going to work are the ones that go nowhere,” says Jesse. “Then you do a throwaway test and it makes the company an extra $500,000.” That’s a story that everyone will want to hear.

1Source: Google Surveys, U.S., “Marketing Growth and Optimization,” Base: 251 marketing executives who conduct A/B tests or online experiments, Oct. 2016.

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