The financial reports in your company aren’t just useful to management. Your marketing team can also leverage such reports to build strong and compelling marketing messages. Whether positioning your company against its competitors or pitching public relations stories to trade magazines, financial report data offers a great opportunity for fact-based storytelling.
Stories Make a Lasting Impact
People are born with a love of stories. Throughout all cultures and time periods, stories are what bind people together. Whether around the campfire or in a plush movie theater, people naturally gravitate towards stories.
According to the Stanford University Women’s Leadership Institute, stories are remembered 22% better than facts alone. Transforming raw numbers into stories is important if you want your messages heard and remembered.
A Word About Using Financial Reports for Marketing
Clearly, we’re not suggesting publishing your quarterly profit and loss statement online. Unless you run a publicly traded company, which must operate under specific disclosure laws, financial reports should be kept confidential.
However, many companies hold quarterly or annual internal meetings in which managers share updates. Such updates benefit from good “financial storytelling” which utilizes financial reports as their backbone.
Overarching Story Themes
All stories have an overarching theme: good versus evil, man versus nature. Think about Star Wars: it’s good (Luke Skywalker) versus evil (Darth Vader). Man versus nature? Jaws comes to mind—marine biologist (and sea captain) confront killer shark.
Within your company, you too have overarching story themes. Look at your financial data: do any trends emerge? Some common themes that companies often overlook can be found within the data. A manufacturer who emerges from the pandemic triumphant, with a positive balance sheet, may find that the data supports the overarching theme of “triumphing over all odds” or “our team is resilient.”
Tips for Using Financial Reports for Storytelling
- Start with the numbers in a financial report but transform those numbers into visual representations. This makes them easier to understand and to recognize patterns that form the basis of stories. For example, monthly gross sales can be made into a line graph that shows how sales trend up or down. From that information and any other insights you can bring to the data, you can show the story of why the data is moving as it is, or what the future may hold based upon the relevant information.
- Don’t assume the information is clear to your audience. Many people make the mistake of understanding that the backstory behind the data is shared by their audience. Keep in mind that if you are presenting financial reports at a companywide meeting, some employees may be new, some may not remember the last meeting, and others may not be involved in the financial aspect of the company. Fill in the blanks for people and sketch in brief details to set the stage for your story.
- Remember that good stories follow a typical pattern: a hero sets out on a quest, encounters challenges, gets help from someone, overcomes the challenge, and wins the day. Does your story fit into this pattern? If so, then it makes a natural way to frame the financial report data and shape the story into a pattern that resonates quickly with the audience.
- Use details to bring big picture ideas to life. For example, a noticeable uptick in the sales line graph may be a story about the company bringing in more business, but why? Perhaps it is because customer service is now closing tickets faster than before or improving their ratio of satisfied customers. In that case, the story isn’t necessarily “we’re making more money” but could be that individual customer service team members went the extra mile to improve satisfaction. If so, then call out Jane, Michael, Linda, or David, and share specific stories of how they saved sales and made customers loyal to the brand. Using specific stories to support big-picture stories is also a great way to help your audience understand the key takeaway (sales are up and it is due to improved customer service).
Good ERP Software Supports Clear Financial Reporting
If you’re still using spreadsheets, you may find it challenging to run the financial reports you need to tell compelling stories. A good enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with business intelligence (BI) and data visualizations enhancing its reports can go a long way toward helping you improve your ability to tell great stories.