Storytelling allows humans to relate to each other — so it’s no wonder marketing teams want to use compelling stories to connect with audiences. There’s perhaps no better candidate to reap the rewards of storytelling than the travel industry and its adoring, adventurous consumers.

It makes a lot of sense. At its core, a good story follows the well-worn pattern of a hero undertaking a journey. What better way to captivate a wanderlust-filled audience than with a woven tale of an inspirational journey? Storytelling is a natural way to give travel consumers what they love.

It’s not easy to craft a compelling story that simultaneously resonates with consumers and remains relevant to your business. That’s where data comes in. Leading travel marketers use data as the backbone of their content marketing, and weave data throughout their stories. It pays off — 67% of travel executives report that data-driven marketing has enhanced their customer engagement and loyalty.

Data makes your story meaningful: it can persuade readers of your viewpoint; it can make them feel invested in your mission; it can help them relate your tale to their own personal experiences. Adding data to your narrative strengthens the connection your readers feel with the story you tell.

Here’s how you can use data in your stories to reach your ideal traveling audience.

Build Your Story’s Road Map

In the world of travel, it all starts with a map — a plan for where you’re going to go, and the route you’re going to take to get there. Before you begin writing your data-backed story, build a map for where you want the story to go.

Start by defining its purpose. Ask yourself: “Why would I, the consumer, care about the information contained here?” You may capitalize on a topical story, such as Uber’s negative publicity, to discuss tourist behavior; or, you could get to the heart of a common traveler pain point by providing a look at how the average person can take a budget-friendly vacation abroad. Travelers come in all forms, so narrow your focus to your brand’s ideal travel consumer. If your target market is ‘bleisure’ (business leisure) travelers, research their particular needs and interests in order to craft a story that speaks to them personally. You won’t break through to your readers unless you place yourself mentally in their shoes.

With a road map built, look for data to give meaning to your story. If your story argues a certain point, what data would you need to prove the argument you’re making? What data would you need to prove it wrong? Asking these questions gives you a great place to start. Search through studies and analyses to uncover data that’s relevant and interesting to your readers — after all, you’re writing this story for them.

Ultimately, strive to tell a story that has not been told before; or at least not in the fashion you’ve presented. Readers want to be surprised, awed, emotionally moved, educated, or delighted — make sure the data you use helps you achieve one (or more) of these goals.

Avoid Confirmation Bias

When collecting your data, be wary of “confirmation bias,” which can occur when a researcher ignores or misconstrues data in order for it to conform to preconceived beliefs. Of course, as a marketer, you must keep your brand in mind when forming narratives, but that goal shouldn’t overshadow the rigorous attempt to present data fairly and accurately. To do otherwise would be to invite criticism that could undermine the legitimacy of your story.

“Don’t force the data to say what you want it to say”

It’s okay to have a particular story idea in mind and to hunt down data that relates to it — but be receptive to data that challenges what you feel, or have previously read. You may find the majority of data proves your original argument wrong. That’s okay. Perhaps you should pivot your standpoint, take your story in a new direction, or find a new angle from which to examine that data.

Don’t force the data to say what you want it to say — do seek out data that will support the point you want to make, but if you find the numbers clearly say otherwise, turn your narrative to tell the story the data reveals. Keep the audience, not the story, at the forefront of your research and include the data that seems pertinent to the people you want to reach. What offers the most value to your readers?

Choose How to Present the Story

There’s more than one way to tell a great story: blog posts, whitepapers, social media posts, infographics, sitting around a campfire… the list goes on and on.

Don’t leave the choice of format as an afterthought. The presentation of your story contributes heavily to the way the audience perceives the narrative. Select a format that best supports the message you want to share. Depending on the complexity and depth of your research, you may opt for a longform article that allows readers to analyze the numbers, arguments, and conclusions you’ve provided. If you want a more focused and narrow perspective (say, a snapshot of intriguing data), try a graphic teaser on a blog or social media post. Think carefully about the purpose of your story, and let the form of the content follow its function.

“Relevant data may prove the premise of the argument, support the thesis, offer a counter to the thesis, or help connect the story back to the reader.”

Using visual aids helps reinforce the information found in the text, but be sure that your visuals can stand alone. A reader should be able to understand your messaging solely by reading text or the visuals, not necessarily both. Visuals are supplementary, not complementary pieces to your copy. Note how the chart in this article comparing Airbnb and hotel costs is easy to interpret without reading a single word of the text surrounding it.

No matter which format you choose, make it easy for your readers to verify your data; either by showing your references, or explaining your methodology if you collected the data yourself. It’s important to be clear in your research methods, so you can show readers that you are a reputable source. This will enhance their level of trust and respect for your brand.

Guide the Reader

A data-driven article should always hearken back to a central thesis — the main message of your research. Typically, that argument is found very early in a piece of content, and is reiterated via key data points throughout the piece. Make sure all data included in your narrative clearly ties to the point you’re making. When you’re done writing your story, go through it to assess every piece of data, and for each one, ask yourself: How does this connect to my thesis?

Relevant data may prove the premise of the argument, support the thesis, offer a counter to the thesis, or help connect the story back to the reader. Where possible, highlight a few key numbers or data points certain to influence the audience. A surprising and memorable number is more likely to be shared on social media, especially when used as a caption or tagline along with the story. Motel 6 did this effectively when it unveiled a travel study that found 10% of Americans have never seen an ocean.

The right data will help guide your reader through the story, from its clear and compelling beginning to its strong ending. The end of your story is vital. You should leave the reader with a clear sense of how to act or feel after reading the piece. Include a call-to-action; direction for the reader to do something. A good example is this USA Today article on the value of a travel agent, which begins with a clearly stated call-to-action (the thesis), backs it up with supporting data and interviews, and finishes with helpful tips on finding an agent — the ending is a clear call for the reader to go search for a great travel agent.

Good Storytelling Creates a Human Connection

While the data you use should support and strengthen your story, it’s still the story itself that matters most. Don’t get so caught up in the data that you lose the authentic, emotional connection with your audience. Readers relate best to narratives that include a human element.

Using anecdotes or personal stories often helps readers understand and relate to data, by framing numbers in real-world scenarios. You may incorporate humor to connect with travelers in a friendly and approachable tone. You may arouse sympathy by sharing an anecdote from a real traveler, that illustrates why the data matters and how it affects people in the real world. Create a feeling of intimacy by including personal, internal thoughts from the author throughout the narrative. Consider asking rhetorical questions that a typical reader might ask. Finding data-driven answers to those questions will satisfy curiosity and increase engagement with the piece.

Use data as a tool to enhance, deepen, and prove validity in your story, while keeping the human essence of the story at the forefront, and you’ll hit your readers in the heart — where brand loyalty is born and nurtured.

How will you utilize data in your travel narratives to attract readership?