We were very proud to learn that the team at Scotts Miracle-Gro were winners of a coveted ANA Genius Award in the Data Analytics Storytelling category. The ANA Genius Awards recognizes outstanding achievement in data and analytics – and the Storytelling category is by far the most fascinating as it is where we see the merging of science and art to drive meaningful business impact.

Data by itself is not inherently helpful. In fact, it can sometimes actually be rather useless. Data out of context, or representing an outlier, or presented in a way that does not communicate well has the potential to do more harm than good. And of course, the audience receiving data is important to consider too. What might be clear to a data scientist at a glance might need to be presented in a more compelling way to an executive not as close to the data. As Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian said, “The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades.” This is where proper storytelling comes in.

Scotts Miracle-Gro’s winning entry showed how the company used Helio, Analytic Partners’ weather-influenced demand forecasting solution, to quantify, predict and visualize the impact of weather on business performance. But more importantly with Analytic Partners as a partner, Scotts built valuable stories around the data. These stories were then able to communicate to different functions across the organization how to make the most of opportunities afforded by upcoming changes in the weather.

As with most analytics storytelling, the challenge was to take a lot of information and complex dynamics and to distil it down so that opportunities are valuable and digestible. The team needed to understand not just the “what?” but the “so what” as well. Faced with an immense amount of data, metrics, product lines, and retailers, there was the typical challenge of separating signal from noise to produce actionable insights. And these not only needed to be actionable insights but they also needed to be produced on a “real-time” basis — all while forecasts are evolving, climate is changing, and the business and competitors move forward.

We, at Analytic Partners, see storytelling as an essential part of change management for successful analytics adoption. The most sophisticated and accurate measurement and analytics programs will fail if the consumers of the information still scratch their heads and say “So what?” Internal insights and analytic teams and their external partners must work together to not just create deliverables, but to take the insights and create a narrative that persuades and influences through creativity.

We recommend that when hiring analysts for your teams, or when partnering with external firms, that you prioritize this capability. Data storytelling requires soft skills that many don’t associate with data analytics work but can be the difference between success and failure.

-Maggie Merklin is an EVP at Analytic Partners where she leads the Global Client Engagement team