Successful CDOs Tell Stories Based on the Insights Derived from Data

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

The CDO role is complex and requires a leader with many skills - business domain expertise, data management and analytics experience, and a strong change management capability. Storytelling is another critical skill that a CDO must possess. It isn't typically mentioned in their job description, but a CDO that isn't a good storyteller will have a tough time influencing peers, senior leadership, and staff to gain credibility, which will hinder progress.

CDOs are champions and stewards of data. But data by itself has limited value - it's the insights derived from it that generate tangible value.

The Art of Storytelling

When people talk about the great storytellers of the modern era, J.K. Rowling should always be included on the list. She is a master storyteller and here's why her stories are so successful:

  • Planning: Rowling has demonstrated tremendous planning and forethought in developing the 7-part Harry Potter series. Pair that with the patience it took to introduce extremely relevant plot points early on in the series, and have that greater relevance revealed later on, and genius of Rowling's plotting starts to take shape.

  • Plot: Develop intriguing plots is critical, and the Harry Potter series shows Rowling's command of characterization. She creates a wonderful world of wizarding that is so important in exploring the coming-of-age story's main themes of love, family, and loss. We get immersed into the main character Harry Potter and how he defeats the Dark Lord because we care about these characters. It demonstrates emotional intelligence, a skill that far too many storytellers don't actually have.

  • Characters: One of the best examples of characterization in the Harry Potter series is Ron Weasley. Rowling's skill in articulating character is so well demonstrated with Ron because he is the character that is generally characterized the poorest when other writers take him on.

  • Story Structure: Rowling is a genius when it comes to developing a story structure. The fact that these narrative crumbs were spread over not just a trilogy, but seven books, is particularly impressive.

Lessons for CDOs

Successful CDOs use their knowledge of the business domain, their company, and the company's strategic goals to tell stories. Customers, vendors, employees, partners, products and services are the primary characters in the stories. Numerous plot lines for the stories can be created such as a customer's journey and behavior across channels, a vendor's interaction with the company, the sales and marketing process, campaign management, the relationship between higher customer service to repeat purchases, insights into the what goes into a buyer's purchasing decisions, insights into employee turnover and how the trend can be reversed etc.

CDOs should plan storylines so that all the stories in the series inform the audience regarding the benefits that data and insights create - to drive bottom line results and mitigate risk.

For example, the CDO of a retail company can develop a set of stories that follow the sales process and highlight how data and analytics played a critical role in success. The series could start with the identification and stratification of target consumers, followed by sales and marketing and campaign management process, customer acquisition, improved online and offline sales, and increased loyalty through customer loyalty programs and special offers. The Stories Should Elicit Positive Emotions and Build Trust

CDOs should always lead with data and analytics and be persuasive (i.e., qualitative and quantitative). The stories they tell should generate a positive emotional response from the audience and leave the audience with a realization that data and insights are indeed strategic investments that drive bottom line results.

CDOs can use data and insights to gain trust with their stakeholders - CXOs, customers, employees, and vendors by providing data and insights that speed go-to-market strategies, product development, and innovation and inform key decisions. Conclusion

The CDO role is relatively new and not well understood or appreciated. Therefore, CDOs have a vested interest in raising awareness about their organization's role and its value. This requires not just technical and business acumen, but the ability to influence others through powerful storytelling. Some forethought should be put into the stories they wish to tell, based on their knowledge of the company, its business, and its strategic goals.

The primary objective of the stories should be to leave the audience with the realization that "data" and "data-driven insights" are critical for the success of the company and provide a significant return on investment. This will result in elevating the role of the CDO to a strategic one - on par with the other CXOs and guarantee long-term investment. Click here if you would like to avail of a complimentary CDO Strategy session with our experts.

Go forth and conquer!

The only way to win with data is to become data-driven and data savvy. My books will guide you through this process. Order Data-Driven Leadership: A New Leadership Paradigm in the Digital Age and Data Driven Leaders Always Win: The Essential Guide For Leaders in the Age of Data and share their timely, universal, and powerful message with your personal and professional network.

About Jay Zaidi:

As the Founder and Managing Partner of AlyData, my firm and I help leaders derive tangible business value from their data and information assets — to power sales, marketing, innovation, product development, and risk management. Our clients include financial services, healthcare, biotech firms and federal agencies. I’ve led strategic data and analytics engagements at Fannie Mae, Citibank, Hilton Hotels, The DOW Chemical Company, Ohio Edison, Illinois Health and Science, IBA Molecular, and The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. To learn more or get in touch, visit

Or follow me on Twitter: @jayzaidi


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