Recently, I attended DMExco2016 in Cologne with several colleagues and clients. It combines a leading trade fair for digital marketers with a conference – both of which are on a quite extraordinary, unparalleled scale.

DMExco has grown enormously into one of the must-attend events on the digital marketing calendar. This year, 50,700 attendees made it through the doors. Like me, they had 1,000+ exhibitors and over 570 international speakers to whittle down into a manageable 2-day itinerary!

I always enjoy these events. It’s great to be able to pick an area of interest and then trace the contradictory stand points through the various speaker and conference Q+A sessions.

The theme that stood out strongest for me was that of Creativity in Storytelling. It came up again and again across the 2 days. Some brands and agencies are doing amazing things with content. Though each story is unique to the brand, they all come from one unifying point of origin. Data.

Advertising and marketing is a messy business. But data is now providing the industry with clear insights which help us make better decisions and, importantly, to show results. Paradoxically, it’s also reinforcing our reputation as a creative industry. Data is fuelling insight, which in turn is the lifeblood of outstanding creative and connection strategies.

The key takeout’s for me around storytelling are:

To embrace and unlock data. Doing this will in turn unlock consumer insight. Often the data reveals more about our behaviour and intentions than we know ourselves. In light of this it is important to use customer data sensitively and intelligently. To use it to surprise and delight people, not to target them to within an inch of their lives.

Data alone can only reveal so much. It’s imperative that we apply human intelligence on top of it to make sense of the Why. Often the Why is why people are behaving in a certain way, but we must also extend that to ask ‘why people should pay attention?’ Audiences can spot terrible content from a mile away. People want to see real people and read real stories. We must create emotionally immersive stories that are compelling – people need to come away from it breathless.

Use the data in real-time to help make quicker, and better decisions. Data analysing and finessing needs to be constant.

Be careful not to get lost in the ROI of digital. Set agreed KPIs upfront. However, creating more content is not a KPI in itself. The goal must be to create magnetic content that entices people to you.

Storytelling and content look set to rule the world for the year ahead. We’ve already seen a tripling of online content from advertisers in the last year, but engagement rates have remained flat. 5% of content online generates 90% of all interactions (source: Adage). That 5% is made up of brands who have nailed the art of fusing data and great storytelling together to create content that is magnetic.