Written by Jane Stacey,
February 04th, 2021 | Category Management

Cut the cr*p and be a better storyteller

When was the last time you were asked to show more charts?

I suspect that’s never happened.

However, if you haven’t created a deck with 64 slides of charts and one slide of recommendations, I’m sure you’ve seen one. If you’re a Category Manager then you’re an Excel whiz and making charts is what you do. Line charts, bar charts, bubble-scatter charts, oh we love them all!

But guess what, not everyone does. Worse still, no one ever did anything because of a chart.


Charts aren’t compelling. What makes them compelling is the story they tell. As a Category Manager, your job isn’t to make charts. It’s to tell their stories.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, not just for rookie Category Managers but even those with lots of experience. We can be seduced into showing every step of the analytic process; all of the hard work and hours we’ve put into the data we’ve hunted, gathered and processed. At best someone might think you’re smart, more likely the anxious parade of knowledge helps your audience plan what they’re cooking for dinner or what they’ll do at the weekend.

If you want your audience to listen and to remember what you’ve told them, you need to go back to one of the oldest technologies we have. Storytelling.

Be warned though…


Fairy tales aren’t for Category Managers.

There is a difference between telling a captivating and compelling story that drives action and sparkles-and-sunshine tale to make your audience feel good; or a Brothers Grimm horror story designed to terrify your Buyer. Especially if these tales bare a passing resemblance to something that once looked like a fact.

When broken down the structure of a good story is fairly simple and can be summarized in 3 steps that you can apply to your presentations.

I’ve taken a very well written post on Pet Nutrition, shortened and fiddled with it as an example (original post by Chad Wethal of Kerry if you want to learn more).

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1. Context

This is where you engage your audience and arouse interest. Setting out the context establishes where you are now; what is the current situation, good and bad? Macro trends, Market trends, changes to shopper behaviour that have created an opportunity or a complication.

Pet consumers continue to value quality ingredients for their pets and the competition to deliver unique and novel premium pet food and treats has never been fiercer. There is a combination of pets living longer and pet consumers more closely scrutinizing what goes into their pets’ diets.

2. Challenge

Lay out the challenge to overcome or the question that needs an answer. Make the audience care and drive engagement so they want to know how the story ends or how the problem is solved. For instance:

Digestive health demands for pets are growing. As consumers continue to seek out new and novel ingredients, we need to be on the hunt for the next trend. What do consumers want now and what will they want for their pets in the future?

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3. Change

Paint a picture of how the world could look when the answer to the question is delivered. Spark a new insight for your audience as you make your compelling recommendation.

Through Postbiotics we can take the guesswork out of delivering a specific health benefit for pets. Although postbiotics are still in the early stages of use, some exciting areas to explore in this space include the potential to help maintain a healthy digestive system during periods of stress, or help older pets maintain optimal nutrient absorption as they age.

Consumer interest in postbiotics created a 91% increase in searches for postbiotics in human products in 2019 and new product launches for Pet that included a digestive health functional claim increased by 54% between 2015 and 2019 (Mintel).

It’s no Hollywood blockbuster, but it tells a story that is clear, leads to action and probably needed less than 5 charts. What we didn’t get is all of the spreadsheets and research results that lead to this conclusion.

If you want your audience to solve a problem, bring them into a world of multiple possibilities. If however, you need a decision made or action taken, stay the heck away from possibility-land and the long and winding road it will take you to get there. This means shifting the way you present your evidence and recommendations to be recommendation first, then backed up with why.

Why do this?

If you give a room full of people lots of information they will interpret it themselves and come up with their own ideas. So now not only have you got to convince the room that your idea is the best one, you’ve now got to explain to a bunch of influential clever people why they are wrong. The definition of a tough crowd!

The day I turned my presentations on their head has had the single biggest change to the impact I have and my ability to influence.

I used to believe that storytelling meant that I would build anticipation, teasing my audience with the facts until they were begging to know the resolution of my tale. I’m cringing thinking about how badly wrong this went for me at times.

Charts are your tools, having great charts in your toolbox certainly helps you to interpret your data and to give credibility to the data you present. (We also collected a bunch of Excel tips useful for any Cat Man). But be careful of letting them become a crutch to lean on or a way of bombarding your buyer until they’re number blind and can’t remember the point of your meeting.

If you want to engage your audience and drive change through inspiring action, cut down the charts and build better stories.

As Brent Dykes, the author of Effective Data Storytelling wrote in his Forbes article. “Uncovering key insights is one skill and communicating them is another—both are equally critical to deriving value from the data your business is now amassing.”