Data Visualization: Your Secret Weapon in Storytelling and Persuasion

In a world increasingly saturated with data and information, data visualizations are a potent way to break through the clutter, tell your story, and persuade people to action. Raw statistics by themselves are fine. But showing in context, whether with a simple chart or more creatively in an interactive form, is the future of sharing information, and needs to be embedded in the thinking of all communications professionals.

Combining data – which can be dry – with real creativity – which isn’t something humans, even creative ones, can simply turn on and off – can be challenging. Yet we live in a stream-powered mobile world that is increasingly visual, inspiring demands from media to achieve equal parts style and substance for news. This explains why unique and truly compelling visualizations are an underused, yet devastatingly effective tactic. They are equal parts rare and in demand. They beg to be shared. They are a catalyst for conversation, awareness, and action.

Visualizing Data Is Your Secret Weapon

Your marketing arm would be remiss not to have a designer on-hand or partner capable of creative and attractive visualizations as part of a larger content mix. Your analytics team is not doing their job if they sit on your digital analytics and BI data without thinking of how to use it to create persuasive internal and external visualizations. Such content attracts links, traffic, and media reactions – all essential for success in a world where no one has a monopoly on attention. Let’s take a look at a few examples from brands that are successful at thinking visually.

OKCupid Visualizes Dating Trends to Dominate the Online Dating Industry Conversation

okcupid-flash-photoImage source: OKCupid

OkTrends is the dating trends blog sharing original research and insights from the free Internet dating site (which is still very active) OkCupid. The blog compiles observations and statistics from hundreds of millions of OkCupid user interactions, all to explore the data side of the online dating world in a way that is accessible to everyone. Visualizations not only helped them attract millions of visitors, thousands of shares, and hundreds of comments per story, but they eventually (as part of a larger strategy) led to an acquisition by Match.com for $50 million in cash.

Google Clearly Shows “How Search Works” in Interactive Visualization

google-visualization

At Google, not only do we create products that visualize data, but we use it creatively in our own marketing. For example, our search team put together a visualization on “how search works” that brings together some compelling data points such as the size of Google’s index, to speed at results are returned into an easy-to-follow story. The most interesting part of this interactive visual to me was how the content was accessible and interesting to both a business and consumer audience. On the Web, everything is to a consumer, so creating something that’s sharable and interesting is key for all types of brands, B2B included.

Eloqua Shares Visual Thinking in Ongoing Infographic Series

eloqua-visualization

Eloqua is a leading provider in the marketing automation space and also a brand I previously consulted for. In partnership with design agency JESS3, they created some creative infographics such as a “Blog Tree” visualization of blogs in the marketing category, a “Content Grid” showing where in the buying cycle types of digital content live and key performance indicators (KPIs), and a “History of Dreamforce” infographic outlining the history of their annual event. Eloqua’s visual thinking was award-winning and helped add context to a growing sector, but even better, their quality marketing was a key factor in helping them grow to the point that they went IPO and later their acquisition for $810 million.

A Final Note of Caution About Visualizations

Pretty colors and creative elements are fine in data visualization, but as far as effectiveness goes, simplicity is best. When proving your point with data, don’t overcomplicate it. And be skeptical of those who do: whether visually or with what Charles Seife refers to as Potemkin numbers in his landmark book, Proofiness. In many cases, this is an indicator that someone is attempting to hide or exaggerate something.

With that said, getting visual needs to become a core part of your marketing going forward. Those who don’t will face increasingly competitive and difficult odds in gaining awareness in organic online channels.

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