Data: Seeing the Big Picture

By Matthew Fanelli

Effectively gathering and quantifying consumer data is no longer a luxury, but a necessity in today's market. Huge quantities of data can be amassed at dizzying speeds, and the amount of campaign information accessible to marketers has grown at an exponential rate. Between 2010 and 2020, the amount of data utilized by marketers increased from 1.2 trillion gigabytes to 59 trillion gigabytes, according to Forbes. However this statistic does not take into account the ways in which that data was communicated.

Your business has likely put a lot of time and effort into building its database, and this effort should be rewarded with actionable insights, ideally garnering an equal or greater amount of value. One way to ensure that your data will be easily understood is to utilize data visualization.

Fortunately, there are plenty of intuitive visualization softwares on the market. Creating a successful visualization takes a bit of consideration and planning from your team but can be executed successfully.

The Visual Human

The adage of a picture "speaking a thousand words" actually has some scientific merit. Humans are visual learners. The concept of "picture superiority" means that synthesizing shapes and colors comes more easily than understanding words on a page. For marketers, taking advantage of this phenomenon is essential, meaning they must be able to create easily-understandable graphics and visual aids.

With today's technology, creating easily-understandable graphics is more attainable than ever, regardless of your graphic design skills. What is arguably more important is your ability to determine which data you will transform into these infographics and being precise in your targeting.

The nature of the data your team collects and the skill of your team members will be the most important factors in determining the accuracy of your data. New visualizations begin by validating your data. Because consumer data comes from such a wide variety of sources, specific attributes can easily get lost in translation as it transfers to your primary database. Be sure you know where your data comes from and what it is looking to measure before creating accurate visualizations.

Exploring Your Insights

Next, it is time to solidify what your visualization will measure. It can be beneficial to come up with a list of questions for your data to answer. However, it is important to ensure that the story you want to tell does not overly influence the information the data is presenting. Keep an open mind and examine your data objectively.

Taking the time for this critical-thinking exercise is one of the most important steps in the visualization process. Look into each of the insights that you find and ask yourself what they might suggest on a wider scale.

This information will help to develop a thesis for your data. Even if it proves untrue, testing the thesis against your data may yield surprising insights. In addition, stress-tests help to strengthen and refine what you're looking to measure. Even data that goes against your thesis can be useful and may provide a new perspective to explore.

Perfecting Your Graphics

Creating your visualizations should ultimately bring together all your disparate pieces of information neatly in your visualization software. This will give you the most holistic picture of your customers' purchasing experiences, major trends and more as opposed to piecing together disjointed data sets. Organizing these insights will help you to effectively tell a story and personalize your data, as well as engage your audience with your findings.

Having both defined and refined your chosen insights, it is time to input your data into your visualization software. Simplicity is key. Oftentimes, the more "aesthetically-pleasing" designs are often more difficult to draw insights from. In considering your presentation, stick to the basics — bar charts, line charts and pie charts.

With a simple base, your data will come across clearly, and your team can exercise their creativity through the choice of images and eye-catching color to draw attention to the visual. Brief descriptions can also be used strategically to compliment your graphics and make them easier to understand.

Monitor Your Data

When well-researched, your graphics can provide value beyond their original purpose. Predictable capabilities are vastly profitable, and the best-collected data can be a reflection of the trends within an industry at large. The data you collect and analyze may inform future investigations by holding an unexplored insight about consumer purchase behavior, or a stall point that can inform future campaigns. Be sure to monitor for any anomalies in your data, as these can also provide strategic insights for future campaign planning.

When successfully researched, planned and executed, data-driven graphics add a wealth of value to your presentations, and can be major assets in conveying information within your business and to your external customers. Taking full advantage of the planning stage will give you the most valuable and actionable insights, going forward.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Matthew Fanelli is the SVP of digital at MNI Targeted Media.