How B2B marketers can visualise data more effectively
Data visualisation is remarkably powerful in helping us understand complex information. Humans are astonishingly receptive to visual information; more neurons in the brain are devoted to vision than to all the other senses combined. By representing numbers in shapes and lines we can grasp those numbers intuitively, find fresh insights or persuasive new arguments. So, how can B2B take advantage of this?
Whether it's the key findings of your company’s annual report, creating an easily digestible summary of your story for the media or a dazzling presentation for the annual industry summit, infographics are a fantastic tool to communicate insights and arguments.
But, like anything, when it comes to making infographics there are pitfalls to be avoided and rules to be followed. It is far too easy to confuse people with data visualisations, and all too often the creators of infographics are focused on being clever instead of being clear.
Here are some suggestions on how to use your visualisations to inform, engage and inspire your customers, suppliers and stakeholders with your data.
1. Keep it simple
Take a breath and repeat after me: visuals aren’t for making data pretty - they’re for making data understandable. Detailed data can be challenging, even for a knowledgeable audience. By using simple shapes like rectangles and circles to represent the numbers, you can make difficult numbers immediately, instinctively comprehensible. Keeping it simple helps your audience to get their heads around your message, no matter how technical and detailed it may be.
Resist the urge to make your visualisation look decorative or use lots of different colours. If you overdo it you can end up with a rainbow-coloured mess that your target audience will find deeply puzzling.
2. Be selective with your data
The second rule is not to try to cram in every piece of data you have. I know it’s painful: you probably spent a long time (and possibly some cash) gathering and analysing it. But don’t allow yourself to add extraneous details. Do you really need axis labels, gridlines, an extra dataset for context, some confidence intervals, and three levels of heading? Very quickly all those extra elements are going to crowd out your simple shapes and pared-back colour scheme. A good example is this blog from Google aimed at helping retailers reach online shoppers - a few simple charts support a strong narrative.
3. Work out your story, and then trust it
As a marketer you’re the expert in your message and you know your target audience. You should have a clear idea of how you are going to communicate the first to the second. It is only once you know what your story is that you can start thinking about how you want to show it visually.
For example, in this piece from London First, a great deal of thought has gone into the structure of the story. The first page is broken into three sections, building a picture that is then challenged on the second page, before leading to a clear call-to-action.
This carefully designed story means that all the visualisations can then be simple and to the point, as it’s been clearly decided what they need to show and why. Planning a story and trusting it makes the visualisation so much easier.
4. Choose the right kind of chart for your message
Different charts are suited to different kinds of data and different kinds of stories. A bar chart is really useful for comparing numbers, such as how the unit size of your product compares to your competitors’. Line charts are great at showing changes in one particular metric - think year-on-year sales figures or customer satisfaction surveys. Pie charts are perfect for breaking down the composition of a total like how your annual sales total breaks down into different products.
Some suggested charts for different data stories from Communicating with Data Visualisation by Adam Frost, Tobias Sturt, Jim Kynvin and Sergio Fernández Gallardo.
5. Once you’ve made your infographic, check that it’s showing your data clearly
Strip it down to the pure shapes - just the bars or circles or lines - and then add just enough information to make it comprehensible: a title, some data labels, maybe an axis or a legend, but probably not much more than that. The question you need to ask yourself is not whether something looks nice, but whether it looks readable. If you’re not sure, show it to someone else - preferably someone who doesn’t know the numbers already - and ask them what they think it means, then consider whether that’s the message you want your clients or potential clients to take away.
Trust your message. If you get that right you can use even the simplest tools to convey it. You don’t need complex, professional programs to tell your stories; everyday applications like Canva and PowerPoint can make charts that will show your data clearly and legibly. All you need is a good, strong message and a crystal clear visual that is paired right down to the essentials. You can leave the rest to our remarkable brains.
Want to learn more on how to make the most of your data?
Why not check out Propolis, our exclusive community for B2B marketers to share insights, learn from industry leading marketers, and access our best content. Propolis includes a Hive (group) specially data strategy, insight and intelligence.