Data visualization, or presenting data sets in a visually-appealing way, is becoming quite the rage in today’s data-driven world.
Data is collected (and stored) at ever-increasing speeds and data scientists, the people who interpret and turn information into action, are in higher demand than ever before.
As this trend ramps up, large and small companies alike have begun looking for ways to analyze the ever-increasing amount of data they acquire.
But why is data so important?
Data: The basics
It’s expected that only 6% of all data (read: information) comes from books and printed materials – the other 94% is digital.
90% of all data has been created and stored digitally within just the past 3 years, which is striking considering human recordkeeping dates back thousands of years!
To top that off, we’re generating about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily, which just adds to the amount of data we have available to us.
But the question is – what do we do with the data we collect? Many people (entrepreneurs, business owners, and data scientists) are beginning to visualize it.
Data visualization: Why do we do it?
Have you ever stared at a spreadsheet or a list of figures that just made your eyes cross?
While our brains will eventually process what we’re seeing, it takes so long that sometimes we stop trying before the information really sinks in.
Human attention spans have decreased to about 8 seconds, so it’s no wonder we don’t really want to read a spreadsheet or look at a bunch of numbers.
This is why data visualization is so powerful: it turns boring information into a visual that our brains can actually understand.
Because our brains process visuals up to 60,000 times faster than text alone, businesses, educators, and marketers want to make it easier to share data in ways that people actually absorb.
This is why data visualizations – such as interactive maps, charts, and infographics – are so popular across the web. They share quantifiable information in ways that don’t put the brain to sleep!
Data can be found in nearly every facet of journalism, media, and education for this reason alone, but what about in business?
Data visualization and business
Data in business doesn’t just come in the form of sales made, stock values, or the numbers on your inventory spreadsheet. There is no denying the importance of those data sets, but there are a variety of information pools to “collect” from, including:
- Web traffic and retention stats
- Social media reach
- Audience polls
- Email marketing conversions
- Customer reviews
- Customer demographics (age, location, gender, etc.)
The beauty of data in today’s world is that it’s so easy to collect, you don’t have to do much legwork at all. Your website’s administration panel can tell you about your traffic and retention rates, while social media sites now offer analytic reports.
Your email software will collect plenty of information about your subscribers, including who they are and what they buy. Engaging your customers with polls and chances to review your services will give you plenty of information, as well.
You can also pull from public data sets for information about your industry, your target audience, or the type of products/services you provide. There are billions upon billions of data bytes out there; just collect the ones that pertain to your business!
But now that you understand where to find your business data, you’re probably wondering why in the world you should visualize it. After all, who really wants to see data about your email marketing conversions?
Instead of seeing your data sets as an entire story unto themselves, think of them as a piece of the puzzle. It’s your job to fit those puzzle pieces into content and information that your investors, audience, and potential customers want to consume!
Turning data into a story your audience wants to hear
One of the most common misconceptions about data visualization is that you need to create amazing works of interactive art, like the cool map from Metrocosm here.
Data visualization, massive graphic design budgets, and an in-depth knowledge of coding do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. According to most data experts, data visualization can be any map, chart, graph, etc. that you can make into a simple JPEG image, a video, or even a 3D model like the one above. The only criteria is that the visualization communicates data.
It’s also important to point out that data visualizations are usually only visual representations of one data set; a pie chart to show different portions of a specific group, or a line chart showing growth of social media followers.
An infographic, on the other hand, is a collection of multiple data sets designed to depict an overall trend, topic, or idea. It’s all up to you and what sort of data your business wants to share.
If you’re still trying to think of ways you could use data in your business, consider mining data that can be used to directly (or indirectly) grow your business.
You can use data to influence how you market to your audience and/or customers.
Firstly, you can gather demographic data to understand your audience better, which allows you to:
- Design (visual) content that is directed at this age/gender/geographical group
- Increase your marketing efforts with this group
- Improve your marketing towards another group you want to convert
Hint: Social media sites like Facebook as well as your website admin panel are great at providing insights into the people who “follow” you and visit your site
You can also pull data from public data sets to highlight:
- Public needs for your product
- Trends that support the growth of your business
- Polls that can be related to your business/product service
Then, you can:
- Create infographics that highlight the need for your product
- Share the infographics in your email marketing, social media, etc.
You can also poll your audience or gather data from reviews and surveys, and:
- Use the results to create visualizations of customer satisfaction, sales, trends, etc.
- Use the findings to convert those “on-the-fence” and make your current customers feel heard
This is an example of a visualization from a customer survey. It’s helpful for the company who created it, as well as other marketers and businesses. It makes consumers feel “heard,” to boot!
Plus, you can create visualizations and infographics that are relevant to your industry or audience, but not specific to your business. For example, you could:
- Make visualizations to show data on a trending topic
- Share visualizations or infographics created by influencers
Remember: these draw traffic and can result in conversions and sales!
And finally, you could make visuals and infographics to be used “internally” for:
- Employee training
- End-of-year reports or meetings
- Public consumption
This infographic is a great example of a marketing piece, an internal report, and visual content for the public. It uses the organization’s data to educate their investors, train their team, and encourage more good work – all in one fell swoop!
Most of all, data visualizations educate and engage!
Without the visual dynamic in the images above, you probably would have zoned out just looking at the numbers. If data visualization is designed well enough, you can show your audience what is most important in just a matter of seconds – and they’ll remember it!
Connect the dots, grow your business
While it’s quite possible that a large portion of all the data in the world is unnecessary or irrelevant to your business or brand, it’s also possible that there is more relevant information out there than you ever thought possible.
When you open yourself up to the idea that everything is data, you give yourself the chance to see how different points are connected and how you can use them to your advantage.
Many data scientists will tell you that data is not boring – it tells a story, one that can influence people and industries to grow and adapt.
As the field of data science and the technologies surrounding data visualization continue to grow, it’s time to step into the stream. Start looking at your business as a great source of information, and use that information to influence what you provide your audience and customers.
Data in, data out!