Getting Visual: Your Secret Weapon For Storytelling & Persuasion

In a world increasingly saturated with data and information, 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. More than 40% of the world’s top 100 brands already think visual, so if you’re not here yet, you’re late.

Combining data — which can be dry, with creativity — which many companies and marketers lack, can be challenging. Yet we live in a stream-powered web and 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 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 who are successful at thinking visually.

OKCupid visualizes dating trends to create popular online dating blog

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Image source: OKCupid

OkTrends is the (no longer updated) blog sharing original research and insights from the free internet dating site (which is still very active) OkCupid.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, eventually (as part of a larger strategy) led to acquisition by Match.com for $50 million in cash. The blog is no longer updated, in part because of the level of transparency OKCupid could offer as a startup which Match is either no longer able to or does not wish to share. It’s a huge opportunity for another player in the digital dating space to pick up where they left off.

Google clearly shows “how search works” in interactive visualization

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At Google, not only do we create products that visualize data, but we use it creatively in our own marketing. For example, our search marketing team recently put together a visualization on ‘how search works’ that brings together some compelling data points such as the size of Google’s index, (30 trillion individual pages at the time of writing this) to speed at results are returned (1/8th of a seconds) 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 consumer, so creating something that’s sharable and interesting is key for all types of brands, B2B included. No one should be boring.

Eloqua: shares visual thinking in ongoing infographic series

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Eloqua is a provider in the marketing automation space and also a brand I previously consulted for working with the ever-awesome Joe Chernov. In partnership with design agency JESS3, they made some creative infographics such as a “Blog Tree” visualization blogs in the marketing category, a “Content Grid” showing where in the buying cycle types of digital content live, and a “History of Dreamforce” infographic outlining the history of this annual event. Eloqua’s visual thinking was not only award-winning. A competitor of Eloqua’s who is also very successful started to take inspiration from their content (the highest form of flattery). However, as shown in publicly accessible metrics in the above graphic, the Eloqua version was more successful. It shows: attention to detail, quality of content and a solid promotional process all matter. It’s notable that Eloqua’s quality marketing was a key factor in helping them grow to the point they not only went IPO, but were later acquired by Oracle 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 someone is attempting to hide or exaggerate something.

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