Marketing Cruncher

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Language of Data Visualization

In a previous post, I talked about how we're drowning in a sea of big data. In that post, I shared some thoughts about how marketers can maximize the value derived from available data. But knowing how to use the data is only half the battle. Knowing how to communicate the value from that data is what takes you to the next level. Projects often break down because of miscommunication. It's a tremendous waste when the most brilliant insights are lost because they aren't expressed in a way that makes sense to others, especially to those who are in a position to make use of them.

Enter data visualization.
 In his TED Talk on the beauty of data visualizationDavid McCandless, a London-based author, writer and designer, talks about the impact that visualized data can have in solving the world's informational problems. Indeed, visualized data, if done right, can instantly display answers to some of the most complex questions.

What makes data visualization effective?

The Billion Dollar Gram puts into perspective the billions of dollars spent by
different organizations around the world. (Source:

The first answer is that we're all lazy. Most of us would rather look at a nice graph than pore through an impossibly large spreadsheet of data. Add to that the fact that we simply don't have the time. But more importantly, people are highly visual creatures. We're all so easily stimulated by what we see. We tend to gravitate towards things that are aesthetically pleasing and avoid things that don't look as pleasant. And so, the most effective data visualizations are marked by simplicity and great design.

An effective visualization of data delivers instant comprehension of data one might previously have had difficulty grasping. For instance, David McCandless's 
Billion Dollar Gram puts the world's billion-dollar expenses side by side to give us a clear picture of their relative magnitude. (Check out the full graph here.) That box for the worldwide cost of the financial crisis does not look pretty.

Organizations are now recognizing the need that people have for communicating this way. This is why infographics have become all the rage in the marketing world. They've become great tools for marketing increasingly complex concepts. And with services like, which allows you to create your own infographic, individuals are becoming empowered to communicate their own insights.

With so many different languages in the world, it's hard to stay on the same page. Languages don't only differ between nations or cultures. They also differ between industries and even between departments within the same organization. Data visualization is a lingua franca of sorts. When people who speak different languages are shown a beautifully designed data visualization, they come to understand each other.

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