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In the current marketing landscape, gathering and effectively employing customer data is no longer a luxury. It's a necessity.

A stunning amount of raw data is continually being amassed by a variety of new tools, and the amount of campaign information accessible to marketers has grown at an exponential rate. Between 2010 and 2020, the amount of data used by marketers increased from 1.2 trillion gigabytes to 59 trillion gigabytes. And though that is certainly an impressive statistic, it does not take into account the ways that data was communicated.

For all the effort your business puts into collecting and maintaining a database, you should be able to obtain an equal or greater amount of value from the insights it gathers.

Much of today's visualization software is intuitive and easy to use; however, to obtain the most actionable insights, you and your team must exercise careful and considerate planning.

Moreover, you must communicate your insights in an easy-to-understand format—and the best format is data visualization.

The Visual Human

Humans are visual learners. Generally, it is more natural for most people's minds to understand and synthesize shapes and colors than to comprehend words on a page. The phenomenon is known as "picture superiority." Thus, being able to create easily understandable graphics and visual aids is essential as a marketer.

Fortunately, current technology means you don't have to be a visual artist to create good-looking graphs and infographics. What you do need is the ability to be precise in your targeting and in determining which data you will transform into those infographics.

The accuracy of your visualizations relies on two factors: the nature of the data you collect and the skill of your team members.

When you're looking to create a new visualization, the first thing to do is validate your data. Customer data can come from a variety of sources, and some attributes are prone to getting lost in translation as all the data is amalgamated into your main database. Making sure you know where your data comes from and what it looks to measure is essential to creating accurate visualizations.

Planning Your Approach to Data Visualization

Once you know what your data has recorded, it's time to consider what you want your visualization to measure. One strategy could be to come up with a list of questions that you would ideally like your data to answer. That may seem time-consuming; however, it's a critical thinking exercise that is one of the most important steps in the visualization process.

It is equally important to keep an open mind as you examine your data. Although marketers may have an idea of the story they want to tell, it is more important to take the extra time to look at your data away from your biases and consider it objectively. Look into each of the insights that you find, and ask yourself what they might suggest on a wider scale.

All that information will help in the development of a hypothesis for your data. By testing the hypothesis against your data—even if that hypothesis proves untrue—you may discover surprising insights. Such tests will also help you to refine what you're looking to measure.

Even data that ultimately goes against your hypothesis can be useful and may provide a new perspective within your industry.

Creating Your Graphics

After your chosen insights are well-defined, it is time to input your data into your visualization software.

In the designing phase, simplicity is the key. Many designs are aesthetically pleasing but difficult to draw insights from. As a general rule, it is best to stick with the basics: bar charts, line charts, and pie charts.

When you use a simple base, your data will come across clearly, and your team will be able to exercise its creativity through the choice of images and eye-catching color. Brief descriptions can also be strategically used to compliment your graphics and make them easier to understand.

In creating your visualizations, ensure that all disparate pieces of information are brought together cohesively in your visualization platform. That will ensure you will get a holistic picture of how the campaign is performing, versus piecing together disjoint data sets.

Maintaining Your Insights

Once you've created your graphics, it is important to not forget about them. Having predictable capabilities is vastly profitable, and the best-collected data can be a reflection of the trends in an industry at large. For example, the data you collect and analyze may hold an insight about buyer behavior, or about a stall point that can inform future campaigns. Similarly, keep an eye out for any anomalies in your data, as those can also provide strategic insights for future campaign planning.

When it is successfully researched, planned, and executed, data visualization can add a wealth of value to your presentations, and it can be a major asset in conveying information both in your business and to your external customers. Taking full advantage of the planning stage will give you the most valuable and actionable insights.

More Resources on Data Visualization

How to Build Trust With Data Visualization: Caroline Jerome on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

How to Use the Right Charts and Graphs for Your Data [Infographic]

Five Tips for Painting a Clearer Marketing Ops Picture With Data Visualization

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Data Draws the Big Picture: Why and How to Use Data Visualization

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image of Matthew Fanelli

Matthew Fanelli is the SVP, Digital, at MNI Targeted Media, specializing in online advertising strategy and management.

LinkedIn: Matthew Fanelli