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Data Visualization: What is it and why does it matter?

Let me start off by saying that the premise of data visualization is not a new development. As humans, we’ve always been susceptible to visual cues rather than the written word. Be it the existence of tally marks that first introduced us to counting numbers, or the early sketches of planetary systems that have served as the basis of astronomy for decades. Humans are pre-programmed to process visual information instead of the written language. “We were never born to read”, says Maryanne Wolf in her book, Proust and the Squid (2007). However, data visualization has come a long way in its appearance, approach and usability in the modern space. It works across professions, displays data in the most efficient and sophisticated way, appeals to the new, savvy consumer base and helps in creating a guideline for future steps and solutions.

What is Data Visualization?

Data visualization is the act of organizing data (information) in a visual format in an effort to help you comprehend the significance of data and its role in the past, present and future of your business. However, gone are the days when data visualization just relied on maps, graphs and charts. Now, data is beautiful and is a delicate balance between form and function. It is refined, aesthetic and uses complex and detailed variations of bar, pie and fever charts. You’ll find infographics, dials and gauges, scatter plots, cartograms, tree maps, heat maps and more, all geared towards a better and attractive way to exhibit data. In some cases, these images are intuitive and interactive that enables you and others to manipulate them or drill deeper for further analysis.
Data visualization breaks down huge chunks of information into smaller, comprehensible pieces of data making it easy to identify trends, detect patterns and provide insights that traditional form of statistics can’t. It distills complex information so that the resultant data can help organizations and clients determine whether their current process is indeed helpful or needs correction.

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Why does Data Visualization matter? (or, Benefits of Data Visualization)

Now that you have a fair idea about the concept of data visualization, let’s delve deeper into its benefits and how data visualization affects decision-making and organizational changes.

1. Faster comprehension. Our everyday life has proven that human beings respond to imagery more than anything else. Tweets with images receive more than 150% retweets than Tweets without. Facebook posts with images and videos create a better organic engagement with its users than the ones without. In fact, MIT neuroscientists have found that the brain can identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds. Data visualization makes use of this opportunity helping business people and decision-makers make sense of the data presented and react swiftly. The faster you comprehend the information, the quicker you are in identifying the pulse of the industry and make changes accordingly.

2. Better and constructive communication. Trying to interpret pages and pages of black text and data columns takes up a lot of time and might give the person looking through your report a headache. They become so elaborate that they’re difficult to read and fail to make an impression on the decision-makers. However, reports generated from data visualization tools make that same information appealing and instructive. The rich graphics keep the audience engaged while the self-explanatory data help executives work on problem areas and pending solutions.

3. Improved organizational insights. Data visualization has the power to collate an organization’s complete set of data and display it for maximum insight and visibility. For instance, a major data visualization benefit is that it permits users to find and track interdependency factors between operations and overall business performance. It identifies business functions and their impact on market performance helping decision-makers isolate weak spots and take immediate action. Sometimes, having the entire company view your dashboard is also a healthy practice. It encourages employees/people-in-midst-of-things to create their own data visualization reports with new ratios and new metrics that can prepare your organization for future trends and formulate action items.

4. Immediate actionable items. An interactive data visualization dashboard coupled with impressionable insights can help project and business leaders decide on immediate actions. It highlights areas of exceptional performance as well as areas of improvement. Effective data representation also helps companies identify market trends/shifts that determine product characteristics and demonstration, key performance indicators (KPIs), sales quota and more. It can be further drilled down to pinpoint the exact source of such metrics and help business strategists jot down a strategic action plan.

5. Increased sales and productivity. All the above benefits coagulate together for the eventual benefit a company seeks – greater efficiency resulting in an increase in sales and productivity. An up-to-date data driven report not only saves a lot of company time but allows employees to utilize that time for other activities. It inspires business intelligence users to detect information without the help of IT employees and creates a better attitude towards data analytics. An Aberdeen study states that organizations that use data visualization tools are 28% more likely to find information at the right time than those who rely solely on just reporting and maintaining basic dashboards. In reality, companies that embrace data visualization culture witness a growth in revenue and enjoy rewards to the bottom line.

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How is Data Visualization relevant to Digital Marketing?

Apart from the above-mentioned benefits that cut across business projects and organizations, data visualization can effectively change the way digital marketing operates. It has the power to change the direction your campaign is heading and tells you whether the project is viable or not. If it’s not, it’s better to take a look at your data visualization board and proceed from there.

1. Simplifies patterns and trends. If not all, digital marketing is a lot about SEO marketing. As digital marketers, we need SEO to help us determine patterns and trends that are core to the success and failure of a business. Raw data gives us numbers, but only when we plot that data, do we find the inherent correlations, dependencies and developing trends hidden inside that data.

2. Directs marketing strategy. Data is the heart of digital marketing. The web is swamped with online platforms and provides digital marketers the opportunity to utilize that data as marketing gold. How do we benefit from that data though? We start by collecting them from different analytics tools like Google Analytics, Adwords etc. and visualize how those numbers add up against our goals. This allows us to find the best/worst performing platforms and channelize our energy likewise.

3. Determines content. Content is everywhere. Online users are on an upswing and the race to creating relevant yet viral content is heating up. In such situations, we utilize data visualization as data storytelling that helps us decide which factors to look at for content success. A particular keyword might work for a particular demography or a certain product description might hit the wrong nerve – once we put them up on a chart or infographic, content creation becomes infinitely simpler.

Data visualization is the need of the hour. It enables investors to communicate with data at their own pace. It empowers business enthusiasts to present their data according to their needs and interests. It allows users across organizations to create and upload all sources of data and store it in the same dashboard for easy access and analysis. Data is no more boring. The presence of data visualization ensures work along with creativity and fun. All we need to do is to focus on our audience, narration and the data visualization format.

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