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How to use data visualization as a marketing tool


When thinking of powerful marketing, few people think of using data visualization as a marketing tool. Yet it is one of the most powerful, though underused, methods of building influence and brand for your organization. Data visualization is content. And content is a marketing tool.

In this article, I'm going to show how to use data visualization as a marketing tool and discuss 3 ways of doing so.

Why use data visualization?

Unlike lengthy articles, data visualizations are processed much faster by our brains. They are concise and colorful. They are easy on the eye, yet able to engage a curious mind.

One data visualization may represent a lot of information – especially interactive data visualizations, where with one click of a mouse, the viewer is able to see into the past and compare it to the current situation. This intersection of technology and human cognitive tendencies can amplify your brand and establish your organization as one of influence.

Writing lengthy reports and publishing PDFs doesn't cut in the noisy digital world any more. It's time to elbow your way to the top – and using professionally executed data visualizations is the way to do it.

Why do we pay attention to data visualizations?

Data visualizations that represent complex, important information are closely examined and frequently shared. From which candidate is most likely to win the next election, to traffic maps, to stock market performances... But why do we pay attention to them?

  • They simplify complex information for us. Typically, they depict information that is hard to take in – huge amounts of numbers, for instance, such as temperatures for the past century that show climate change.

  • They build trust. Data visualizations themselves are a testimony to, and an indication of, an authoritative resource.

  • They save us time. Reviewing data visualizations takes less time than reading the text conveying the same amount of content.

How to use data visualization as a marketing tool

Data visualizations are powerful. There are different ways to harness this power effectively.

1. Native data visualizations

When your organization exists to provide information, that information is power. For example, cavatica.org provides data about cancer to researchers and interested audiences. It is only natural for them to want to show what kind of information they have to encourage potential users to explore further

Imagine this content as bullet point lists. How likely would you be to read through every category?

Native data visualizations can market in two ways:

  • Native promotion: it is eye candy that grabs the attention of interested users and quickly explains to them the offer (in this case, data about cancer).

  • Attribution marketing: when the organization is mentioned in the media, this visualization is referenced or incorporated into the article.

2. Data visualizations that establish expertise

When a good quality data visualization is posted online, people are quick to gravitate to it. For example, Nate Silver started his blog with this summary data (Obama versus McCain), and people tuned in.

Over time, with more and more substantial research, he was able to establish a following and elevate himself as an expert in the field.

Here is his recent data visualization on the popularity of Donald Trump.

Nate Silver mostly uses poll data and other publicly available data. People turn to him for easy to understand, trustworthy, and comprehensive data analysis and visualizations that explain issues they deeply care about. Although not a politics expert by training, he is frequently quoted by the media, and is regarded as one of the top experts on election results prediction.

Nate has a power: a type of power that derives from other people needing to understand what he can understand given his knowledge of statistical methods and an ability to use complex data analysis software. Does your organization have expertise in a complex issue that people usually struggle to grasp? Whether it's poverty, hunger, or gender inequality, are you pushing the limits of what's known to the general public? Will others find it useful? You can channel this expertise with data visualizations, even if you just use publicly available data.

3. Informational data visualizations

If your organization creates original research, you can position yourself as the top industry resource for trends and analysis in your niche.

For example, OSMIhelp.org conducted a survey to understand the experiences of people with mental health problems who work in the technology industry. This is a narrow field; little research so specific has to date been conducted. They released the data and survey results.

Data for a Cause volunteers created multiple data visualizations using their data. These data visualizations can now be shared and referenced by third parties, boosting OSMI as a credible, go-to source that gets quoted in major media outlets.

If your organization creates original research, you can position yourself as a top information resource for trends and analysis in your niche. Publishing data itself will not be enough. You have to make it accessible through data visualizations.

Final notes

In this article we've gone through ways to use data visualizations as a marketing tool – but this is just the beginning. I hope this article has helped explain how to use data visualizations to advance your mission.

If you are just exploring the idea of using data visualizations, I encourage you to try Data for a Cause. Our volunteers will create a range of data visualizations for you. This will give you a sense of both what's possible with your data, and what it could do for your organization.

If you are considering creating interactive data visualizations yourself, here is a list of 5 free data visualization tools to choose from.

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