Data Storytelling: The Power of Data Visualization in Marketing

What is data visualization? It’s more than the sum of its parts, but the standard definition is that it provides a way to view data to either draw conclusions or tell a story to someone.

Data visualization can help reveal trends, patterns, and exceptions. It can empower businesses to make more informed, longer-term decisions as well as communicate with customers and prospects more effectively. You’re likely familiar with heatmaps, infographics, bar charts, pie graphs and scatter plots – but it’s more than these, too. Here’s why data visualization is so useful in the marketing world.

Make discoveries about users and customers

If you want to reach people, you have to learn about them first. There are lots of ways to research your likely customers:

  • Dive into website analytics like highest-visited pages, bounce rates, and conversion ratios.
  • Track marketing campaign results over time in terms of social media followers gained, impressions made and traffic increased.
  • Perform keyword research and build a word cloud that shows you which search terms are trending and worth targeting.

Data visualization makes it much easier to dive into statistics like these and pick out correlations and developments you might’ve missed otherwise. Distilling raw data into useful visualizations also makes it easier to communicate with colleagues and decision-makers within your company about your findings, and for multiple teams to collaborate on shared goals.

Show off complex data

If data visualization helps tell stories, you need to figure out what kind of data your story needs to really “land” and make the most significant impact.

The human brain processes images, some say, 60,000 times faster than it processes text. Let that be all the motivation you need. But if you need more, know that infographics, how-to guides, and videos – all highly visual content – consistently rank high on lists of the most shareable online content types.

The obvious place to start is by building visually appealing graphics which “dress up” the raw numbers describing the capabilities of your product or service and how its effectiveness, design, sustainability or performance compares to the competition – or to last year’s model.

Visualizing data can help customers and clients connect with you in other ways, too. Think beyond your product and reflect on what your company does exceptionally: how many people you employ, how many lives you touch or improve or how much of your earnings you give back to the community. Do you have a plan to go carbon-neutral or fossil-fuel-free? Or, perhaps you have created a strategy to redress your recruitment targeting for greater inclusivity?

Maybe you’ve got an infographic on your hands here – or, you could build a microsite that illustrates, in real time, how much clean power your solar installation is generating. There are many ways your company stands out – and lots of ways to build a visual story around the numbers. Tell and show the public and your customers about your journey – and prove through data why you do things the way you do, and how it adds value to your product lineup.

Solicit and digest feedback more easily

There’s another class of data you can visualize, too: direct customer feedback. This can come to you in many forms:

  • Conduct social media polls
  • Send surveys by email
  • Visualize common phrases and trends from reviews and feedback

When any of us take an online poll or fill out a survey, there’s something immensely satisfying about getting to the end and being able to immediately see the results. How did our responses stack up against other people’s? Data visualization can give your customers an even more rewarding experience and more immediate feedback. It tells them they’re contributing to making your products or services better – and that they’re helping you prioritize your company’s possible next steps.

As a consumer, think about how powerful it could be to get a walkthrough of the product development process with visual aids, and to see in imagery rather than text what the trade-off might look like between two different product features or designs.

In addition to the customer-centric benefits, the decision-makers within your company will have a way to clearly understand what customers want, straight from the source. Poring over customer relationship dashboards and pulling in social media analytics information can be tedious – but infographics and other visualization tools can make it easier to plot a course.

How to find out what kind of data is useful

Your company has lots of data types that would translate well to visualization, but you have to find and organize it first. For a start, that means categorizing and prioritizing data according to the source.

First-party data comes from:

  • Direct actions and interactions that occur on your website or apps
  • Data your customers voluntarily supply, such as geographical areas, household details, etc.
  • Data from social media analytics
  • Purchase and subscription information

Second-party data is similar, but it comes from a source other than your audience:

  • Third-party website analytics
  • Customer surveys
  • Other industry sources

Third-party data includes:

  • Data captured by outside sources and other parties
  • Data purchased on exchanges

The benefits of organizing and categorizing data from these and other channels, using a data management platform, are clear. The better-organized and higher-quality your data is, the more precision you have while targeting your audience. A heatmap of geographical distribution can help plan expansions, for example. Plus, you’ll be able to triangulate and visualize your audience’s demographics, interests, hobbies and passions – and channel that data into videos, images, infographics, and advertisements that speak directly to them and result in more conversions.

Filtering your branding and company message through compelling data can help you create a powerful narrative. One of the more exceptional examples of putting data to work in storytelling comes from Whirlpool. The company sat down with an abundance of organized data and connected the dots until they saw an opportunity:

  • The company learned that every day, 4,000 minors drop out of school.
  • Those who leave school early are 40% more likely to be unemployed later in life and eight times more likely to go to prison.
  • One of the most frequently named reasons students drop out is that they don’t have the means to wash their clothes at home and don’t feel confident in their appearance.

As a result of their research, Whirlpool decided to seize the moment and install clothes washers and dryers in schools around the country. The company helped kids do thousands of loads of laundry in the first year.

This anecdote is an example of where data becomes the story – and brings real-world visibility, literally, to one potential solution to a largely unnoticed but socially consequential problem. Whirlpool sold a lot of washers and dryers in the bargain, of course, but the community got something back, too, including greater awareness of trends that had so far gone underreported.


Data visualization lends context and specificity to your decisions, helps build a case for why the public should choose your brand over another and results in the design of world-class, eminently shareable content.

Guest author: From Pittsburgh, PA, Nathan Sykes is the founder of Finding an Outlet and writes about business and technology on sites such as BestTechie, Simple Programmer, and TechTalks.

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