Bring your analytics to life.

In the age of big data, businesses are quickly finding that collecting and crunching numbers isn’t enough. It is the underrated, yet essential, element of data visualization that allows companies of all sizes to make their numbers truly impactful.

Data visualization combines the science of analytics with the art of storytelling. While data analysis tools are crucial for combing through thousands of data points to find hidden correlations, stories aren’t told by numbers alone. Maps, graphs, charts, dashboards and diagrams become key players in business development. These quantifiable facts will generate trust in your brand and help you make more informed business decisions, while your story humanizes the data. Here are six steps to help you get started:

Define your audience.

To focus your message, pinpoint the audience who will be consuming the data. What is their likely age range and background? What do they care about? Are they experienced with your subject matter or are they encountering it for the first time? What questions or concerns might they have about it? The better you know your audience, the better you can tell a story that resonates.

For example, let’s say you own a specialty bicycle company. You’ll want to present your annual sales data to your accountants very differently than you would to your creative designers. Your accountants will be more interested annual growth, while designers will want information about which designs appeal to which customers. Visualization tools can tailor your info so that it’s useful for both groups.

Outline your narrative.

From one pool of data, you can draw many possible stories. To be compelling, your data-driven story needs focus. When you analyze and select info with this guiding focus, you can then build your story around it. A simple way to identify your focus is to answer the “So what?” question. Is this something the targeted businesses or customers care about? Know their biggest challenges—does your story address them? Answering the “so what” question will ensure you’re working from a customer-centric point of view and that your info is relevant and actionable. 

Gather the data.

Once your focus is clearly defined, it’s time to source the relevant data. Keep in mind that data is only as valuable as the credibility of its source. Always check that sources are considered trustworthy by your audience. Academic journals, college websites, and reports from professional institutions are good starting points. Beyond that, research the top information sources in your industry, as well as trusted reference points of your audience. When it comes to data, trust and accuracy are key. 

Filter the data.

Now that you’ve gathered a pool of data from trustworthy sources, you’ll want to filter it to highlight the story you want to tell. Continue to ask questions that get at the heart of the matter. Look at the data to determine what it’s telling you and be honest with yourself about whether it’s creating clarity for your story, or just adding noise. You shouldn’t need to stretch your story to fit the data. Not only will your audience pick up on this, but the story should grow naturally if you’ve sourced data with focus. 

Choose the most effective visualization.

With your data ready to go, it’s time to choose a visualization format. Keep in mind that the most effective visualizations are eye-catching, but not so complicated that they can’t be “read” without decoding. The visuals should reflect the content of the data and make intuitive sense. Do you want to show a trend over time? Then a line graph may be the best choice. Do you want to display geospatial data? A map visualization will be the most effective. Also keep in mind that different visualization platforms offer different options. For example, Tableau and Excel can create a broad variety of corporate visualizations like charts, maps and graphs. Tools like Infogram are best for quickly creating visualizations with real-time data. 

Tell the story.

Now that you’ve created your visualization, it’s time to tap into any writers or creatives on your team in order to make it shine. To tell a compelling data-driven story, you’ll need to shape your data interpretations into useful and valuable stories that address your audience’s real-world challenges. 

If you’re passionate about becoming a content marketing master, learning to be a great data-driven storyteller is an essential key to success. Remember that understanding your audience, collecting solid data from trusted sources, and matching it well with visualizations will help tame the big-data beast to deliver a story that truly resonates with your customers. 

Interested in some hands-on experience creating user-centered interactions with your audience? Columbia College Chicago Online can help. With Data Visualization Using Excel and Tableau, you will learn how to transform data into compelling graphics and dashboards, analyze social networks and generate basic statistics. Or try our online course on UX/UI Design Essentials to learn concepts in design thinking, empathy, and context while creating innovative environments.

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