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Infographics and insight: collecting and visualising data for inbound marketing

Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Grant Whiteside

When it comes to creating content for inbound marketing, there are a few trusty tools that marketers can use: whitepapers, ebooks, podcasts, webinars — a whole plethora of ways to deliver content, delight your audience and generate leads.

But perhaps the most popular of all these emergent content types are infographics, which are being created in ever greater numbers to convey information in an engaging, visually appealing manner.

The benefits are obvious: data visualisation allows you to communicate often complex information at a glance — you can tell a story with data that would otherwise make for dry, dull reading.

Great design can hook a reader: effective visual presentation means your viewer can get more information in less time — but something beautiful will also draw viewers in for longer, inviting them to spend quality time with your content.

This visual dimension is absolutely crucial here. Pictures can say more than words; they can say it faster; they can say it with more emotional resonance, in a more approachable and digestible way. There’s a great infographic from information design agency Neomam which delves into this in detail; particularly how data visualisation can combat information overload, and the remarkable ability of the human brain to process visual information.

All of that is what makes visual content ‘engaging’ — that qualification alternately loved and dreaded by digital marketers.

But the level of engagement you can achieve depends entirely on the quality of the work you produce, and the strength of your concept: an infographic is not in and of itself a pathway to instant viral glory. You have to answer a challenging set of questions:

  • How interesting is your topic?
  • How is it framed?
  • Have you got reliable data to back up your premise?
  • How beautiful — and how clear — is your design?

There’s a whole quality assurance checklist before you even start designing — and then great, effective information design presents its own challenges. But if you get it right, you have communicated powerfully with your target audience — and if it’s good enough to make them want to share it, your message can spread far beyond them.

I’ve talked a lot about engaging your audience, and giving your readers the information they want — but how do you arrive at that understanding? Or how do you gather data for your infographic if there isn’t existing, relevant research in your niche? After all, desk research can only go so far.

In this case, we often arrive back at an old marketers’ staple: the humble survey. I spent a lot of my career in traditional market research, and it’s an interesting parallel to the inbound marketing world I now live in. In a lot of ways, the situation is flipped: you’re not telling your audience something; rather, you’re asking them for information.

Now you’re tapping into people’s time economics, and people’s time doesn’t come cheap. That’s why we see such low response levels to most surveys, and why you end up with ‘professional respondents’. A ComScore study found that 0.25% of respondents complete over 30% of all online surveys; people sign up to earn micro-payments for filling out surveys, leaving you with a ludicrously unbalanced sample set.

Even more informal research routes — like a poll on your website or in your email newsletter — often provide little joy.

So where does the connection between infographics and surveys come in? My company Stipso has built a tool for visual content marketing which mashes up the two: we enable marketers to create infographics which use survey mechanics to capture, as well as visualise data. You ask a question, your viewers click to contribute their opinions, and the infographic grows and evolves in real time. It’s co-created visual content that makes your audience participants, not just ‘readers’.

We think of them as ‘people-powered’ infographics: engaging visual content which is driven by user-contributed data. The reason I think this is so exciting is that it bridges a divide between the inbound imperative (produce content/delight customers) and the ever-increasing need for insight into what consumers think.

It’s not deep, Big Data-style behavioural insight, but something different: actively-contributed, inherently social data which can tell you what people think, not just what they do. If your infographic taps into a topic your audience is passionate about, and if you can engage them in a more interactive way, I think the your chances of achieving that crucial stage of customer delight are much improved.

Steven Drost is the co-founder and CEO of Stipso, a creative tool for visual content marketers. Stipso enables you to create Living Infographics which mash-up data visualisation and survey elements to create real-time interactive content for audience engagement.

Grant Whiteside
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