“The sea of data is vast and growing exponentially.”*
Once measurable in megabytes or terabytes, the amount of data generated today requires words like ‘zettabyte’ and ‘yottabyte’. By 2025, the World Economic Forum estimates that 463 exabytes of data will be created everyday globally.
Aside from our privacy, we don’t have to think too much about this influx of data or what an exabyte is (one exabyte is equivalent to 1 billion gigabytes, just in case you were curious). However, businesses do not have this luxury. The 69% of businesses who do not identify as a ‘data-driven’ organisation can no longer ignore the fact that internal functions – from sales and human resources, to R&D and energy consumption – generate more data than ever before.
This evolution of data has resulted in a collective communications crisis.
Most businesses don’t know what to do with their data, how to effectively communicate it, and how – if at all – it brings value to their audiences. When data is shared by a business, it’s usually top-line stats and lone percentage points without context, adding very little value to the wider story.
To complicate matters even more, while people are more data-savvy than ever before, they are also more defensive than ever when it comes to having their information collected by organisations.
Infographics and pie charts have long been standard formats for communicating data because organisations simply didn’t know what else to do with it. More complex data visualisation, created using software, was historically reserved for the logical, analytical ‘left brain’. Its intention was not to entice interest, but to serve functionality over form: deliver masses of technical information in a digestible format. However, as the volume of data increases, these default ways of visualising and communicating data just don’t cut it anymore.
Fear not! Data is a communications crisis with a creative solution.
With traditional infographics becoming a tired option and today’s audiences demanding more detail and transparency in order to believe in a business, there is an opportunity for organisations to turn data into engaging and easy-to-digest experiences.
The world of data is a complex one and recent scandals involving tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon have given it a bad reputation. So it’s no surprise that many businesses shy away from sharing data voluntarily.
However, some organisations are starting to change the game, putting their data front and centre in their communications strategies:
- Spotify, a music streaming platform, has a done a great job leveraging and communicating the data they collect from their users in an entertaining way, both boosting and maintaining their customers’ trust.
- Industrial manufacturer, Siemens, is also pioneering brand storytelling with data. Their Reimagine the game project, in partnership with The Economist Group, used energy and noise data to visualise fans at football matches.
“It’s about showing an emotional case study about how we get great insights from gathering, analysing and digitising data.” – Joachim Hechinger, senior communications manager, digital communications at Siemens The Holmes Report
Data: a communications opportunity.
As with all communications challenges, it starts with a story. As we saw with Spotify and Siemens, when data is used to support a story and a clear purpose, it can become a powerful communications and marketing tool.
The key is to have the right data. Identifying relevant and reliable sources of data is usually the crux of the problem and companies typically lack the capabilities to develop deep, data-driven insights. Top-line stats and facts only lead back to simple infographics and pie charts – to create a dynamic and engaging data-driven campaign and data visualisation, more than one data point is needed.
Organisations trying to make sense of their vast and constant stream of real-time data have turned to sophisticated and design-driven software such as Microsoft Power BI, MicroStrategy or Tableau. These tools have not only taken the pressure and time off reporting, but they have also helped businesses make better, informed decisions faster, presenting streamlined organisational data in appealing, easy-to-digest visuals. More importantly, they’re creating opportunities for organisations to share data with external audiences. For example, Tableau allows you to embed dynamic visualisations into webpages, disguising it as branded content (for a pretty penny, of course). Browser-based programs, like Flourish and Datawrapper, make it easy to upload spreadsheets and build visualisations.
Although these tools are readily available, the majority of organisations haven’t yet capitalised on this opportunity to leverage their data in their communications and marketing strategies. However, one industry in particular is normalising data visualisation in communications.
The rise of data-driven journalism has been a key driver for bringing data visualisation into the mainstream. Despite often being linked to ‘fake news’, data-driven journalism is being used to support narrative and build trust among readers of influential publications, such as The Guardian DataBlog, The New York Times Upshot and The Economist Graphic Detail. Even when these publications are using simple bar charts, they’re thoughtfully designed and built with the user experience and understanding in mind.
Businesses have an opportunity to tell a more powerful and compelling story that will cut through the noise and make their audiences listen to them. Presented beyond numbers, we can leverage data to tell an engaging story that people can trust, especially in a time when businesses need it most.
* quote from Analytics comes of age, McKinsey Analytics, January 2018
By Sam Shannon
Sam is a digital, data and CX analyst at RY. Infinitely curious and with a keen eye for making information beautiful, she is a dab hand at blending her creative skills with data knowledge to bring it to life in a way which resonates with a multitude of audiences. She can be found teaching data analytics at General Assembly.