We're all collecting data - mounds and mounds of data. So, how do we use this data to make it worthwhile? Well, regardless of whether you're presenting data to company executives or prospective clients, it all comes down to strategic data visualization. People love compelling illustrations, so you must do your data justice by creating stunning visuals.

The Influx of Data

As marketers, we have more data than we know what to do with. We read reports, studies, and surveys that tell us one thing; then we look at our own analytics and data collection tools and see something else. We're bombarded with useful information on a daily basis, but we often find it challenging to cut through the noise and to consolidate this into digestible bits that can be utilized.

While we don't want to admit it, we're often left treading water. And, since executives are more aware than ever that relevant data exists, there's more pressure from the top to produce relevant reports that improve output and efficiency.

Six Tips for Better Visualizations

The key to being a successful steward of data is to master the art of data visualization. Not only will data visualization enable you to understand data better, but it'll also help you to communicate with those around you. Here are some tips to think about:

1. Keep it Simple

The golden rule of data visualization is to keep it simple. Clarity is the single most important aspect of visualization, and your attempt to "spice things up" will do nothing but muddle the takeaways.

"Big data analytics offers lots of opportunities to visualize data for business users," writes Ed Burns, senior news writer for SearchBusinessAnalytics. "But analysts have to be careful not to overload big data visualizations with too much information."

Burns says that the temptation to turn data visualization software loose and to build elaborate charts and graphs is natural, but it must be suppressed. A "measured and methodical" approach typically produces much better results.

2. Use the Right Tools

Don't underestimate the importance of using the right tools. Specifically, you should pay attention to the business intelligence (BI) software that you select. The right tool can make a world of difference.

"The readability and visualization of the data your BI collects is not only advantageous for your tech team, but often times the reports that the BI summary creates will need to be seen by other people - executives, future vendors, investors, etc.," points out SelectHub, a service for enterprise software product evaluation. "Not everyone that sees your reports will be as tech savvy as you are; it is imperative to choose a business intelligence software that presents your data in a way that is easily digestible."

Beyond BI tools, there are also plenty of visualization-specific tools that enable you to simplify this part of the process. However, remember the first tip: flashy is not always better. A simple spreadsheet works just fine in many instances.

3. Tell a Story

A good data visualization will tell a story. However, don't confuse "telling a story" with "writing a bunch of paragraphs." Storytelling should be done visually. Only use text when it's necessary to clarify something that's being displayed visually. Words are distracting, and most people will gloss over them. 

This isn't a conscious choice, but rather something with which we're born. Our eyes and brains are built for rapidly processing complex data, but they prefer to analyze images and patterns over individual letters and text. As Noah Llinsky of Visually says, "We're wired for visualization."

4. Choose the Best Objective

The visualization strategy that you choose will depend heavily on your end objective. Are you trying to prove correlation? Are you simply reporting raw numbers? Understanding the end objective will help you to determine how to proceed.

A pie chart is much different than a bar chart, and a scatter plot shouldn't be confused with a node-link diagram. Each visualization has its own nuances, and it's imperative that you select the right one for the job.

5. Consider Color

Color is crucial when it comes to creating visuals that engage viewers. While we see lots of blacks, whites, greens, and blues, you should remember that there are reds, yellows, oranges, and purples. Using colors strategically can allow you to create truly stunning and effective visuals.

In order to use color well, you'll need to take a crash course in color theory. There are tons of different techniques and strategies for choosing color themes, but start with  familiarizing yourself with the psychology of each color and which emotional responses they typically elicit.

6. Use a Hierarchy

It may seem like a strange tip at first, but don't treat all data the same. Data should always have a hierarchy. This hierarchy will determine the visualization's objective and can be communicated through the various design choices, colors, and organization that you use.

Keeping tip number five in mind, color is one of the best ways to add emphasis to particular data points. However, it's not just the color you choose; the values, hues, and intensities of these colors also say something about the data points that they accompany.

Making Data Worthwhile

You can have access to all of the data in the world, but it doesn't mean anything if you can't interpret it for decision makers to see clearly. Before turning your attention toward data collection, you need to ensure that you're proficient at compiling and visualizing the data that you gather. It's an important, yet often forgotten, step in the process.