In today’s world of information overload, information graphics serve a critical role in your marketing communications strategy. I’ll outline the benefits in detail, but for those of you who want it short and sweet, here are the top 8 benefits that information graphics provide:
- Improve retention
- Say a lot in a small space
- Simplify complex concepts
- Serve the “scanner”
- Are easily shared
- Are fun
When presented an option of pure text versus visual information, readers will inevitably choose visual information. The eye is attracted to color and shape. Once the visual is glimpsed, curiosity compels the mind to scan for topic content. If the topic is of interest, the intellectual challenge engages the mind.
It might sound strange, but intellectual challenge plays a significant role in information graphics’ draw. Like a Sudoku puzzle, the daily crossword, or online gaming, most people enjoy the ability to successfully solve and decode minor challenges. In the case of visual information, this is not a conscious choice, but rather an autonomic response. The key to successful information graphics is to keep the challenge minor. The reader should be able to break down visual coding to understand the underlying message quickly and easily. In fact, it should never “feel” like a challenge to the reader. They simply enjoy the process of stopping for a moment to review the image as a whole, and then find the trend, theme, or critical message.
It is this process of decoding that improves retention percentages with information graphics. The mind has taken the time to view data in a larger context, focus on the highlighted critical data, and make its own logical connections. This active role in receiving the information cements it into the reader’s cognitive storage.
Michael Parkinson quotes several academic studies on this topic in his paper “Visual Marketing Matters.” He notes that a study by the University of Wisconsin found that visuals improved learning by 200%. Similarly, a Harvard University study concluded that visual communication improved retention by 38%.
Say a Lot in a Small Space
While readers subconsciously enjoy the slight challenge of visual decoding, they do not enjoy a complex challenge of wading through volumes of data to unearth a trend. Information graphics do the hard work for us, condensing vast data tables into compact, scalable, and easily digestible graphs, charts, and diagrams. Perhaps the simplest example of this is a 3-year history for any particular stock – a data table would be laborious, whereas a simple upward-curving trend line says volumes.
Simplify Complex Concepts
This is one of the truly magnificent benefits of information graphics. Well-designed visuals can distill complex concepts into simplified insights. An exceptional example of this was used to explain the concept and repercussions of a Ponzi scheme in the closing title sequence of the movie “The Other Guys.” You can view the segment here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvuDGyUkzoI. I’ll let this example do the talking for me (as it should).
Serve the Scanner
Most of us are busy – too busy to read everything that passes in front of us in depth. The higher up the organizational ladder your target audience sits, the more likely this tenet will be. Thus, busy people scan. They quickly read headlines and pull quotes, and peruse visuals before deciding whether or not to invest the time to read the details. Information graphics are high on the list of elements viewed when scanning an article, blog post, sales sheet, or advertisement. A well-placed information graphic can be just what you need to earn your readers’ attention.
One of the most valuable aspects of information graphics is the high propensity for social sharing. For the very same reasons stated in the previous six points, readers love to share information graphics. A tangible example of this was demonstrated at the time of the Facebook IPO, when WordStream did a quick study on the value of display advertising on Facebook versus Google. They translated the study into a compelling graphic and posted a press release with it. Within a week, the visual had been picked up by USA Today, CNN, Fast Company, The Economist, and Fox Business. Over 13,000 news articles mentioned WordStream and the visual.
When it comes to data, research, and product/service information, visual information is typically more fun than words alone. Topics that might ordinarily intimidate a portion of the audience become more approachable, and an emotional aspect of the information can be enhanced.
So the next time you give a presentation, refresh your website, describe your product, or share your research, take a moment to see whether an information graphic or diagram might serve your message.
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