selling your data

A participant made a comment after my public workshop in Dallas this morning that went something like this: "I'm in sales. I was whispering to my colleague during part of your presentation that really what you're doing is selling your data - it's just that nobody recognizes that's what you're doing."

At first, I was put off by this. Selling my data? No, that has the wrong connotation.

But upon reflecting a little more, I realized that is a part of what I'm doing (and teaching others to do as well). To be clear, this is not about overselling, but rather making your data something people want to pay attention to. There must be corollaries between that and creating something that people want to buy, right? I think so.

So I pondered...

What makes somebody want to buy something?

Here are a couple things that come to my mind when I reflect on this question and how we can translate to storytelling with data:

  • It must look good. Packaging is important. If a product doesn't look good, no one is going to buy it. Beyond that, studies have shown that consumers tend to have more patience with aesthetic designs. If your data visualization (or the broader communication in which the data visualization sits) doesn't look nice, your audience may not pay adequate attention to it. Or put more positively, creating an aesthetically pleasing design can foster goodwill in your audience, making it more likely that they'll have patience and spend time with your visual or communication. 
  • The product must meet the users' needs. A good product is designed with the end-users' needs in mind. The same is true for good data visualization, yet so often we fail to pause and think about the audience who is on the receiving end of the communication. What do they care about? What are their needs? How do I make what I want to communicate work for them? Success in communicating with data does not follow creating a data visualization that works for you; success is making a data visualization that works for your audience.
  • It must win over the competition. When it comes to purchasing, there are a lot of things competing for share of wallet. To win in a competitive marketplace, a product must be better than alternatives in one or more ways. Translating to communicating: there are a lot of things competing for our time. You likely face a busy audience, yet you need them to devote time to listening to your presentation or reading your report. For that, it must be better than alternatives. Which brings me back to my first two points.

These are just some quick thoughts on the topic. I'm sure there are other parallels we can draw. If any come to mind, please leave a comment with your thoughts.

Beth, if you're reading this, thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

I'll end with a couple of pics from today's public workshop in Dallas so those of you reading who weren't there can be jealous of all of the fun we had (yes, we even used crayons, courtesy of white space). If you'd like to take part in a future session, check out my public workshops page to register or suggest a location.