Infographics can reach out and grab viewers’ attention in a way that mere words—or columns of numbers—don’t. They can illustrate a concept, prove a point, or provide access to troves of data for users to explore in depth. But as we saw from work shown at The Best American Infographics book launch, data visualization–infographics–can also be woven into narrative to tell stories that move and entertain.

Every good marketer knows that messages resonate best when they make an emotional connection with the audience. But what does that have to do with, say, a Technicolor pie chart?

Make an Emotional Connection

Financial services companies can use infographics in marketing messages that connect deeply with audiences. When Prudential wanted to drive home a message about the risk of outliving retirement income, they chose to illustrate longevity statistics with infographics, and cleverly integrated them in a campaign that encompassed digital, social, and broadcast media.

In the Stickers TV ad, random participants in Austin, Texas were asked to talk about the oldest person they've ever known, and they helped create a live-action infographic that showed how much longer Americans are living in retirement. The campaign also includes an online interactive infographic and behind-the-scenes footage that help viewers connect abstract information to personal stories that resonate with their own lives.

We talked to Colin McConnell, head of Prudential Advertising about the ads. “The concept was very much born out of the power of infographics,” he told us. “The process was aimed at humanizing the topic, making both emotional and cognitive connections. We wanted to put a face to living longer, and show the positive side. It is good news, after all!”

McConnell also explained why the campaign chose to use live action. “Crowd-sourcing the data and showing human participation was a way of connecting with people in an authentic way, something our category sometimes struggles with.”

“There's no question that the infographic approach is a winner,” said McConnell, adding that independent research shows the ad’s performance topping that of competitors.

Educate and Establish a Point of View

Infographics can also play a role in thought leadership, helping companies educate audiences, establish a point of view, and influence decision making.

Ignites recently reported on Putnam Investment’s interactive infographic aimed at helping investors understand the U.S. debt ceiling and how it affects financial markets.

Putnam’s head of marketing Mark McKenna, who has championed the use of infographics to drive clicks and user engagement online, told Ignites that Putnam chose to make the debt ceiling infographic a digital-only offering “so that advisors can share it with their clients.” (McKenna also noted that Putnam quadrupled its digital spend in the last five years, and now devotes 80% of its marketing budget to digital.)

The Creative Process

Intensive collaboration between editorial and design teams is crucial to the creation of timely, substantive content and media-rich, interactive tools. Putnam’s McKenna has cited his ad agency experience, where “writers and designers shared offices” as a model for this creative process.

Visualization can also be a process of discovery. According to infographic designer Dave Foster, the discovery of anomalies in a pattern sometimes indicate errors in the source data, or they can alert storytellers to a previously overlooked narrative angle.

As in all marketing tools, though, there’s no substitute for substance. Just as humans may be hardwired for visual learning, they may also be hardwired for story. As Dave Foster says, “What it comes down to is finding the story and picking the angle of the visualization—if that isn’t chosen smartly, then it’s pointless.”

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