Accurate and comprehensive data is key to making and justifying business decisions, but taken on their own is not always sufficient to inform and explain. Here’s why visualising customer location data can make a real difference.
In a keynote address, Amitabh Varshney of the University of Maryland explained how the human brain treats text/numeric data differently to images. Humans are hard-wired to analyse and assess data sequentially, taking each item one by one and slowly building up data patterns and conclusions.
However, with images people can almost instantly bring together multiple pieces of information into a single conclusion, for example when somebody immediately recognises a friend even if that friend is wearing unfamiliar clothing or has had a haircut. The same is true when seeing a graphical representation of data such as customer location.
Map visualisation allows the viewer to quickly grasp patterns that are not so obvious with tables full of numbers. In particular, geographic representation makes it easier to use human knowledge and intuition. For example, a chart may show that 10,000 potential customers live within a mile of a shop, but a map may show us that 5,000 of them live on the other side of a river with few bridges, making them less likely to journey to the shop.
Similarly, it may take unnecessary time and effort to drill down a list of statistics based on customer addresses and socioeconomic backgrounds when a map will quickly show reveal whether part of a population lives “on the wrong side of the tracks”.
People trust maps regardless of the underlying data. Rationally or not, they tend to be suspicious of data tables, feeling they can be manipulated or confusing. Maps offer a comforting consistency. For example, a viewer may not trust the TV weather forecaster to make an accurate prediction, but will trust that if the map shows a sunshine icon over her hometown, the forecaster is indeed saying it’ll be sunny – even if he or she doesn’t specifically mention that town in the forecast.
Perspective And Insight
People viewing a map can bring their own insight. This greatly increases the chances that staff, colleagues, partners and customers will spot and share patterns and insight that even the author of the data was not aware of.
It’s increasingly easy to integrate map-based data through publicly-accessible tools such as Google Maps. This makes it possible to overlay customer location details with other databases, such as competing or complimentary businesses and services, in a way that’s difficult to do with raw numbers.
What this all comes down to is that facts and figures about customer location aren’t always enough to demonstrate a point or make an argument: persuasive visualisation takes advantage of the fact that, for most people, seeing is believing.