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In the past few years, infographics have taken off, fuelled by the increasing availability of large datasets and the social web's hunger for compelling images. It is no wonder more marketers are using this tool in their campaigns, since infographics can concisely convey crucial information in an appealing and shareable form.

But pretty colours and creative visuals aren't enough to make an infographic useful. For their infographics to stand out, CMOs and their marketing teams need to carefully plan how to develop and use them.

If you've ever thought about creating an infographic—or if you're already using infographics in your marketing campaigns but want to use them more effectively—here's what you need to know.

Which type of infographic should marketers use?

If you want your infographic to be both effective and widely distributed, you need to create the right type of infographic for your particular purpose. The major types are:

  1. Data visualization is a visual representation of data or the practice of visualizing data, according to the book Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling. Data visualizations enable people to detect trends, patterns, and outliers and could include word clouds, maps, and bar graphs. (Note that some people consider data visualizations to be a type of infographic, while other people consider infographics to be a type of data visualization - but unless you are presenting your project at a conference of professional designers, you probably don't have to worry about this debate.)
  2. Narrative infographics guide the viewer through a series of information - often in a chronological order - that tells a story. Inforgraphics that explore the history of a discipline is a common example.
  3. Information design is a type of infographic that focuses on the display of information efficiently and effectively, communicating a message clearly and universally. Examples include flowcharts, organizational diagrams, and anatomical illustrations.
How to create awesome infographics 1
Infographics can help increase brand awareness. For example, the infographic above was shared on iMedia Connection.

What are the benefits of creating infographics?

Just like any marketing asset, an infographic has its time and place. They work well for the following:

  • Driving traffic. Infographics can boost SEO and help drive traffic to your site.
  • Increasing brand awareness. Because of their potential to go viral on social media, infographics can help spread buzz about your brand. When done right, they can help get the attention of potential customers. As they are not primarily sales tools, infographics are better used for campaigns meant to fill the top of the marketing funnel.
  • Communicating results externally. Infographics can be a great alternative to your typical PowerPoint presentations. We work with a lot of customers who use infographics to summarize study results from their customer engagement activities.
  • Communicating results internally: Internally, infographics can also be used to summarize team achievements after each quarter or after a campaign. Some market research teams use infographics to showcase their achievements and increase their value to other internal stakeholders.

What makes an infographic successful?

Proper planning and thoughtful design are keys to standing out in the crowded infographic market. Here are key considerations on how to do that:

Keep a specific audience in mind.
An infographic needs to be relevant to a specific audience. Photos and images have a universal appeal, but some audiences are naturally more visual than others. If you have an insight community of consumers, ask them about their media habits. This will give you an idea on how receptive they'll be to visual content.
Start with data, and then provide valuable, interesting information.
While infographics can be sexy, will creating one add value to your story or message? Infographics can only be effective if you bring something original to the table. Data is the foundation of many of the most interesting infographics, so work with your research team to study your dataset and learn where it's from, how it was collected, and what makes it unique.
Be realistic about your resources.
Infographics don't go viral by accident. In fact, the research and design resources required to create a useful infographic are enormous. Be prepared to put a lot of effort into the project to avoid producing a mediocre infographic.
Maximize your use of external sources.
Make sure your sources tell a story - that the combination of all the data forms a compelling narrative. For a consistent narrative, use a limited number of sources. Be picky: use only relevant and trustworthy sources.

How can we design great infographics?

While amazing design is always a plus, it's even more important for infographics. Keep these tips in mind in the design process:

  • Show, don't tell. You don't want your infographic to feel like a novel; after all, infographics are all about presenting information visually. Keep your use of text to a minimum and use photos or illustrations as much as possible. For example, when presenting statistics, use visuals instead of just saying the number.
  • Focus on the story. Stories usually have a protagonist. They also have a beginning, a middle, and an end. While the medium is different, infographics also need to have these elements. Frame your infographic so it's clear what issue or challenge it addresses and what the audience needs to do after viewing it.
  • Think beyond the traditional. Bar and pie charts will always have their place, but the most successful infographics tell the story differently. The best infographics minimize the use of traditional charts, opting to use photos, illustrations, and other visually compelling elements instead.
  • Use a color palette that complements each other. The last thing you want is an infographic with contrasting effects, leaving people scratching their eyes out. Try to stick to three color palettes at most, and use colors that work well together.
  • Avoid a white background. Most websites have white backgrounds, so using that same colour as your background will make it difficult for people to decipher where your infographics begin and where it ends. (Tip via Smashing Magazine)
  • Keep it clean and simple. People will find it easier to digest and retain information if you're not cramming too much information and too many design details in one infographic. Edit and edit some more: use very minimal copy.
How to create awesome infographics 2
Rather than using traditional bar or pie charts, experiment with creative visuals to showcase data in your infographics.

How can we make our infographics relevant to a global audience?

As Vision Critical is a global software company, we often think about localizing marketing campaigns. This also applies to creating infographics. If your target audience involves several international markets, the following are some top considerations:

  • Spelling. Behavior vs behaviour. Organization vs organisations. Some words are spelled differently depending on where you are in the world. If you have to choose which spelling to go by, cater to your primary audience, or use the spelling that is standard in your home market.
  • Culture. Many of the things you consider normal may seem odd in other cultures. It helps to understand the culture of your primary target countries. Check travel websites to get a good sense of a country's culture or talk to someone who has lived or visited that country. Something as simple as color can have very different connotations in different countries.
  • Language. If some of your target markets have different languages, you could consider translating your infographic. Keeping the text minimal (as we suggested above) could help make the language barrier less of an issue.
  • Social media promotion. Some websites are more popular in certain countries than others. Twitter might make sense for a North American market but Sina Weibo might be a better fit for the Chinese market.

How should we promote our infographic?

As with any content, you need to promote your infographics heavily if you want it to get people's attention. When promoting your infographic, consider the following:

Maintain a consistent social media presence.
If you want to leverage your own social media presence to encourage people to share your infographics, then you need to establish your presence early. Building a social media community requires time and consistency. Update your presences regularly, posting content that your target audience will find interesting and valuable.
Make it super easy for people to share your infographic.
Your infographic won't go viral unless you enable people to share it. Putting it on sites such as Slideshare or Visually lets bloggers and journalists easily embed it to their websites while linking back to the original source. Also, make sure that people can easily share it on the most popular networks. If you're posting it on your blog or website, make the social sharing buttons easy to find and use.
Reach out to influencers.
Your infographics will be more likely to go viral if you engage people who are highly influential on social media and the blogosphere. List a handful of influencers - a "wish list" of people you really want to engage - and create a plan to get them to tweet, share or write about your infographic. Think about what's in it for them: why should they—and their readers or followers—care about your infographic? If a single key influencer has the potential to make a big splash with your infographic, consider offering them an exclusive.
Think beyond social.
Mobilize other parts of your business to help spread the word about your infographics. Check with your PR team to see if your infographic has media potential. And let your employees know about the infographic so they can help you spread the buzz.
Thank people.
Don't forget to thank people who share, like, tweet, and pin your infographic. If your infographic is embedded in a blog post or a web page, you can see who shared the page using Topsy. Pinterest also shows who pinned items from your website.

When do infographics fail?

Infographics that underperform usually have one or more of these five key issues:

  1. Misleading visuals: Some infographics present data inaccurately, making it easy to misinterpret the findings and creating a misleading story.
  2. Data presentation: Infographics can look creative and exciting but might not always be the correct solution to present data. Depending on the nature of the project, detailed research reports or even PowerPoint presentations are sometimes more appropriate.
  3. Sales-y information. On social, people like to share useful or interesting stuff. That's why infographics work better when they offer new and valuable information. Marketing teams shouldn't use infographics if their main goal is to let people know about sales promotions or product features. Minimize mentions of your own brand in the infographic: if you must include your company logo in the infographic, add it at the bottom.
  4. Unattractive design. You may have interesting data, but if it's not presented beautifully, no one will care. Without captivating visuals, your infographics won't stand out. The most effective infographics display complex data - often from various sources - in a concise, attractive, and engaging way.
  5. Unnecessary. Infographics work best if you have new data to show or new insights to share that lend themselves to visual representation. If you're finding that you're putting too much text in the infographic, it might be best to opt for a report or a blog post. For internal reports, the good old PowerPoint sometimes works better.

What is the future of infographics?

To continue to be useful, infographics must evolve. Many companies are already staring to play with interactive infographics, data visualizations made with HTML5 that show data based on what the viewer does. (Vision Critical recently released its first interactive infographic, which talks about the history of market research.) Some are even playing around with the idea of presenting information as animated GIFs, which may work well for newer social networks such as Tumblr. Some are pushing the boundaries even more, experimenting with video, quiz and other infographic formats.

Most experts agree that infographics will continue to be part of the content marketing ecosystem in the future. Regardless of changes in technology or the format in which they are presented, one thing will remain the same: infographics need to address the needs of their target audience and provide relevant, accurate, timely, and interesting information.

When done right, infographics can help people remember or understand the story you are trying to tell. They can be an effective way of sharing your findings with various stakeholders, including people in your company, the media, consumers, or people in your community. Just remember that infographics are only one of the tools at your disposal: to provide value, infographics should be crafted with careful consideration of your audience and what you're trying to achieve.

Where can I learn more?

If you'd like to learn more creating infographics that people will love, we recommend the following:

Finally, to see some of Vision Critical's infographics, please follow us on or please see our interactive infographic about the evolution of insight.

By Carley Fain, Carolyn Laihow, and Kelvin Claveria

The 10 Smartest Brands: How They Use Customer Intelligence

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