The profound effect of seeing your stats compared to someone else’s is inspiring, which is why seeing how you compare to others can be the ultimate motivation. That’s why data visualization is one of the “next big things” of the digital age. As it gains popularity, it’s going to be equally important to consumers, clients and agencies -- for different reasons but the same motivators.
Let’s start with consumers. In the age of social media, status -- driven by data -- enables anyone to stand out in the crowd. Status is one of the key drivers of fast-growing applications such as Gowalla and Foursquare; collecting badges confers one’s status as a mover (literally). Badges are a form of data visualization at its most basic: a tiny symbol that shows you have crossed a data threshold. Earning the “Mayor” badge is the ultimate honor.
Foursquare’s badge system was preceded by similar kinds of rewards for repeat behavior on message boards on Amazon.com and on eBay -- little symbols denoted super-users who posted multiple reviews or got positive feedback from other users. But there are more robust forms of real data visualization.
Financial services, health/fitness/nutrition and environment/sustainability are three sectors where data visualization will undoubtedly play a motivating role in the lives of consumers. In fact, as the following examples illustrate, it’s already happening.
Financial services is one of the cornerstone categories for data visualization and, very soon, consumers will expect it as a given. Mint.com allows users to view their financial data in real time, aggregating content from multiple financial accounts. Not only can users view their own data, but they can compare their financial habits to others in the same city, state or country in a well-designed interface.
The health/fitness/nutrition sector is not far behind. Web sites such as Nike+ have demonstrated that data is an enormous motivator to encourage runners to run more, farther and faster. It’s undoubtedly the tip of an iceberg that will transform all three of these industries. People with health conditions, from high blood pressure to diabetes, will use digital services to track their own data and see how changes in diet and exercise can improve their numbers. The nutrition category is already rife with a slew of applications that enable you to monitor your daily diet against everything from calories to vitamins and minerals.
It’s not hard to see how an innovative company might create the über-dashboard, combining all three categories (health/fitness/nutrition) into a digital snapshot of your life. This could motivate you toward better habits through a visualization of how your data compares to peers or how you fare against a specific challenge.
The third key area of opportunity is sustainability and the environment. Fiat’s eco:Drive is a Web application that enables drivers to track their driving behavior and shows users how simple lifestyle changes can reduce carbon emissions. A Fiat owner downloads the software, loads it onto a USB drive, and plugs it into his or her car’s onboard computer port.
The program measures fuel consumption, speed, brake style and gear shifts to determine ways to drive better.
The dashboard in cars like the Toyota Prius and Ford Fusion Hybrid shows similar data in real time. Ford partnered with SmartDesign to create the instrument panel to serve as a tool to track more fuel-efficient driving. The SmartDesign team visualized drivers’ efficiency through clusters of leaves displayed on either side of the panel. As drivers increase their fuel economy, they “earn” more leaves.
It’s easy to imagine applications that will track the energy expenditure of your refrigerator or your entire home or business, with tips on how to reduce consumption stemming from the data. Any client or brand that touches on these categories should immediately plan how to integrate data visualization services into the core customer experience of purchasing and using their products.
Every client has the same opportunity to reward brand interaction, allowing consumers to share their brand status with other members of their social communities. The trick is to design simple experiences that add value and resonate. This has become 2010’s no-brainer idea and every brand should explore how to integrate status rewards into digital properties.
Agencies need to get in the game now too, in two different ways. One is by developing ideas on how clients can use data visualization techniques to motivate consumers. The other side of data visualization is showing how our work drives ROI. In an age where agencies have become commoditized by client procurement teams, building data dashboards that aggregate consumer behavior, campaign metrics and sales data (if available) is the best way to prove the value of our work. Essentially, agencies are now able to measure success like never before.
One final prediction: in the future, agencies will be paid based on their performance data and not on their hourly rates. That’s a bar chart we can all look forward to seeing.
Bob Greenberg is chairman, CEO and global CCO of R/GA.