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What the World Cup and data visualization have in common

Posted by Aurelia Kloosterhof on June 23rd, 2014 at 11:38 am

Could two topics be farther removed from one another? Not as much as you'd think, and they both allow for a lot of orange.

Since the World Cup 2014 is the most important thing on my mind right now (and I am not the only one, be honest!), I thought I'd call out a few interesting parallels.

When it’s important, we want to see it, analyze it, and do it quickly

The world cup soccer is one of the most important sports events for people all over the world. Some estimates say that its viewership reached nearly 50% of the world’s population in 2010.

Because of its global reach and fan base, it is a great opportunity for marketers in particular. Many people will go out of their way to watch the games and cheer for their favorite team, many will speculate about the results (competitive analysis), and each game will be analyzed over and over and over.

Moreover, we need to watch the games in a timely manner; there is not much use in watching the game a week later, or even an hour later if you ask me!

And what the world cup is to most of us, is what marketing research data is to most marketers. Marketing research data is one of the most important resources to help our clients make the right business decisions. They want to monitor and analyze the position of their company in the market, evaluate their product and their service, monitor customer satisfaction, etc.

When new data is available our clients want to look at it ASAP, so they can make timely decisions.

It needs to look good!

Irrespective of who is winning (although, to be clear, I know who I will be cheering for), when we watch a soccer match, we expect it to look good. We don’t want to watch boring soccer, we don’t want to see the same tricks over and over, and we especially don’t want to see too much pulling, pushing and whining.

Also the soccer players these days need to look good. Just look at the latest new outfits of the Dutch team…aren’t they cool? (I’m really not biased at all…) See, that is what it is all about. We want to see spectacular and insightful soccer. We want a great soccer story, and to be able to tell that story again later.

That is what our clients expect from their data as well.

Often, the most insightful way to analyze their data is through interactive and cool visualizations of the most important data points. And the level of insightfulness is all about the presentation: the visualizations need to gel! Amongst others this means cool graphs, a variety of graph types and a variety of colors (although preferably a lot of orange).

And just like we want to share our favorite world cup soccer moments with others, our clients want to be able to share their key insights too - they want to be able to save great visuals in one place so they can easily share and disseminate them across their company.

While we want to be able to view the soccer games (and replays) and similarly our data stories on multiple devices, I prefer to watch the live games amongst my fellow Dutchies in the pub.

It is all about the preparations

For our clients, it is most useful when they can interact with their marketing research data like applying demographic filters to charts and changing points of comparison. And they want to do so immediately after it becomes available. This means that the data will have to be processed instantaneously.

As indicated by Sue Cardwell in one of her earlier blogs, a ‘good’ visualization in this context is a flexible template waiting to be populated with data as soon as it arrives. This templated visualization approach requires preparation. It is the preparation that allows for speed and flexibility on the backend.

For soccer, this is no different. It takes many hours, weeks and sometimes years to get that one hour of fame. The team needs to train, exercise, strategize, and be flexible enough to adjust to their opponents in that particular moment of the game that requires superior agility.

And let’s not forget that to look good needs preparation as well. Those great outfits need design, players need great haircuts, new tattoos and anything to get them noticed!

Even Brazil needed some preparation to get the country ready to host the world cup. While it takes a village to raise a child, it takes more than a country to prepare for the world cup. Think transportation, accommodation, security, and building stadiums for which, by the way, they also use visualization tools.

It’s a team sport

Even Ronaldo and Messi will not be able to win without their teams. Soccer is a team sport. So is the art of visualization design.

Creating great visualizations and insights can only happen in close collaboration with our clients. If a visualization expert does not have full understanding and insight into a client’s needs and the way they analyze and understand their company’s information, the end-result has a low chance of success.

Enjoy the world cup!

Bearing all this in mind, I hope you will enjoy your future visualization projects as much as I plan to. And I certainly hope I will enjoy this year’s world cup as much as I did four years ago… apart from the very last hour!

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