Love Your Analyst: Matthew Hartwick on Getting Data Communication Right


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As we’ve shared previously, there’s a goldmine to unlock when content marketers collaborate with their data team. We’ve made friends with some really cool data analysts over the years in our work with clients at Column Five, and now with our customers here at Visage. One of these friends is Matthew Hartwick, who was previously Senior Assoc. Research Manager, Business Insights + Analytics at Time, Inc., and now serves as Manager of Digital Analytics at MEC. Here’s a quick interview with Mr. Hartwick to help add some fresh perspective to what it takes to shape effective collaboration between the people on your team analyzing data and those who are presenting the juicy nuggets to audiences of all shapes and sizes.

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What do you see as the best ways to close the knowledge gap between data teams and content marketers who have a golden opportunity to publish original content based on proprietary data insights?

From the analyst side, it’s essential to get a good overview of what types of charts tell what types of stories. Which types are best for showing change over time, which are best for comparison? They’re usually mutually exclusive. How many bars are too many? Stuff like that. Research done on perception and memory tells us that the human brain isn’t great at comparing the sizes of circles, but is good at comparing rectangles. 3d shapes distort comparisons by adding perspective, a dimension which is almost never encoded with meaning. In other words, it adds an element to your chart that not only doesn’t help tell your story, it actively hinders it. These fundamentals are essential for the analyst to help transition from the analysis stage to presentation of the data. Asking ourselves, as analysts: “What are the things that are going to jump out to our audience first, and are those the things that should jump out?”

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What are some good examples of collaboration on a content creation effort involving original/proprietary data?

A while back we were creating a new metric/index for a client as part of a collaboration with our sales/marketing team to show this key information in a simple manner (bullet chart). The Fortune 100 client was shown this new metric alongside the way they were used to seeing things, and the simple, clean view of performance indexed against other advertisers in their category helped win a large contract renewal. This is an example of using data in content marketing for a very small audience – the specific stakeholders for one specific global brand in a sales setting.
The ingredients of success were:

  1. Education. We (the data analytics team) thought it was a revealing metric, and spent some time getting the marketing team working on sales collateral as excited as we were about the opportunity to win the business based on this method of presenting the data.
  2. Time: we asked our internal team for some extra time to dig deeper into their request for interesting supporting data and supporting metrics.
  3. Curiosity: The marketing team simply asked. They were open-minded in saying “send us your standard metrics, but is there anything else you think would be helpful?”

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How do you see this trend in original data storytelling progressing for brand publishers in their content that is shared to wider audiences externally?

Start with the question: “What advantages do charts and data visualization have over long form content?” I’m repeating myself here, but the research done into human perception and cognition is fascinating, and helps support the efficacy of communicating through visualization. When done well, data visualization tells the story faster and gets to the core of what you’re trying to say. This goes beyond a marketing trend…this is a function of what works for helping someone comprehend the information.

To paraphrase Tufte on the perfect data graphic – walk into a room, hand it out to everyone. When they’ve had a few minutes to look it over, you simply ask “any questions?” I’ve yet to create anything that powerful or comprehensive, but I’m always hopeful.

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