Data is often a tricky tool for marketers, so as we all obsess over COVID-19 and it what it is bringing, there's a wonderful opportunity to overcome marketing's own data challenges and learn.

Here are five top tips for working with data that have been organised into an easy to remember acronym:

C — Use credible data from reliable sources

Data is the source of visualisations like dashboards. The Johns Hopkins dashboard draws on data from more than 14 different sources and makes them accessible to the viewer.

As COVID-19 develops, we are presented with conflicting data and this is often in real-time. The lesson here for marketers is that enabling the scrutiny of source data adds credibility. We need to know what data is credible and what data isn't.

Top tip: When agreeing to undertake a data-based project, be clear up front that you can access the information needed on an ongoing basis, and secure a commitment from your client to use only credible data from reliable sources.

O — Balance openness with sensitivity

Too often in corporates, data is siloed for the privileged few, who are usually the data and analytics teams. With COVID-19, it's the opposite. This is because the virus affects everyone; we are all entitled to — and given — the data.

In general marketing terms, the need to protect sensitive data is well understood; however, the lesson here is to balance confidentiality with the provision of information to those who need it.

Top tip: Unbox data when and where appropriate, on the understanding that it will be used responsibly.

V — Strive for visual simplicity

Visual communication is a common language. When it comes to visual aids like dashboards, the design is everything. Many of those we've seen for COVID-19 are complex and confusing — they were probably created with no regard for usability or ease of understanding, but merely to make the information accessible. 

Marketers know that the job of a dashboard is to create a relatively quick and easy takeaway for the viewer. But sometimes they forget that viewers need to focus on the most relevant data. Balance and simplicity will help to avoid overwhelming and confusing the user.

Top tip: The best dashboards improve the learning experience by allowing the user to choose how information is displayed, interacting with the data in a way that enables their understanding. Visualisation is simplified by small details like using the same colours for the same type of information. 

I — Iterative development

The next time you look at a COVID-19 dashboard, remember that there are stages that data has to go through before it is used. These include:
  • collection
  • processing
  • analysis
  • review, and
  • presentation.
At every one of these points, an error can creep in. COVID-19 dashboards are continually evolving as errors are fixed and new data is added. The lesson is not to get hamstrung by a lack of perfection. As long as it is as close to accurate as possible, you can launch a minimum viable product and update it regularly.

Top tip: Marketers can start with an overview and then make adjustments, adding new and supporting detail as it comes in. Clarify somewhere on the dashboard that it is a work in progress.

D — Be directly relevant to your audience

It might be interesting to see the COVID-19 stats for other countries, but South Africa is six weeks behind most of them. The public is consuming an overwhelming amount of information right now, and flooding a visual dashboard can degrade your user experience.

The lesson is to know your target market and what is relevant to them so that you can customise your data accordingly.

Top tip: Just because you have loads of data does not mean you have to use it all. Focus on the data that is the most important or relevant towards your target market.

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