Infographics aren’t just a fad anymore. Thousands of marketers are using them or at least aware of their lasting storytelling power. But with popularity also comes the problem of creating visuals that are appealing enough to compete with the dozens of other infographics being produced every day.
Pretty visuals and good data aren’t enough to make a successful infographic. Just like human bodies can’t function without a heart, brain or lungs, there are certain elements that a successful infographic can’t do without.
1. The audience
As with any other content asset, your infographic needs to be relevant to your buyer personas. It should address your audience’s needs in some way. Frame your infographic so it’s clear what issue or challenge it addresses and what the audience needs to do after viewing it. Marketing teams shouldn’t use infographics if their main goal is to let people know about sales promotions or product features.
On the other hand, the format has to make sense. We all agree that photos and illustrations are generally appealing, but some people are more visual than others. Your content has to adjust to those media habits.
2. 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. It is important to start, describe your visual in a compelling manner and end it with a conclusion that lingers in the mind. Also, minimize mentions of your own brand in the infographic: if you must include your company logo, add it at the bottom.
3. The right format
If you want your infographic to be both relevant and widely shared, you need to choose the right format for your particular purpose. These are the three most popular formats:
- Data visualization. This is a visual representation of numeric data in a friendly and impactful way. “Data visualizations enable people to detect trends, patterns, and outliers and could include word clouds, maps, and bar graphs,” explains marketer Diana Adams. Example: No More Fish in The Sea.
- Narrative infographics. Guide readers through information —often in a chronological order— to ultimately tell a story. Examples include visuals that explain chronological processes or the history of a discipline. Example: History of Life.
- Visualized article. Focuses on the display of information attractively and effectively. For example, a lengthy text description of a business process can be turned into a flowchart or an organizational diagram.
Also, never rule out the use of a different format. Depending on the nature of the project, detailed research reports or even PowerPoint presentations are sometimes more appropriate than infographics.
4. The data
While infographics can be colorful and sexy, without truthful and accurate information they become pointless. Data is the foundation of many of the most interesting infographics, so make sure to study your dataset and validate the source of every piece of information, how it was collected, and what makes it unique. Some infographics present data inaccurately, making it easy to misinterpret the findings and create a deceptive story.
5. The visuals
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.
6. The design
The most effective infographics display complex data—often from various sources—in a clear and engaging way. You may have interesting data, but if it’s not presented beautifully, no one will care.
Bar and pie charts will always have their place, but the most successful infographics have a unique look & feel – they reduce the use of traditional (boring) charts, opting to use illustrations, beautiful diagrams, and other visually compelling elements instead.
Also, don't forget to put your great infographic in a remarkable experience.
7. The promo plan
Similar to other types of content, infographics need to be strategically promoted to make sure that they reach the right audience. When doing so, consider the following:
- Make it super easy for people to share it. Add sharing buttons above and below your content (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc), and also provide an embed code for the image so that other sites can quickly repost it. All of this should be easy to find and use.
- Reach out to influencers. Your infographics are more likely go viral if you engage people who are highly influential in your target industries. List a few online influencers —a “wish list” of people you really want to engage— and implement a plan to get them to tweet, repost or write about your visual. Think about what’s in it for them: why should they—and their readers or followers—care about your infographic?
- Upload to niche networks. Sites and directories like Visual.ly and SlideShare are great venues for promoting all kinds of visuals, including infographics. With a free account, you can share and increase the chances for your content to be promoted.
- Mobilize other parts of your business to help spread the word about your infographics. Check with your community manager or 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.
- Paid distribution. Don’t rule out investing in some paid traffic. If your infographic is truly appealing, a little bit of targeted exposure can spark and drive virality for it.
To continue to be effective, infographics must evolve. Many companies are already starting to play with interactive visuals, animated GIFs, and more. Some are pushing the boundaries even more, experimenting with quizzes and other infographic formats. Regardless of the format or technology, one thing is for sure: infographics will always have to be accurate, useful, and engaging.