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Make Friends With Your Bar Graphs

Watching old programmes whenever you want either on TV on some other device is one thing. Contributing to focus groups, opinion polls, market research and survey to help shape policies, policies and products is another.

Now comes a whole new meaning. Following the crowd and its reaction is set to be the driving force behind news and current affairs type programming from now on, thanks to the simple harnessing of old technology.

Bar Graphs Bar None

Most people are familiar with what bar charts do. At their most simple level, they provide a visual representation of categorical data. That is to say, data which is categorised into discrete groupings like months, ages, days, eye colours, any demographic. The height of each bar shows the value of each category.

So you could compare how left handers, blondes or Asians react to a given question through the bar chart. Now it is being used to harness opinion and instant reaction to television.

Tailored Television

ITV programme This Morning uses a view graph at the bottom of the screen to gauge audience reaction, which responds almost instantly. They have built The Hub, a platform offering real social presence to This Morning which allows feed to the audience bar charts on the screens during transmission.

The BBC programme Free Speech has been designed around public opinion entirely. Analysis is fed by Twitter and Facebook, though other streams may follow. It is a technique other shows are adopting, even if they don’t show the public responses on screen. Could be a mixed blessing for stand up comedians.

Social media and finance blogger Charlotte Clark has suggested that lots of companies shouldn’t shy away from sharing their customer’s real views, because people are talking about companies in social space even if they’re not displaying it.

She takes the view in the ‘bad barometer’ vs ‘brand barometer’ debate, that if Brand Republic is successful at using social analysis bar graphs for certain key companies (such as Audi and Virgin Money), then others can follow.

Businesses Need Bars

She warned against simply collecting data and presenting colourful infographics, but carefully show how you and/or your product is doping against competitors, against the market as a whole or localised, seasonally adjusted or real time, whatever suits you best.

First Direct, as she pointed out, collect positive and negative thoughts to create the lovely graphics. The ‘image depicts the results’, data visualisations that present complex information quickly and clearly. The point is not to produce impressive visual experiences that happen to put over some facts, although in today’s visual-commercial world, that idea may not always be true.

Bar graphs are easily visible on the mobile phone screen from apps, TV screens and internet wherever it is viewed. Clark argued that the day of the bar graph is really just dawning as people wake up to the power of turning anything and everything into a easily digestible display.

Laws and Counter-Laws of Business

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: the old adage is still true, of course. Statistics can prove anything. Selected data is not the whole truth. But in business, there is every advantage in using favourable data to prove you are the best, first, biggest, most generous, fastest and brightest.

The classic 1994 book, 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout gives solid advice to people in almost any business. Law of leadership (first into a market) is fine unless nobody wants the product and you don’t make too many mistakes.

It popularised laws of category (make a new category not a new product); of mind (make people think you are the best, first or whatever); of perceptions (reality is only what people accept as reality); of focus (own a word that people associate with your business); of exclusivity (get your own word or slogan); and of ladder (different marketing for where you are in the field, top, third or nowhere).

There were also laws of duality (every market is a two horse race in the long term); of opposites (counteract your main opponent at every turn); of division (every category will sub-divide into many other categories, like computers to mainframes, laptops, peripherals, software); of long term perspective; of extension (trying to prolong a brand past its sell by date); of singularity (only one move leads to big success, not lots of little efforts) and of predictability (that you can’t predict the future).

There were laws on success (arrogance), failure (drop, don’t fix), hype (usually not proportionate to success) and resources (you need enough to launch the product). But the one that links with bar graphs is Law 21: The Law of Acceleration.

Successful marketing programmes are built not on fads, facts or truth, but on trends. Trends accelerate or decline incredibly rapidly in response to passing moods/feelings/reactions of monitored groups of customers/viewers.

And that’s just what real time bar graphs show, what is trending, what is not.

Ignore it at your business peril, they say. Remember, marketing is the art of persuading people that what they get is what they wanted all along (paraphrasing John Carter).


Charlotte Clark, Hooray for the humble bar chart, 3 July 2012.

ITV The Hub

BBC3, Free Speech

22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (And When to Violate Them)

Image: lumaxart