The Science (and History!) Behind Why Some People Prefer Visuals to Numbers

Posted on 30th March 2017 in Advisory

Written by Freya Hughes

Can you believe that written language has only been in use for just shy of 10% of the total time that we’ve been communicating with each other? Language has been around 3,700 years yet it is predicted that modern humanity has been in existence for 30,000 years! As society has evolved, so too has technology. Today, instant access to visual presentations has rendered us with ever shorter attention spans and the desire for information to be delivered in seconds. In a world where we all switch off if we’re bored, it’s important that you are using the powerful of visual preferences to get your message across. Unsurprisingly, this blog contains a few images…!

Letters and numbers

Our brains are wired to store visual information far more than written or verbal. Consider numbers and letters. Numbers only range from 1-9, and there is a constant rule of greater than or less than. Letters, however, aren’t so easy to remember as, not only are there 26 of them, there are far fewer set rules and they’re subjective. So why is it important to consider the different ways people remember things? In this blog we look at how visual data can amp up your data presentation and marketing effectivity.

Accounting for change

As an accountant, you’ll recognise the glazed-over eyes and fidgety fingers of business owners when you get to the nitty gritty of data presentation. When presented with a vast amount of any data, it can be hard to remain focused. A so-called ‘wall of numbers’ can be incredibly off-putting to those of us who can’t digest more than a few figures at a time. It’s the same with letters – give a presentation with slide after slide full of bullet-pointed text and more than a few will nod off. The difference here between words and numbers is notable as it’s argued that the brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them.

You might have seen puzzles like the below on Facebook and across social media. Our brains memorise words as shapes so are able to relate a jumble of the same letters to the correct word. Give it a go, can you make sense of this…?

What about people’s names – can you picture them clearly but have no idea what they’re called? Or pick up on the fact someone’s a bit off with you despite them not saying anything? It’s actually predicted that 90% of information sent to the brain is visual, and a staggering 93% of human communication is visual. It makes sense now, doesn’t it?

So, it seems clear that visual data is the way forward here. Accountants, you’ll be able to get through to your clients quicker, and more efficiently, using charts and images than with the frankly Jurassic tables of the past. Patterns in the figures are more easily identified with visual data, so getting through to your client who seems to want to bankrupt themselves should be a little easier now.

Similarly, if you’re a business owner and need to present your case for expansion or similar to your board of directors, or perhaps drill home to your team why you operate the way you do, follow the same rules. It’s widely believed that we process visual information 60,000-times faster than text, and considering the above data, it does seem likely. Visuals hit viewers in a visceral way, so consider this next time you’re required to present your case in limited time.

Picture this: marketing is improved by visual stimuli

We know that brand awareness is a fundamental part of keeping new (and established) business flowing in. If we group videos, images and GIFs into the visuals gang, then we can explore how to utilise them to your advantage. It’s calculated that as many as 4 times more consumers prefer to watch a video about a product than read about it. That’s a huge proportion of your potential client base, so it’s a no-brainer to pay attention to this visual preference we as humans have. Further to this, a quarter of consumers will lose interest in a company if it doesn’t have a video presenting their information and data. That’s an enormous proportion of the market to lose out on!

As we whizz through 2017, it’s vital to take note of how customers view information. The boom in smartphone ownership has made them a majority. If you consider how much of the time you look up information in the palm of your hand, it becomes clear it’s crucial to tap into this. Videos viewed on smartphones and tablets make up 50.6% of all video views, so getting your design and accessibility right is key. If a video doesn’t load within around 5-10 seconds, most people will move on. It’s the same with a non-mobile website – the inferior layout (needing to zoom in and out, etc) grows tiresome, fast. If you think about it, right back to the dawn of time, we’ve apprehended major threats and sought out food and mates using visuals. Perhaps we’re not as civilised as we thought!

When you’re presenting your data, think about what will draw people’s attention to your product or services. FUTRLI’s new video cards are a great place to start playing around with this medium. For marketing, bear in mind that pages with images or video draw, on average, 94% more views than their text-only counterparts. So consider a short video as a welcome to your site, perhaps including a short message from you, the business owner. Your audience will feel more of a human connection to your business, and it’s likely to make them smile or laugh (especially if you’re really cheesy with it!), giving you a memorable edge over your competition. Don’t overdo it though – it’s summed up really well here what prospective customers want: “images, videos, and inordinate amount of information that requires very small amounts of our attention“. We’re lazy and want things to be easy to digest, so consider visuals for your branding and presentation work and you’ll see a marked difference.


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