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Matrix of persuading visual communications

Speaker's graphic palette

Once upon a time a boy came up to customers with charts and diagrams but they didn't even give a look. They set their choice on a product offered by another boy, who just put a pretty lady next to the product.

Next time the former of the boys thought he would be smarter: he took a pretty lady with him instead of smart charts and diagrams and turned to the investors. The investors didn’t memorize anything regarding the boy's project.

The loser boy just always fails to choose the right visual communication methods. But he can succeed, using the MATRIX.

The horizontal axis is the "persuasion style". The scale moves from attention arresting → emotional involvement → explanation → evidence.

The vertical axis is the "task complexity": from "instant, not requiring profound analysis" (like purchase of a chewing gum) to "complex, requiring expertise and special focus" (like a study of an investment project).

The left bottom zone of the matrix works when the audience is not inclined to put much effort in the decision-making process as the task is not that significant. Decision is made spontaneously; the positive outcome often requires mere attention arresting. Related visual communications here include the primitive advertisement images, the notorious "girls, kids and kitties" who can sell whatever.

As the choice complexity grows (where the task requires a more considerable decision or competition is more severe), it will demand new advertising ideas, more sophisticated, inspiring and involving.

The center of our diagram is occupied by visual allegories, or "explanatory prompts". Today the audience is mature enough not to buy a product just because it looks good, but still doesn't demand a rigorous proof. Explanation will be enough.

More complex tasks (say, purchase of a house) may require visual evidence. That's the case where "seeing is believing". At least, seeing a photograph. There's no better way on earth to sell a house than showing it. This tool is called a "real picture".

The very complex tasks appear when the cost of choice is enormous and degree of uncertainty is extremely high. How can we appeal to the decision-making audience? By showing them analytical design, which is based on information aggregation and analysis. The information is supposed to be represented effectively and clearly. (Edward Tufte wrote his books on this subject).

Persuading communication includes three stages: draw attention, ensure comprehension and ensure acceptance (provide evidence). Simple tasks would require only the first stage, while more complex can't do without the first two stages, and the most complex would need all the three of those. Visualization methods may be combined but not substituted.

Presentation of a sophisticated investment project may include an attention-arresting image if it's the first time the audience hears of the project. But if the agenda of the meeting includes decision-making, analytical design (based on well prepared and aggregated information) is indispensable.

You'd better not make mistakes in selecting the right communication method.

P.S. We're often asked: what's there in the upper left and bottom right sectors of the matrix?

I would say, it's the zone of amusing incidents, stories for a movie and sources for advertisement creativity. If an expert committee's decisions are driven by inspiration and emotions it would make a perfect comedy story. Or if it's a jury (I would vote for the jury, as the emotional component is really important in their work). What about the right bottom sector? A toothpaste is advertised using science-based displays? It's usually the zone where the incompatible items are combined. You all have seen shampoo commercials, with hair volume boost graphs: here the "analytical design" style is applied to draw attention and ensure emotional involvement.

Andrey Skvortsov
CEO, Mercator group


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