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Tableau Conference 2019: What We Learned

Two weeks ago, the Ad Council’s Analytics team traveled to Las Vegas for the 2019 annual Tableau Conference. Alongside 20,000 other attendees, we joined sessions to advance our data analysis skills, connect with other data enthusiasts, and expand our industry knowledge. And – as always, we left inspired.  

With nearly 650 available sessions over the four-day period, each team member was able to attend the sessions most relevant to their job role and skill level. We were able to hear from other Tableau users on topics like data management, smart analytics, dashboards and design, and building a data culture, as well as hear how these topics apply across various industries (e.g. healthcare, education, etc.). Here are a few of our more memorable learnings from this year’s conference: 

Humanizing Data

Models, averages, means, and other methods of standardizing data are useful for looking at trends or rough estimates of what a “typical actor” may look like or how he/she/they may behave. When we’re assessing data that deals with people or has social implications, it's essential to consider the margins. Who are the people that represent the outliers? Does the sample actually represent a shared experience? 

Targeted Universalism was a term learned at the conference. It rejects a blanket universal approach which may be indifferent to the reality that different groups are situated differently relative to institutions and resources. By standardizing or looking at an average, we are often assessing the majority population. However, racial minorities, people with disabilities, immigrants, and other marginalized groups often act differently from the majority population due to a number of factors.

Therefore, it's important to consider who your sample actually encompasses, and by ignoring the outlier points, who you're actually leaving out of the equation. Should the “outliers” actually be accounted for as such, or are you ignoring important differences in the people you're studying and differences between populations in the issues you're trying to address? What are the costs and implications of relying on an average?   

We have been taught that data is objective, and this has its merits. However, there's so much subjectivity that goes into data because the people behind the analysis, behind the data manipulation, and behind the data collection are of course, human. We need to make sure that we continuously consider our own confirmation bias when working with data, and that we humanize the data points we're assessing.  

Catherine Yarovoi, Analyst, 1st Time Tableau Attendee 

User-Driven Change 

Tableau Conference 2019 | Devs on Stage

One of the most important trends I noticed is that Tableau is all about evolution and change. But more specifically targeted evolution and change. Even at the Keynote, Salesforce Co-CEO, Marc Benioff, was quick to note that the world of Tableau tech will be completely different in two, three, even ten years from now and the only thing that'll be consistent are the core values and community.   

Tableau adapts to the changing world and user needs. They have consistent updates and even the addition of Tableau Prep, a way to fix your data before it gets uploaded into your visualizations, shows how they embody this trend. They stressed their forums on Tableau Community as a way to allow consumers to vote on product ideas and talk about their needs.  

Nowhere was this idea of targeted change apparent more than on Dev’s on Stage. One of their most popular keynotes and personally my favorite, Dev’s on Stage, is an entire hour of new updates and software in direct response to the needs of Tableau users. Whether the addition of custom messages on servers, new abilities with data joins or new ways to add insights to your data, the cheers heard from the crowd were awe-inspiring.   

Shaun Noel, Data Analyst and Newly Certified Tableau Desktop Specialist, 4th Time Tableau Attendee 

Tapping into Census Data 


Next year, the nation will be completing the 2020 Census, and for the first time in history, the census will be going digital. Responders will now have three options to participate: paper forms, a 1-800 phone number, or online. In a powerful and inspiring session, Gerson Vasquez and Ryan Dolan spoke to the importance of the upcoming census collection, and how data helps power our democracy (and can power our Tableau visualizations).  

At the Ad Council, the ability to reach the right target at the right time is critical to having a lasting impact. By using Tableau, we can track where and when our campaign messages are shown, regardless of whether it be via an outdoor billboard, a digital banner, or a local TV ad. Most importantly, it allows us to identify the areas where are messages aren’t being seen, where we need to increase our efforts, and whether we need to optimize our strategy.  

With the incorporation of 2020 census data into Tableau, we will be able to visualize our efforts across the nation, while simultaneously mapping key demographic data differentials. Are our Spanish-language TV assets being aired in cities where Spanish is the most common language spoken at home? Is our High School Equivalency campaign being shown in areas where a high school graduate degree is less common? Is our Texting & Driving campaign being shown in areas with lengthy travel times to work?  

The demographic and culture makeup of our nation is increasingly complex and ever-changing, and having access to such a robust and current data set will be invaluable.  

Nicole Dib, Director of Insights & Analytics, 3rd Time Tableau Attendee 

Flexible Visualizations 


My biggest takeaway from the Tableau Conference was the sheer number of ways Tableau offers flexibility and customization in its dashboards. When reviewing performance data, Tableau’s features allow us to tell complex stories without sacrificing clean, easy-to-follow visualizations. The Ad Council already uses beautiful Tableau dashboards that are a resource to all employees hoping to answer questions about campaign performance, but the new features that Tableau announced will allow us to make it even easier for our team to reach insights. 

At Iron Viz, the Iron-Chef like data visualization competition, I was floored by the myriad number of ways the contestants used customizable features like graph animations, dashboard actions, and more. One contestant used the new navigation buttons feature to light up a map, showcasing how international cuisines were represented in each US state. I immediately started brainstorming the different ways the Ad Council could use this feature, whether it’s showing how priority states are responding to our Shelter Pet Adoption campaign or displaying campaign-driven store visits for a recent digital campaign with Goodwill.    

Dean Meisel, Analyst, 1st Time Tableau Attendee 

Hands-On Experience 


I appreciated the hands-on training sessions offered at the Tableau Conference. They provided step-by-step instructions on new and existing features in Tableau, which I don’t typically have time to explore.  

Tableau Prep training focused on a tool designed to clean up dirty data and get to analysis faster. It was comforting to learn that hardships we face with our data sources aren't unique to the Ad Council and that users across the country are also spending the majority of their time formatting data. I plan to take full advantage of the tool and hope my team can spend less time preparing data and more time creating visualizations that uncover actionable insights. 

Caron Lindsay, VP of Analytics BI & Data Management, 4th Time Tableau Attendee 

One-Stop Shop 


One of the larger lessons I learned about Tableau from the conference is how it exists as a functionally independent platform. My experience using Tableau and The BEAT at the Ad Council involve the use of pre-established dashboards to manipulate data for various asks from our campaign teams. Reflexively, I’d immediately export the data, manipulate it in Excel, then send the finalized document to whoever had made the request.  

After participating in a few hands-on sessions where we were asked to manipulate data on the spot, I found that a lot of the functions that exist in Excel are also present within Tableau, with a much more robust way to visualize the final product. Basic functions (Max, Min, Sum, etc.) used in Excel can easily be applied to large amounts of data without the lag that comes from working with hundreds of thousands of rows in Excel. 

Moving forward, I plan to begin using Tableau Desktop to work with data more, only transitioning to Excel to provide a viewable file for the requesting teams. 

Carl Parker, Analyst, 1st Time Tableau Attendee 

Until Next Year...

As a data-driven organization, our success lies in our ability to analyze and interpret data on a deeper level, and then apply those learnings to our mission. Using Tableau, we’re able to analyze and visualize 40+ data sources in a single BI tool. Our team looks forward to applying our learnings from this year's Tableau conference to our every day work and return next year! 


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