Originally published in AdWeek
For just about any marketing campaign (with exceptions if you’re working in radio, or doing some interesting experiential campaign involving touch, taste, or smell), sight is the sense you’re appealing to. But not all visual marketing is created equal, and it’s valuable for brands and marketers to understand what exactly works best to catch a potential customer’s eye.
Content should evoke emotions congruent with the subject matter at hand, and should be cultivated to strike the correct notes for the audience being targeted. By actively experimenting, marketers can then optimize their visual content’s appeal and effectiveness—and deliver a recognizable and authentic visual identity.
Measurements provided by online advertising and social media analytics make the advantages of visual marketing easy to, well, see. Consumers certainly demonstrate a preference for visuals, and on social media, adding visual content to plain old text posts works about as well as steroids when you look at how it juices a post’s engagement stats.
On Twitter, tweets with images receive 18 percent more clicks, 89 percent more favorites, and 150 percent more retweets. According to Socialbakers, Facebook brand page posts with photos account for 87 percent of total Facebook page interactions worldwide. It’s also the case that the top-five most effective tactics on the B2B side of marketing—in-person events, webinars/webcasts, videos, blogs, and case studies—each rely heavily on visual content as a major tool for delivering content and garnering appeal.
In this environment, a study by Social Media Examiner found 70 percent of marketers planning to increase their use of original visual assets via strategies like infographics and meme-based images. A definitive zero percent of marketers planned to decrease their use of visual content.
Perhaps the stat that best explains everything when it comes to visual marketing, though, is this one: The National Center for Biotechnology Information has determined that the average attention span of a human being has fallen over the last 15 years, from 12 seconds to a mere 8.
Based on this fact alone, it’s no wonder that marketers need to rely on visuals to get attention. After all, evocative visuals may be the only content format that many individuals are even able to register on a regular basis. Notice that this shift has coincided with the rise of more short-form or real-time platforms, such as Vine, Periscope, Snapchat, etc. Consumers are certainly becoming hardwired to accept or reject content quickly, while also growing accustomed to steady streams of short-form, often ethereal, content.
At the same time, that visual content is coming to dominate marketing efforts, today’s brands are working to win the customer life cycle—and they’ve found that specific, personal, and emotional engagement is the key to earning them loyal, long-term customers. Certainly, visuals are very much part of this answer. But beyond integrating more image-centric content for the heck of it, marketers must establish an engaging and emotionally effective visual vocabulary to accompany their messaging. To accomplish this goal, marketers should shape their visual content strategy in order to account for—and optimally deliver on—these three concerns: authenticity, targeting, and tonality.
To achieve authenticity, visual content must be in line with (and communicate) the values of the brand. This needs to be the case whether the visual communication is representational of the product or service the brand provides or aspirational as far as what the brand hopes to represent in the customers’ eyes. A brand’s visual identity should derive from the larger branding, with easily recognizable elements effectively conveying at-a-glance brand recognition.
To triumph at targeting, that visual content must reach the correct audience, be thoughtfully framed, and arrive via media or platforms that showcase a brand’s familiarity and belonging with the audience. This targeting must consider all the established norms of what the audience expects to see on a particular platform. You can check every box when it comes to connecting with your target audience, but if the platform you’re connecting on is a mismatch, the effort will not succeed. Each social media platform has its own nuances in culture, style, and what’s expected—and a brand’s own strategies around audience segmentation may further inform proper targeting for each unit of visual content.
To strike the correct tonality, it’s critical to recognize how a brand’s visual communication will find greater success the more aligned it is with the emotions of the subject matter at hand, and to the specific needs and expectations of the audience. For guidance in navigating this requisite for the right tone, take into consideration the norms of the existing audience and look into benchmarking the activities of peers as you develop visual content. Social listening can also play a role here, especially on visual-centric platforms like Instagram, Tumblr, or Vine. By monitoring your audience (and similar relevant audiences), you can understand both the visual cues they use and their general aesthetic preferences.
And remember: Visual content is the most effective medium for commanding the attention of brand audiences today, but it’s all in how you use this medium that determines whether you’re able to convey the values and summon the emotional resonance that helps to achieve your brand’s goals.