AdWeek predict that by the end of 2018, 84% of marketing will be visual. This is because humans process visual data faster (up to 60,000 times faster) than text. The largest proportion of our brain is dedicated to processing visual stimuli, and our posterior cortical hot zone, which helps synthesize information into experiences, is closely connected to this primary sense.
Physiologically, our brains prefer visuals to text or audio alone, so as a marketer, visual content should be an area for you to focus your mastery.
Of course, visual content is high on stimulation while being relatively low on richness: an image can tell you of a moment captured in time, and its best in conveying the story of a sentence. But it can’t tell you in-depth information, like how to use visuals in your content marketing strategy. Hence, this blog.
So, we need to combine words with images. We can do this through audio-visual content like video, or by peppering our written content with visuals that augment the message of the piece (essentially creating a comic book effect).
These visuals give you a better chance to use storytelling to land your messages. Stories are remembered up to 22x more than mere facts, so a powerful storytelling tool can be a great asset to your marketing.
Finally, as I keep saying in these articles, emotions rule us. Imagery can be uniquely stirring and evocative, and coupling that power with your message will help your strategy be as affecting and effective as possible. Fortunately for you, there are many visual marketing solutions available.
Where Should I Include My Visuals?
Good question! The most important image is at the beginning – you need a compelling single image that will provide a hook for your readers and frame the experience they are about to have in a compelling way.
The images also help with skim-reading: they provide vital clues about what the content is saying in different sections, helping determine whether or not the content is worth a second, more detailed pass.
I recommend breaking up your articles with an image every 300-500 words, depending on the total length of the article.
What Types of Visuals Should I Use?
Let’s start with the obvious. Images are the most common form of visual media. They are also arguably our earliest form of storytelling. We have always liked pictures, from cave paintings to renaissance masterpieces, until today, when we take 1.2 trillion photos a year, on 2.5 billion camera-equipped cell phones.
Images allow us to enrich our content, and articles with images get a 94% boost in performance. That being said, it’s important to ensure images are used purposefully, and chosen to be relevant to the points being made in the text.
Social media has become more image-centric, and virality depends on the ability to make a strong first impression. Your title image will do this most of all.
A word of caution: obvious stock photos put people off. It makes a website feel more generic and unfeeling, and can make content feel like it’s there as placeholder or filler content. If you can’t take your own high quality images, then stock libraries are a really useful source, just avoid the bleached, highly saturated images of women laughing at salad and the like.
Being a good curator of imagery, and carefully selecting pieces, will add a real stamp of quality to the piece. You can get started with any number of copyright free sources of marketing pictures.
Video used to be difficult to produce effectively, as it requires a combination of good quality camera, sound and lighting to deliver a professional feel. The market is addressing this with lower-cost, higher quality gear, and with alternatives such as animations. What’s more, how-to’s can be put together very simply, as can product demonstrations.
While video requires a larger investment of time and energy to produce (unlike images, video HAS to be original), the investment pays off. Moz got a 300% bump in inbound links by including a video. Studies also show that videos give Press Releases 2.5x more views than those without.
It’s important for you to focus on viewer’s wants and needs when creating video. Video is also a way for you to harness personality to promote your brand. If you have relaxed, charismatic experts in your workspace, putting them in front of a camera can build bridges and make connections between your audience and your company.
Video allows you to show, not tell, and that’s the golden rule of storytelling.
GIFs are a fun and easy way to create a more entertaining, human and personal touch to your writing. GIFs capture emotions and moments from pop culture that people can instantly connect with. Denny’s has used GIFs to great effect on tumblr, creating original pieces that have high virality.
That said, throwing GIFs around willy nilly will result in your post looking like a 90s geocities page – which can undermine the professional and high-quality nature of the rest of your content.
Use GIFs sparingly and deploy them at the right times, and your posts will enjoy greater engagement.
Memes have become an inescapable part of our culture, and they exist in pretty much every possible variation, helping people with niche interests share humour around the jobs they work in. As a content marketer, The Incumbent Agency frequently makes me laugh on Instagram, with their all-too-real burns on working in the creative industries. One of the key things that make a good meme is an inside joke quality.
Memes are a way for you to frame real challenges in humorous ways, helping to create a sense of empathy and personal connection. They lighten the mood, and they follow patterns that you can replicate with original content relevant to your field. Here are 100 to get you started.
Memes are popular, and you can even use them to link to your articles on sites like Imgur and Tumblr, helping you generate traffic and make your content more shareable.
5. Data Visualizations and Graphical Data
Math is hard to grasp, and turns a lot of people off. Explaining data based research, where there are complex relationships between many pieces of information that have been understood only through the complex application for formulae… well, yeah. Now we’re all bored. Which is a shame, because data is essential to business success, and Big Data is Big Business.
Fortunately, the realm of data visualization is burgeoning right now as a practical way to break up text and easily convey the hard data from research in a more accessible way. Visual aids can ‘shortcut’ the comprehension stage when readers try and process data.
At the entry-level, data visualisation includes things like charts, maps, diagrams, and graphs, that illustrate the point you are trying to make.
Just so you know, Creative Bloq has created a great list of tools you can use to create these visualisations. Have fun exploring!
Screenshots are a really great way of explaining processes to people, illustrating the actions you want them to take during things like tutorials and guides. That’s a great example of how a single image can save you a lot of work. By showing people what you’re seeing, and what they should see.
I personally use Greenshot when taking a screenshot. I find it particularly useful when as it has an intuitive interface, lots of features, extendable through plugins, and a built-in image editor for quick touch ups- nearly an all-in-one package. Allow me to show you a screenshot I took using the tool.
Screenshots can essentially create a step by step slide show of a helpful procedure, much more clearly than trying to explain it long hand. Have you ever had to explain to a parent how to change something on their computer over the phone? Would you ever choose to read a transcript of that intensely annoying conversation? Exactly – screenshots are your savior.
Back in 2012, infographics were going to be the answer to everything. Now, some leading lights in online marketing believe they’ve had their time, and bad examples have undermined the potential of the medium after a promising start.
An infographic can’t just be throwing your written information onto an image background. Neither can it be creating a compelling image that doesn’t tell people anything nuanced.
The best time to use an infographic is when you are making an argument that comes from bringing together a wide range of different data points. This way, you can summarize the data visually, storify the journey you went on connecting the dots, and simplify the complex conclusion into a go-home that focuses on the impact.
Infographics are a useful asset across many different touch points, performing well in emails, on social media, and in blog posts.
Just remember, you have to simplify the process to strengthen the argument. Here is an infographic of infographics to help you digest the major trends and themes.
8. Drawings and Comics
Comics narrativize a moment or situation in a fun visual shorthand, often in a comical manner. Dilbert was probably the first to breakthrough hit of short comics that attempted to satirize work and life, and has bred a whole genre of specialist interest comics such as XKCD, Cyanide and Happiness, The Oatmeal, and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. These comics explore niche topics such as maths, philosophy, history, biology and more. They make factoids easy to digest and use the power of surprise to seed deeper meaning with their readers.
You can do the same, by employing comics as a way to convey your argument. Drawings and illustrations take time and talent to get good at, but if you have a concept and simply need the execution, you can even get original sketches created on websites like Fiverr.
Illustrations can allow you to quickly storify the benefits of your products, the challenges you can help clients overcome, and more.
An E-Book, while not limited to being solely a visual piece of material, will greatly benefit from having a primarily visual design. Presentation aids the absorption of the material, and makes a great first impression at the same time.
Amazon makes it as easy as possible for you to publish an E-book, which gives you an opportunity to create a monetized product from your existing knowledge. What’s more, E-Books can drastically improve your brand image and credibility, by establishing you as an authority in your field.
Publishing a book is no easy task, but having a book cover, and a visual design to the book, will greatly improve how professional the book appears, and by extension, how professional you and your brand appear. When done right, an E-book that has a genuine value proposition for the reader can transform your business.
Pull quotes can give you a great way to break up your text, peppering it with hooks that encourage people to read further and find the broader context and value of the excerpt. That said, you can boost your quotes to the next level by giving them a visual component. This is easily achieved with any number of apps.
Framing your quotes with beautiful imagery, or even using an app like Legend to create animated text to further draw the eye. These pull quotes can also have a second life as shareable material that can help you and others promote the article itself.
Pulling out the most valuable points and presenting them in a visual format can help you deliver value even to those who are just skim reading, and earn trust and loyalty from them in the process.
Build Out Your Visual Content
Remember, Carl Sagan once said, “Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs… A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
Writing will never disappear. But Sagan himself worked in a visual medium – TV. Nowadays, the internet is becoming a far more visual place, and you need to keep pace with that change if your content strategy is to find success.
Do you have visual content marketing strategies to share? Talk about them in the comments section below! Have you found one particular approach is more successful than the others? Give our other reads the heads up.