Seeing is believing: Why using visual content in your marketing makes sense

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In 2014, some $134.7 billion will be spent on content marketing, video marketing and social media, according to research by eMarketer.

Mintel meanwhile predicts double-digit growth for content marketing in the next five years. You can already see it in action with 2013 content spending in North America at $43.0bn – an increase of 9.2% on 2012. Overall, marketers were spending 40% of their overall marketing, advertising and communications budget on content marketing. 

With this ever-increasing spend it’s essential to get the most from your budget. So that means giving your users, clients and customers what they want.

Giving people what they want

And it starts with content people will take the time to read. In an increasingly busy world people don't feel they have time to wade through and read all the text that passes in front of them.

Messages can get weighed down or hidden in text. Information and statistics can often be hard to interpret or understand. Descriptions of a scene or past event can be less vivid than an image or video. The brain can also process visual information quicker than written.

An image is usually easily understood at a glance. Humans pay special attention to faces – it’s hard-wired into our brains. Psychologists have shown that even babies like to look at faces. Don't forget we look before we learn to speak or read.

Movement too grabs our attention – knowing where a potential threat was coming from is after all one of the things that helped keep us safe from predators in the early days of human evolution.

Images can also trigger emotion. They can make users feel warm and happy at the sight of a cute kitten, or intelligent and sophisticated when looking at the sleek visuals of a cutting edge piece of technology. That emotion is then associated with your brand.

Visual social media

Facebook and YouTube are the biggest social media sites but newer platforms like Pinterest and Slideshare are growing fast.

Photos and videos have become key social currencies online, according to the PewResearch Center:

  • 54% of adult internet users post original photos or videos online that they themselves have created
  • 47% of adult internet users take photos or videos that they have found online and repost them on sites designed for sharing images with many people

Social media is the most widely-used marketing tactic. According to a survey by the Content Marketing Institute of North American Marketers, 88% of B2C marketers create social media content.

It’s easy to see why too – social networking is now the most popular online activity, with users spending more than about a quarter of their time engaging on channels such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Many brands' presence on social media gives them greater exposure than their own websites. Consider a brand like Skittles as an example – according to Comscore, their website attracted 23,000 unique US visitors in March 2012 while their Facebook page had 320,000 visitors – a 14-fold increase on Skittles.com. It’s now very common for brands to rack up more page views on Facebook than their own site.

The CMI survey also revealed that B2C content marketers were using a variety of social platforms – on average each one making use of six different social media sites.

Here’s the proportion of respondents in that survey using the various social networks:

  • Facebook 89%
  • Twitter 80%
  • YouTube 72%
  • LinkedIn 71%
  • Google+ 55%
  • Pinterest 53%
  • Instagram 32%
  • Slideshare 19%
  • Flickr 18%
  • Tumblr 18%
  • Foursquare 16%
  • Vimeo 16%
  • StumbleUpon 13%
  • Vine 13%

Survey participants said their top goal is brand awareness at 79% but customer acquisition follows at 71% of respondents.

Why images and video matter in content marketing

According to Facebook successful posts are visual. Photo albums, pictures and videos get 180%, 120%, and 100% more engagement respectively.

People are 44% more likely to engage with content on social media that contains pictures, according to Hubspot. It translates into sales too. Customers are 51% more likely to make a purchase after "liking a brand on Facebook". Pinterest drives sales directly from its website - of people with Pinterest accounts, 29% have purchased an item after engaging with it on Pinterest.

And it's not just consumers – the more multimedia you include in your press materials the more likely they will be looked at, according to a PR Newswire Data analysis of more than 10,000 press releases. Press releases with photos and video have a 48% increase over just a plain press release.

You could also find that people remember more about you, your brand or your product by choosing pictures over plain text. It all comes down to their natural learning style and how they retain information.

How we learn

Researchers have discovered that there are 4 different ways people learn:

  • Visual learners - learn by seeing
  • Auditory learners – learn by hearing
  • Kinesthetic or tactile learners – learn by touching or moving
  • A mix of styles

It’s widely agreed that the largest proportion of people are visual learners – though the research figures range from around 40% to 65% of the population.  Kinesthetic learners make up the smallest proportion. This style continues into our adult lives too, although continued exposure to different learning mechanisms may change your preferences.

Content creators should bear these different learning styles in mind when producing content – many people find images, diagrams and pictures much easier to grasp and absorb. While others will prefer listening to someone explain something to them via a video or spoken word. Make life easy for your users by presenting them with information about your brand, your products and your company in the way they will find it easy to understand and remember.

12 tips for improving your content marketing with better visuals:

1.    Use your pictures to tell a story – instead of just representing something, use pictures to show a beginning, a middle and an end, or choose a picture that allows interpretation of what happens next. For example, instead of a charity site having head and shoulders shots of their fundraisers show them in action on their fun run or running their jumble sale or bingo night.

2.    Use meaningful images – your pictures should either tell the story or add value to the text. Images can add real value and weight to your message – users will ignore pictures that are there just for decoration.

3.    Match your brand values – choose images that complement your brand values and tone of voice. For example, don't use busy cluttered images if you are trying to present a clean, modern brand.

4.    Don't go for overkill – get the right balance of images and text and make sure there is white space and air on the page so that users feel that they have room to breathe.

5.    Show real-looking people – anything too posed or cheesy can appear staged and put viewers off

6.    Don't make your graphics look like banner advertising – users will ignore them and scan past them.

7.    Label images – particularly if they are clickable. This will have SEO value, and will also be useful to anyone using a screen reader.

8.    Size images appropriately – so they don't slow down the load time of your site, email or social media profile.

9.    Don't forget mobile – if you've got a mobile site you might want to consider offering the option of smaller, simpler photos for mobile users.

10.    Be positive – people prefer passing on articles via email that have a positive theme, particularly those that are exciting, funny or surprising. So bear this in mind when choosing your pictures – good news beats bad news on social networks.

11. Know your audience – the Pew study showed that proportionately, more younger audiences created and curated images. If your audience is older, you’ll find a relatively small percentage of participants over age 50 taking part in any user-generated image content campaign. Women are more likely to use Pinterest than men, while Instagram and Tumblr attract equal proportions of men and women

12. Test what works for you – the same advice won't apply equally for everyone. Think about running some tests, for example seeing if a promotion on Facebook gets more likes if it’s a lifestyle image compared with a product image. Do you get different results if you attach pictures of men or women to your sign up process? What works for you will depend on your audience.

To browse a selection of creative images suitable for use in content marketing, click here

Read more articles from our Content Marketing issue - here

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