In March 1911, while giving a talk at the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club, Arthur Brisbane, a public relations professional advised the admin in the room to “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”.
What does visual marketing mean?
Throughout the early 20th century, different people repeated Brisbane’s advice. Fred Barnard, an English illustrator, used it to defend using images with ads on streetcars in 1921, and by the 1960s, the golden age of advertising, “One picture is worth a thousand words.” was an established fact for the marketing and advertising industry.
That is what visual marketing means.
Or in other words, visual marketing is simply using pictures, videos, and any form of visual information to talk to your audience and reinforce your story. It’s not a new marketing fad or a shiny new fancy term. Visual marketing simply means to help your audience see the story you’re telling about your product or service.
Stop reading and think for a minute. Do you think in words or images?
Until recently, scientists have been very divided over how we think. Some researchers argued that some people think in words, while other people think in pictures, and the rest think in a combination of the two.
But recent research by four scientists from the Harvard Medical School suggests that we all think in words AND images. That is, people “engage in visual imagery even when they want to think verbally.”
In other words, visual thinking is as close as you can get to the human default way of thinking!
Visual marketing is indispensable. Here’s why it should be in your toolbox
If people think in pictures naturally, it only makes sense to lead your content strategy and marketing with the right visual content. Frankly, this is the best argument for designing and implementing a robust visual marketing strategy.
And just in case you need more convincing. This demand generation report (also cited by Forbes here), found that “an overwhelming number of buyers (91%) agree or strongly agree that they prefer more interactive/visual content that can be accessed on-demand.”
In other words, people say they WANT you to help them visualize your brand story with visual content. Will you help them?
How to tell engaging stories. 5 ways to tell better stories with visual marketing
Chances are you already create visual content. Without thinking about it, you instinctively know that your blog posts need a featured image, and your brand page on Instagram is exclusively pictures and videos. Right?
By being a bit more intentional, you can deliver better content and create better business results. Here are five simple things you can do today to tell better stories with visual marketing.
1. Be relatable
Being relatable means that your visual content must speak to your audience. Randomly choosing and dumping just any internet picture, stock photo, or video is lazy, uninspired and means you don’t care about your audience.
Being relatable with your visual marketing can mean sharing content that speaks to the emotion of your audience. It can also mean using content that fits the context of your story.
Nobody loves the random stock photo that is so emotionless and disconnected from the rest of the blog post. Or the stock intro video that has already been used everywhere on Earth, the moon, and even on Mars.
2. Stand out with sharp contrasts, visual paragraphs, and unexpected thrillers
Great writers have the ability to transfix you to the page with just words. But even mediocre writers can make an ordinary block of text magical by simply breaking things up with images that narrate the text, give visual relief, or “shock-stop” the reader with bold and dramatic visuals.
Narrative pictures are like a frozen moment in time. Like a still from an action scene in a movie, narrative images use the brain’s indexing power to create an instantaneous story in the mind.
Narrative images can be pictures, an illustration, or the newly popular animated illustration format. Visual paragraphs, on the other hand, are breather images. At a basic level, visual paragraphs are images that provide context and feed into the emotion of the story.
Use soft but eye-catching images to break up the text flow and give your readers a chance to take it all in.
When trying to create engaging stories, learn from journalists. The emotions stories like this create may or may not be what you want to evoke, but “how” those stories create those emotions is what you want to replicate.
The answer is to simply find and use the right mix of relatable visual content in your marketing projects.
3. Video marketing in 2024: Create annoying TV-like ads. Create cringe and lovable TikTok acts
The second most popular person on TikTok does not say a word. You have also likely watched, rewatched, and even shared several of his videos. What’s his name?
Between June 2020 and June 2021, Khabane Lame’s brand of voiceless 30-second cringe videos transformed the unemployed Senegalese into an international star with a net worth between $1M and $2M. Oh, and the CNN article I’m just reading has this to say about “non-verbal communication”. Quote: the popularity of Lame’s videos shows how nonverbal communication can transcend language barriers and make connections across cultures.
The point isn’t to copy Khaby. The point is that video marketing in 2021 and likely in 2022 is moving beyond the staid or cringe-worthy TV-like ads most businesses default to. Yes, cringe can be good – when it’s on TikTok.
4. Say hi to meme marketing… Holla Gen Z!
The reason why TikTok-style videos make sense is very similar to why investing in memes and GIFs as part of your content marketing strategy is a winnable bet.
Memes work because they are designed to entertain and to “spread like wildfire through social media networks.” I save memes I like from WhatsApp hoping to use them in later conversations. You probably do too.
Because memes are not overly promotional by design, using or creating custom memes with casual references to your brand, reinforces the “I’m-comfortable-enough-with-you-to-laugh-with-you” feeling. And the more comfortable someone is with you, the more likely they are to trust you and maybe even buy from you.
5. Think “mobile-first”
In the same study (I cited earlier. Scroll up please) where 91% of respondents said they preferred interactive/visual content, 86% mentioned that they preferred content that is optimized for mobile devices.
It’s not a secret – at least not now – that more people access the internet from their phones, and even carry out work or business-related tasks from their phones. My recommendation then, is simple.
Optimize your visual content for mobile displays.
You don’t have to be a news organization to create meaningful visual content that is both immersive and contributes meaningful business results.
When Japanese carmaker Honda started publishing visually immersive stories, the average time website visitors spent on their website shot up to 85% with a click-through rate of 47%.
Here’s what one of those stories looks like.
So, what’s stopping you? If you’re confused about how to start, head over here for tips you can start using now.
About the author
Abraham Augustine is a growth-focused marketing strategist with a bias for driving strategy success through storytelling. I believe in story. My journey in media comms and marketing has taken me through journalism, content marketing, consulting, and go-to-market for early-stage startups. When I’m not working, I’m doing something else, I encourage you to try it, it’s fun!