Your ultimate guide to visual marketing strategy

Photo by Mikael Blomkvist from Pexels

In the digital age, there’s a high density of content circulating online. Creating content and hoping it will succeed isn’t sustainable for brands who want to see their visual marketing drive brand awareness, audience growth, and sales. Building branded content that receives meaningful engagement and reaches new audiences online depends on a strategic visual marketing strategy and results in visual content reaching the right people on the right platforms..

Truly shareable content is authentic, unique, eye-catching, and— in order to generate sustainable engagement in this day and age— visual. 2021 HubSpot research revealed that 70% of companies are investing in content marketing, which encompasses visual marketing strategies.

Visual marketing impacts the bottom line, contributing in a meaningful way to improved sales, customer engagement, and internal employee engagement for B2B and B2C businesses that can sell software, products, or anything in between.

When used as a tool by marketing, sales, customer service, and HR teams, a cohesive visual brand strategy can set companies apart from their competition and drive growth like never before.

In order to see the benefits of different types of visual marketing, teams who create and share brand content need to understand how content marketing strategy works. Let’s get started.

What is visual marketing?

The definition of visual marketing is fairly straightforward: it’s a content marketing strategy that uses graphics, images, video, or visual material to market a product or service. Visual marketing falls under the umbrella of content marketing, which is part of the marketing organization.

Visual marketers can be content creators, brand strategists, internal communication teams, graphic designers, content strategists, or any other individual who uses, creates, or distributes visual marketing in their role.

Visual marketing is paramount to brand success for a simple reason related to human neuroscience: we’re visual creatures. Our brains are wired to interpret images incredibly fast; one MIT study found that humans can correctly identify entire images after viewing them for less than 13 milliseconds.

And beyond simply interpreting images more quickly, visuals help aid in making faster purchasing decisions. Shoppers make decisions about products in 90 seconds, and 90% of shopping decisions are made based on visuals alone: color.

Is visual marketing the same as visual content marketing?

Visual marketing and visual content marketing are not the same.

Visual marketing uses visuals to market a product or service and can include video, images, GIFs, presentations, PDFs, one-pagers, or any visual used in pursuit of marketing and advertising. Visual marketing can include sales enablement content, advertising, or marketing.

Visual content marketing on the other hand is when marketers employ content marketing strategies to attract ideal customers using visual mediums like social media, email, blogs, and long form content like reports or infographics.

Why is visual marketing an important business strategy?

Remember how humans are wired to process information visually? That’s evident when you look at our eyes— turns out they’re actually the windows to the brain, not the soul after all.

“Sight is our strongest sense: 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and 40% of nerve fibers to the brain are connected to the retina,” Kane and Pear note in their research on visual communication.

Additionally, studies have also found that images have the power to evoke feelings far more effectively than words, perfectly summarized in the popular phrase: “a picture tells a thousand words.”

The power of visual marketing becomes even clearer when diving into the data. Image posts attract 650% higher engagement than text-only posts, for example, while a product is 85% more likely to be purchased if a customer watches a product video.

In short, no brand can be without visual content in an increasingly digital world and therefore, can’t be without a comprehensive visual marketing strategy.

How to build a visual marketing strategy

In the same way as you would with a generalized digital marketing strategy, your visual marketing strategy will tap into what you’re already doing right, figuring out what you can be doing more of, and a heavy reliance on your audience—with visuals at its core.

Here are a few key steps to creating your visual marketing strategy:

1. Find clear value propositions.

As a business, you offer your customers and clients something that no other brand can—this is your value proposition. The same should apply to your visual content; what are you going to offer your audience that’s uniquely yours and solves a need or problem for them? What is relevant to them, considering the context of your product or offer? Everything you create should be adding value.

2. Identify marketing strategy objectives.

Creating a strategy without setting objectives is a bit like a stab in the dark. If you don’t understand what you’re hoping to get from your new strategy, how can it be deemed successful? How can you know where to make changes when things aren’t working if you’re unsure what ‘working’ looks like?

Clearly define the specifics of success for your visual marketing strategy: are you concerned with the shareability of the content? How much community engagement your visual content generates? Or are you hoping to drive more viewers to your website? Put together a list of 3-5 key objectives using SMART goalsand set a time frame within which to achieve them.

3. Create a well-rounded picture of your target audience and ideal buyer personas.

Your audience—or in your company’s case, your customers—is at the heart of everything you do, including your visual marketing strategy. First— who are they? Who represents your ideal customer? A buyer persona is a representative of a potential customer who is likely to buy from your company.

Their online behaviors, demographics, and preferences are all important elements that will influence how you’re marketing to them, so it’s crucial to understand what’s relevant, important, and entertaining to them.

Where does your audience live online? What social media platforms are they on? What types of visual content do they consume and share?

4. Examine your competitors.

A good way to know where to head—or not to head—is to take a look at your competitors. Perform a SWOT analysis on their brand as a way of discovering what you might use for inspiration, what you should steer clear of, and what room there might be for opportunities.

5. Decide on what is ‘relevant’ content.

According to content marketing expert Gregory Ciotti, the most important aspect of your content marketing is to “creatively capture the concept in a visual.”

“Think of it as the 'See Fig. A' when reading about a complex topic—the visual is often the ‘Aha!’ moment needed to fully understand what you are learning about,” he advises.

The best way to achieve that “Aha!” moment is by keeping in mind what each type of asset can do and choosing the best possible type of visual marketing content to represent your information. For example, you wouldn’t use a comic to represent your company’s growth, a chart or graph is a better visual representation of data and would serve that purpose much better.

Break down what constitutes an effective piece of visual marketing —not just generally, but to your brand and your audience specifically. Ask yourself a few questions about your content: does this asset enhance my message in some way? Is this asset clear and easily read or understood? Is this the best possible type of asset for this context? How will my audience react to this asset?

6. Define your brand identity and visual brand guidelines.

Creating a visual brand style guide is one of the last steps since it relies on the information you gathered about your audience.

  • Logo guidelines
  • Your color palette
  • Company fonts
  • Iconography
  • A photography style or guidelines for choosing photos
  • Design elements
  • Your brand voice and tone

When you compile your brand identity assets into a brand kit, it makes it easier for marketing teams to create and share visual marketing content at scale. As your content marketing team grows even more, you can implement brand approval workflows that streamline the content creation process and get your content out to your audience faster.

Need a brand style guide template? How about one that’s complete with trendy gradients that can be customized to your visual brand identity?

7. Audit existing assets and find ways to repurpose them into visual content.

In the context of visual marketing, ask yourself these questions pertaining to your brand: what visual content has worked for us in the past? What has proved ineffective? What resources do we have at hand that can allow us to create more visual content quicker? What are our competitors doing that we’ve missed the boat on? These answers will inform the focal point of your strategy when you come to define its boundaries.

Identify the top pieces of content from the past several months or years in terms of your marketing goals. Which content campaigns brought in new business? Which ones got the most views? Which social post was shared the most? Then, brainstorm ways to repurpose this content into new visual formats. Can a podcast become a series of social images or videos? Could your successful leadership interview series become an ebook?

8. Choose visual marketing tools and conduct team training sessions.

Almost a quarter (24%) of content marketers report that their biggest challenge is design and visual content. Creating effective brand designs takes time and is often a collaborative effort among marketing teams.

Choose visual marketing tools that offer:

More to come on the specifics of visual marketing tools. A key part of this phase in the content strategy process is making sure that your team is comfortable with the platforms you choose and on board with making them part of the day-to-day routine.

What are types of visual marketing content?

1. Images and photographs

A well-taken photograph can do wonders for your brand. When the quality is high, beautiful photographs relay a sense of credibility, intimacy, and inspiration for brands and in a matter of seconds.

Depending on the subject matter of your images, they could also give you a chance to give your customers a glimpse into your company, product, or service. Get some action shots of your product being used, do a quick photoshoot of your product to show off its best side, take some snapshots of customers using your service. You’ve built a brand, now show your audience what it can do.

2. Videos

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth millions. Over four billion videos are watched every day. Conversely, how many small businesses do you think use sites like YouTube as a means of content creation? The answer: An underwhelming 9%.

So, what does this mean for you and your content? Basically, the video market is an open field, there’s a huge potential right there for you to create some new multimedia visuals for social media, mix up your content a bit and say a lot in a short space of time.

Videos are a great way to give your brand a literal voice and sound, and just like every other medium of visual content, you can brand it using your business’ colors, typography, and imagery.

3. Calls to action

A few carefully chosen words can incite an incredible amount of action and engagement with your product amongst your audience. Visual calls to action take your influential message to a whole new level, and grab even more attention. You can use textual hierarchy and a striking palette to highlight the most important elements of your communication, all the while keeping the design in line with your brand—Nike does this perfectly by using the ultimate contrast of black and white to stand out amongst millions of competing visuals.

If you have a huge sale, an exciting event, an exclusive promo, or like Nike, want to show your customers you’re connected to world events, create a visual call to action.

4. Data visualizations

Let’s face it—data can be a bit boring at times. Even the most interesting of figures and facts can appear dull if presented in a dull way. Or, data can be too complex to be visualized in spreadsheets.

Branded infographics help your audience understand what you’re getting at in a richer, more engaging way. Nikon’s fascinating Universcale exists to show customers the incredible scale of the universe, cleverly aligning with its products that allow zooming up to minute detail. It’s a clever way of engaging customers with data and also, with the tangible capabilities of their brand.

Ask yourself: How could I better present any relevant data to my audience?

Pair your figures and facts with charts and diagrams to make them more interesting. Customize these templates on Canva: Weather Forecast Infographic and App Statistics Infographic

5. Infographics

Infographics are eye-catching and an effective form of visual marketing for brands. We notice them, we get absorbed by them, we read them and then we share them with others; in fact, infographics are shared 3x more than any other piece of visual content.

Could an infographic work for your brand? Consider what information it could summarize or present in a dynamic, new way. And while they may look complicated, having the right tools ensures that it’s not that difficult at all.

Check out Canva’s infographic maker for a super quick and easy way to compile all your information in an interesting way.

6. Presentations

Presentations can be beautiful, and at the same time pack in enough information to convince a prospect to work with your company. Or share your visual marketing strategy with your team.

They are a combination of text, visuals, animation, data visualisations, inspiration, and company branding. As a business tool, collaborative presentations are an asynchronous way to share strategy ideas and work on team initiatives as a group.

Live presentations like webinars and panels rely on visual aids like presentations and in getting started on a slide deck can feel like a huge hurdle when you’ve also got to plan the content itself at some point… That’s where presentation templates come in. You’re not left to start from scratch, use a jumping off point to get the creative wheels turning.

7. GIFs/Memes

GIFs and memes are an important part of social media marketing strategy. Humorous content is engaging and gets shared like crazy. When the next viral meme goes around, try your hand at using it to drive engagement with your page and test out how it performs.

8. Social media posts

Does your brand or product come paired with a tone of authority and knowledge? Whether it’s a recipe, a tutorial, or a ‘life hack’, sharing some knowledge with your consumers in social media content helps to construct a bond between you and them, like you’re sharing a secret tip with them.

The beauty of using visual social media posts to share these tips and tricks is not only the added benefit of showing your tips directly, but it encourages consumers to share the content around. Plus, when you design content in Canva, you can schedule social posts to automatically publish at the optimal time.

Related article: How to build an Instagram marketing strategy

9. Visual quotes

A good pearl of wisdom can call your audience to action, whether within the realm of your brand specifically or otherwise. The major benefit of the visual quote card is how incredibly easy it is to create when other inspiration is lacking; all it takes is the right quote (and the correct source of the quote–always double-check that!), combined with an on-brand design and you have a highly shareable and engaging piece of content.

When creating your quote images, it’s a good idea to keep your design simple and to let the type be the focus. Ensure that you choose readable typefaces, a color palette with enough contrast to keep everything readable, and a clear composition of elements.

Artist Morgan Harper Nichols is a good example of how to harness this technique: she amassed a following of 1.2 million on Instagram for her quote-based artworks, proving the enduring power of this kind of visual content.

Create your own inspiring quote cards with these templates: Photo Super Bowl Social Media Graphic and Simple Border Justice Hall Quote Social Media Graphic.

Visual content marketing creation tips

When creating designs intended for visual content marketing, a key element is a call to action or a hook. You want your audience to not only view your content, but take action, engage with it, share it, or save it. How does one create content that attracts and engages?

Here are some visual marketing content creation tips:

  1. Always include a call to action.
  2. Establish + maintain brand guidelines.
  3. Always get a second pair of eyes if you can.
  4. Include your brand logo or social media handle on all visual marketing content.
  5. Design for the platform you’re sharing on.

Tools for visual content marketing strategy

Starting from scratch with your visual marketing strategy? Don’t worry, there are plenty of online tools to help, many of them free. Here are our top choices.

With thousands of easily customizable templates, millions of stock photographs, and intuitive software available for free, there’s no match for visual marketing content creation than Canva.

Whether you’re just looking for inspiration or are on the hunt to hire an artist or designer for your campaign, Behance provides a pool of incredible talent. Unlike other design repositories that are photo-heavy, on Behance, you’ll find a wide range of illustrations and graphic design.

If you’re looking for a straightforward but easy to use the repository of great design, look no further than the aptly titled Designspiration. A comprehensive, well-organized, and beautifully managed site that lets you save, search, and share your favorite pieces of online marketing design.

A beautifully compiled database of some gorgeous pieces of email inspiration. Whether you’re designing for email directly as a part of your visual marketing or another medium altogether, this site is a fantastic resource for inspiration.

Visual marketing trends

Visual content marketing is always evolving, as quickly as social media grows and adapts. Here are the top visual marketing trends to help your brand stay relevant and ahead of your competition.

Creating campaigns that speak to your existing and hopeful future audience is an art and a science. It takes a dash of analytics, a heap of effort creating and testing content, and a pinch of design savvy. Pair that with easy-to-use, collaborative brand design tools like Canva Teams, and you’ve got a winning visual marketing strategy.

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