Your ultimate guide to visual marketing

In the digital age, there’s a high density of content, and getting brand cut-through amid a high-sharing online economy is a tricky game to master. Truly shareable content in 2020 is authentic, unique, eye-catching, and most likely, visual. In 2016, an MIT Sloan Management Review article noted that 60% of all digital impressions were digital—and numbers have only risen in the years since.

In order to gain a piece of the engagement pie, it’s important that you recognize and capitalize on visual content strategies, making it a key part of your overall marketing strategy.

What is visual marketing and why is it important?

Put simply, visual marketing is marketing that uses graphics, images, video, or visual material to market a product or service. The reason visual marketing is so crucial for your brand is how it relates 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.

“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,” the same article explains. Additionally, studies have also found that images also 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.Recent statistics from Inc suggest that posts, where images are included, attract 650% higher engagement than text-only posts, for example, while a product is 85% more likely to be purchased if a customer had watched a product video. In short, no brand can be without visual marketing in an increasingly digital world and therefore, can’t be without a digital 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, what you could be doing more of, and a heavy reliance on your audience—just with visuals at its core. Here are a few key steps to creating your visually-focused marketing strategy:

1. Perform a SWOT analysis of your assets

Image via Dolman Bateman.

The classic SWOT analysis is an enduringly popular tool for its ability to simplistically break apart your brand and understand its core parts. The acronym stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and the idea is to take the time to understand your business from all of these perspectives. In the context of visual marketing, you could 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.

2. 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.

3. Go firm on 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? Get clear on the specifics of success for your visual marketing strategy: are you concerned with the shareability of the content? How much community engagement it generates or are you hoping to drive more viewers to your website? Put together a list of 3-5 key objectives (following the time-honored SMART rule) and a time frame within which to achieve them.

4. Create a well-rounded picture of your audience

Your audience—or in your company’s case, your customers—is at the heart of everything you do, including your visual marketing strategy. 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.

5. Examine your competitors

A good way to know where to head—or not to head, as the case may be—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.

6. 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 asset to represent your information. For example, you wouldn’t use a comic to represent your company’s growth, a chart or graph would serve that purpose much better.

Break down what constitutes an effective visual asset—not just generally, but to your brand and your audience specifically. Ask yourself a few questions about your creations: 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?

Types of visual content

1. Eye-catching photographs

Image via Instagram

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. Inspiring quote cards

Image via Morgan Harper Nichols.

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 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’s 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.

3. Strong calls to action

Image via Nike. 

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, as it gives you access to a whole array of techniques to 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. Interesting data visualizations

Image via Nikon.

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. Clever 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. Videos

Image by Vox Facebook. 

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth millions. Studies tell us that 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, 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.

6. Tips, tricks and how-to’s

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 helps to construct a bond between you and them, like you’re sharing a secret tip with them.

The beauty of using a visual aid 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 they see a picture of the beautiful finished product and note that it can be achievable, they’re much more inclined to pay attention to the content.

7. Infographics

Infographics are eye-catching. 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.

Tools to help with your visual marketing strategy

Image by Marcus Spiske via Unsplash.

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 asset 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.

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