In the Blink of an Eye…
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then you brain sucks down pictures like it’s reading War and Peace in two seconds. Ninety percent of what your brain perceives as information, it receives visually. It perceives it so quickly, that your brain has concluded what it’s seeing faster than you’re done “looking”.
Imagine seeing a dozen pictures flash by in a fraction of a second. You might think it would be impossible to identify any images you see for such a short time. However, a team of neuroscientists from MIT has found that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds. That speed is far faster than the 100 milliseconds suggested by previous studies (which is roughly the speed of an eye blink). In the study, which appears in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, researchers asked subjects to look for a particular type of image, such as “picnic” or “smiling couple,” as they viewed a series of six or 12 images, each presented for between 13 and 80 milliseconds. What they found was the test subjects could not only “see the pictures” but they internalized them and remembered what they saw (for a very interesting video on sight – I recommend Vsauce).
It is truly unreal how quickly your brain “sees” images. The research would suggest in many ways that images matter more than the text (at least in those first few seconds of deciding whether or not to read the article). Moreover, images create more social media engagement, twitter shares, facebook engagement, etc. That said, 99% of bloggers and content marketers out there use the same, staid, guy smiling shaking hands… girl with hands over her eyes… girl with the headset on smiling talking to no one… for graphics. It’s a waste because you’re throwing away the #1 content marketing channel that is an information superhighway – visual content marketing.
So before you pull some image off the internet, or use some tried and true stock photo image of some guy looking up at space, sitting around a boardroom table gladhanding, shaking hands outside some building complex and smiling, or the normal “stock photo” tripe – think about instead about investing in visual content marketing by using something from these categories:
Visual Content Marketing with Infographics
Today’s Infographics, in both style and approach, owe their heritage to Peter Sullivan of the Sunday Times. However, it wasn’t until the 1980’s and the success of USA Today, that Infographics stopped being just a curiosity of designers for newspapers and instead rose to the level of being actual “content” in newspaper media. I’d argue that little has changed since Peter Sullivan’s work, although the ease at which such graphics can be created, has increased dramatically in the past 40 years.
One of the best at Infographics is Neomam. Now granted these guys work with some of the most amazing brands with what I”m sure are edicts of “make us something amazing,” but the results are really just that – amazing. That said – they have without question some of the best infographics on the widest range of topics I’ve ever seen. Their site is definitely worth looking at because it shows what you can really accomplish if you’re willing to invest in this media – fun, informative, and engagement magnetic visual content.
If you want to go it on your own, the best online resource I’ve seen regarding what makes for a “good infographic” is this piece by Smashing Magazine on The Do’s and Don’ts of Infographics. At its core, infographics are ultimately a one-slide shot of a single idea. So it needs to be detailed enough to be interesting, but not so cluttered as to be confusing. Ultimately, the key is to have a team of individuals who can design the infographics. While there are tools and people who can DIY infographics – to truly reap the effectiveness of what infographics can do for posts (in terms of shareability, likes, follows, links, notoriety, etc.) it needs to be done well. The reality is that most of us just aren’t a fabulous designer, copywriter, and editor.
It is, however, worth the investment. As we recently wrote in “Jottings” (our weekly newsletter – which if you don’t get, you should subscribe), Neal Patel reveals what ROI he received from infographics:
At KISSmetrics, we’ve created a total of 47 infographics. An infographic on average costs us $600, which means we have spent $28,200 on infographics in the last two years.
Within the two-year period, we’ve generated 2,512,596 visitors and 41,142 backlinks from 3,741 unique domains, all from those 47 infographics.
From the social media perspective, in the last two years, the infographics have driven 41,359 tweets and 20,859 likes.
If you decided that you want to buy 2,512,596 visitors, it would cost you $125,629.80 if you paid 5 cents a visitor. If you bought 41,142 links from a service like Sponsored Reviews at a rate of $20 a link, you would have spent $822,840. And that wouldn’t even give you high quality links. We naturally got our links from sites like Huffington Post and Forbes.
If you want to buy 41,359 tweets, it would cost you $82,718, assuming you paid $2.00 a tweet. It would also cost you an additional $41,718 if you paid $2.00 a Like.
In total, if you were trying to game Google and get the same results as we did at KISSmetrics, you would have spent a total of $1,072,905.80. Now, that’s a lot of money, especially if you compare that number to the $28,200 we spent on creating the infographics.
(Source: Why Content Marketing is the New SEO)
So if you really put some time and effort into it – you can wind up with something pretty amazing – like this Infographic to support Marvel Comics and Virgin Movie’s film Thor: The Dark World. How cool is something like this for the audience that likes Marvel? How many times can be shown in social media? The links back to it (like this piece) – it would be hard to get that result from a cutout or a print ad.
While most infographics are essentially print pieces – they don’t have to be exclusively that. This animated infographic from Mauco Sosa, VeniVideoVici and Pedro Cobo, for CBRE is about as beautiful as they come.
Visual Content Marketing with Cartoons
Tom Fishburne’s “Marketoonist” is perhaps one of the most interesting blogs on the web; definitely for the category of marketing, without question. Like infographics, cartoons convey an immense amount of information, exceptionally quickly, and in an entertaining way.
I’ve hired cartoonists to draw cartoons, and the rates aren’t terribly expensive – no more so than infographics. Yes, you need someone witty, funny, and can draw, and you shouldn’t expect those people to be free. Tom is perhaps among the best, but there are literally thousands of others that you can develop a relationship with, and over time, create some amazing content in cartoons. For example, most people have never really read the New Yorker magazine. That said, most people could identify a cartoon by Michael Maslin, Paul Noth, or as Peter Steiner, as most definitely being “The New Yorker”.
A similar style of illustration, which isn’t cartoonish, but is a pointillistic/stipple approach to artwork, is portrait art – made most famous by the simulated art/wood carvings of the Wall Street Journal. In the “biz” these are referred to as a “Hedcut”. If you’re doing a content that is biographical or features people, and you want to do something beyond Getty images – I’d recommend Noli Novak who has done some of the most famous stipple/hedcuts illustrations for the WSJ. There is software which claims to make hedcuts and stipple images, but nothing is really better than Noli.
Visual Content Marketing with Custom Art
Our own artwork has been routinely commented upon – and it’s relatively simple. We started doing what we call “Quote blocks” about three years ago, in blog pieces we wrote for our then Agency – Clickafy. The artwork ins’t particularly complicated – the hardest part is usually finding a quote that makes sense – the rest of the blocks are branded and templatized.
There is a branded style to it, which is what makes it useful in terms of visual content marketing. For example, I routinely see our images with the “brandmediastudio.com” cut off the bottom. Stealing our images – yeah, of course (and while offensive to some, we see it as flattery in a grotesque way). However, they cannot delete the iris (what we call the swirl mark of our logo), and ultimately the look and feel of it is ours. Just as cartoons get a look and feel to them – be mindful of your custom artwork. Done well, they can also be a statement of your brand and the value of your content.
That said, if you really go all out and hire a designer, you can have amazing custom art. I mean, imagine if you hired someone like Shepard Fairey or Michael Doret to do illustrations for your posts. Those posts alone could create intense “brand love” and respect as well as engagement. I mean, ask KISS how Michael Doret’s work changed their brand life forever. Expensive – hell yes. Worth it? Hell to the yes! I’m gonna Blog and Post ALLL NIIIGHT… AND MARKET EVERY DAY!
(BTW – a shameless plug perhaps – but our last Seminar was about conceptualizing your brand as an Album Cover and how to use graphics to visually capture your ideas. You might want to check out the replay.)
Visual Content Marketing with Film/Television Stills
Custom art and television/film stills are common. You can often get bits and pieces of films or television shows, and instantly create a connection with the audience, because of the cultural value of those images. Obviously some of the artwork we’ve created are famous photos/stills/images/covers. For example, this still from “Duck Soup” with Groucho’s legendary mustache, is a classic, and can set up any post with the right mindset. My favorite Groucho quote remains this, “Well, Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.”
A quick word of caution, however, about copyright. I’ve seen articles saying “hey, just use Google!” While Google is indeed the largest stock photo library of like everything, 99% of the images in the search queries are copyright violations. Now, in a blog post – may not be that big of a deal. Not because it’s “Fair use” (which is a grossly misunderstood term), but because it doesn’t have a significant market impact. My image of Groucho from Duck Soup is most likely a copyright violation (the film is still subject to copyright, and whether or not it’s “fair use” is something that’s always debateable), however, my market impact of a particular still is minimal. Groucho is long since dead, his likeness is not directly controlled by an entity claiming copyright (as oppose to say making my own Shepard Fairey – type poster), etc. So be mindful of copyright in your works. My rule of thumb is this – if your work is likely to cut into the revenues of the copyright holder, it’s not fair use until AFTER you’ve litigated it.
Visual Content Marketing with Personal Photos (Faces)
Personal photography always catches people’s attention. For one thing, we’re used to seeing highly manipulated images, thus, anything “personal” takes on an immediate position of genuine and authenticity. That fact alone can be arresting as a visual.
Now, I’d suggest that people go back and read our post about telling a story only through pictures. Once you’ve looked at that post, then take a look at the blog site 50mm and “The Daily Dose of Imagery“. Yes, both blogs are by professional photographers, but it’s a personal type of photography in nature – it’s not commercialized.
People react to faces – plain and simple. That’s why personal photos tend to be so fascinating to us. Pretty faces are even better. Scientists have published a study that examines how we perceive beauty and why we are drawn to people with “pretty” faces. They hypothesize that it’s largely caused by biochemical reward circuits in the brain. The brain is filled with μ-opioid receptors (MOR), which are an essential part of the body’s biochemical reward system. They play a role in human attachment and bonding. Scientists have found in mice that tweaking MOR neurotransmission can have a direct effect on how large their appetite is for sex or food — and also what their preferences are in these areas. They began by studying 30 heterosexual males who were told to review female faces on a computer. Everyone received either a dose of a MOR-stimulating drug, a MOR-inhibiting drug, or a placebo. The findings show that men whose MOR was stimulated lingered more on beautiful faces than those who had received a placebo or a drug that inhibited the neurotransmitters. These men also rated pretty faces with higher or more extreme ratings.
So the notion that “sex sells” is somewhat wrong – it’s pretty faces that sell. That’s why models (male and female) draw such a reaction with smiles and facial expressions. We’re hardwired to look at, analyze, and interpret faces.
Honestly, you may think this is silly – but if you want to see the most adept use of personal photos, faces, and angles, in terms of brilliant branding and marketing – I’d look at two people, Taylor Swift… and Ricky Gervais (Note, I’ve written extensively about Gervais and social media, and his use of photography, his own face, the faces of people he’s with, crushes it).
Gervais is particularly good. While Taylor uses personal photography to make herself seem more likable and accessible to fans (her blogs and pictures are really quite interesting), Gervais uses his imagery of himself and others, to give you a firm sense of who he is, what he cares about, the passions, projects, and things he’s working on. I’ve learned quite a bit about animal cruelty and practices thanks to Gervais. That may not be something you’re interested in – I know I wasn’t (I’m not in favor of it mind you, just not something I think about). Gervais postings and images from his own personal perspective, however, created understanding and awareness; two things that are considerably difficult to do. Honestly, the amount of personal photography this guy kicks out every day is pretty amazing. I realize he probably has a team cleaning up the images or something – but still – even so, it’s not uncommon to see 4-5 new pictures a day… every day… and probably at least one bathtub photo…
There are considerable lessons brands and marketers can learn from Swift and Gervais. You may think it’s fun and games – but honestly, they’re probably the best visual marketers I’ve seen out there… personal photos can definitely draw in interest.
Visual Content Marketing with Charts, Graphs, and Damn Lies
If your content is one that is quantitatively intensive, then you have to consider charts, graphics, and demonstrating statistics with visuals. By far, MarketingCharts is the best source and example for how this is done and done well.
Another great example is eMarketer. I actually was introduced to eMarketer because of Scott Monty using an eMarketer graph at his blog. eMarketer’s market charts and tables are often relied on by bloggers writing about media, marketing, and advertising. They brand their graphs and charts to their branding standard, so it’s readily recognizable as eMarkter. It allows them to spread their brand, and content, on what I imagine are literally thousands if not tens of thousands of websites and easily several hundred thousand articles. A quick drop in on mOz shows that the backlinks from their graph articles (which is all that they share publicly) is about 100K, across roughly 6K domains. That my friends is engagement.
Visual Content Marketing with Screen Captures
Many people out there in internet land are trying desperately to learn how to do stuff. Second to YouTube (which is the #2 search engine in the world behind Google), screen captures are among the most paid attention visuals on the internet.
Personally, I like a software program for Windows called SNAGIT. It’s simple and reasonably cheap. It has a decent interface and does both video and stills.
Whatever program you use, screen captures are really designed to aid the reader understand the complexity of movement, position, location, etc. Honestly, video is often best for this type of thing, but second to video (which can be difficult for people to produce), this is perhaps the next best approach.
We did a simple video that was with screen captures about Ello. Again, overall, I’d recommend screen captures with video.
Visual Content Marketing with Stock Photos
(my least recommended approach)
The problem with stock photography is this:
The photo is great… but how many times have you seen this woman = “call center” a billion? A trillion? A gazillion? (or someone like her?)
The real problem with stock photos is they’re BORING. If you’re going to use stock photography, then you really need to hunt, peck, and search, for images that are striking and tell a story on their own. That said, the best production library is Getty Images (which also runs iStockPhoto and Photos.com). Those images are drawn from fashion, photojournalism, and other professional sources. The images are all properly cleared and thus you won’t run afoul of copyright. That said, here are some other resources for creative commons or other sources for stock photography:
- Flickr (Creative Commons licensed materials)
- Dreamstime offers a free section that’s searchable and frequently updated. It requires you to create a (free) account.
- Free Digital Photos houses a wealth of free images—categorized and searchable—for business, personal or educational use. They’re smaller sized, and larger versions are available to purchase. Using the free images often requires a credit to the photographer and the site like the one you see below.
- Free Range Stock offers access to free high-quality, high-resolution stock photos. A (free) registration is required.
- Morguefile contains photographs freely contributed by many artists to be used in creative projects by visitors to the site. A short registration is required, and morguefile asks that users credit the photographer when possible.
- Pixabay offers copyright-free, cost-free images published under Creative Commons. You can copy, modify, distribute and use the images, even for commercial purposes. No registration is required.
- Stockvault is a stock photo sharing website where photographers, designers and students can share their photographs, graphics and image files with each other for free and use them for personal and non-commercial design work. No registration is required.
- BigFoto is a royalty-free photo gallery in which most of the photos have been contributed by amateur photographers. No login is required. It’s organized mainly by geographic area. Amazingly enough – there are some really great photos there.
If you’re going to use stock photography – then use a powerful image that represents the benefit of the post. It sets the scene. It is the opening curtain of the play. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” – should be the mantra that guides your image. It should set the scene powerfully.
Your Turn – Show me Your Visual Content Marketing
I hope this helped you with visual content marketing styles. There is so much more than just a stock photo. Use Pintrest, Instagram, Behance, and others for inspiration about how to communicate your ideas visually. You can always contact us at Clickafy if you’re really stuck (we do this type of thing for a living – we also have seminars on things like this at the Studio as well). Remember that good artists borrow, but great artists steal. They steal techniques and models to solve problems similar to the ones they saw solved in other content. Thus, you don’t “imitate” something you’ve seen – you use the technique and ideas of how they solved the problem, to solve your own. That leads to content that is genuine and powerful. That’s why we focused so heavily on showing you what other people have done.
We know, however, we’ve just scratched the surface.
Got something great to share? Show us in the comments. We’re always interested in what people are doing, experimenting, sharing, and capturing. We know everyone has the “greatest content generation device” ever in their pocket – so show us what you got.
We’ll be putting stuff up on our Pintrest and Twitter feeds, as well as in our Instagram pages. So if you really see something you think is worth sharing – show us. We might feature it.