A Great Visual Content Strategy is a lot like a human body – it needs five key elements of visual content in order to be successful.
The “bones” – A Big Idea (but just one)
The core of our anatomy is our bones. Without our bones – well – we’d be blobs. Nasty blobs.
The core of your visual content strategy has to be the thing that everything else is framed against. That’s going to be the idea you’re trying to communicate. A big idea, preferably. Small ideas don’t matter. Big ideas that can change people, are worth the time to stop and look. People think that “great design” comes before the “great idea”. I’d say that’s unlikely (it does happen). You need the “great idea” as the core, the foundation, the “bones” of your visual content anatomy, before anything else. Visual content is communication, not product, not “stuff”. Visual content is “words on crack” – that go straight to the brain past the gatekeepers. So you’ll need something important to say – one idea – that makes the brain stop and go “yeah – that is something to pay attention to.”
All of these ads by Apple all have the same “big idea” inside them. They all hang on the same framework. Apple, Inc., largely recognized as being among the best for having a definitive visual “style,” struggled with this until they finally found the ‘big idea’ (hint: it’s not “think different” – it’s “being individualistic is cool”):[/vc_column_text][vc_images_carousel images=”6309,6310,6311,6312,6313,6314,6315,6316,6317,6318,6319,6320″ img_size=”300X180″ hide_pagination_control=”yes”][vc_column_text]
The “circulation” – Content with Heart
The “bones” of your visual content strategy is your big idea – it’s the framework of all the things you’ll build and hang your hat on.
The “circulation” system is the heart and the blood system that pumps blood through the body supplying all the systems with what it needs most – oxygen and ATP (fuel for your muscles).
Similarly, your visual content strategy has to have heart. It has to have passion and supply all the other aspects with what it needs most – emotional appeal.
Most people make visuals that are just plain boring. Pictures of your box, your product, people smiling in conference rooms, your retreats, etc., all of it is absolutely boring. Nobody cares (which is why nobody shares, likes, etc.)
That’s not heart. That’s just… boring.
If you want to understand what makes for emotive content – read our previous article on best visual content (alternatively – this piece on powerful visual content types might be helpful). The key measure to you know your content has heart – the degree to which it is engaging (check out this piece to refresh your recollection on engaging content.)
Consider these images and their emotional connection. They aren’t stale – they’re not about “the product”. They have heart. They fuel the consumption of content. They’re from advertising, magazine covers, and photographs of some of the most famous people in history. The images cause an emotional reaction – confusion, laughter, smirks, desire, sympathy, thought, and more. They have heart (voice, passion, point, perspective, and emotionally connect with the viewer):[/vc_column_text][vc_images_carousel images=”6322,6323,6324,6325,6326,6327,6328,6329,6330,6331,6332,6333,6334,6335″ img_size=”300X180″][vc_column_text]
The “nerves” – Focus on Sharing
Great idea. Great emotional power. Now, that framework needs to be focused on something that so spurs people to an action – most likely – sharing that content with others.
Content marketing induces “conversion” two ways: 1) the content marshals people through the capture strategy until they convert or divert; 2) the content gets spread around, pollinating other audience pools, that draw in people, who ultimately are attracted into the capture strategy and either convert or divert.
As a ratio – 30% of your efforts are properly focused on direct draw and audience building, 70% are focused on that “cross-pollination” aspect of content marketing.
What this means in visual marketing is that your main objective is get shared. Sharing leads to conversion.
I argued (rather unsuccessfully according to Joe Pulizzi) that the purpose of content marketing is customer acquisition – in other words, marketing is marketing is marketing – content or otherwise.
Joe’s opinions aside – marketing is marketing. Content marketing is not about making people happy (that’s a nice side benefit) – entertaining existing customers (that’s also a nice side benefit) – or demonstrating your intellect (which actually does help drive people to you at times) – content marketing is a form of marketing and marketing is about new customers.
Marketing works largely through creating buying opportunity. The more people see your “value” (namely the content) in response to their “need” the more likely you’ll hook someone. It’s really a game of odds. The more chances at bat – more likely you’ll get a hit on base – all things being equal. Marketing works more like the throw of a dice – every time is a new set of opportunities and odds, and largely independent.
Except that over time, eventually your materials gain a critical mass of “awareness”. Have you ever noticed people seem to just “come out of nowhere” in terms of status? That’s the effect of the critical awareness.
The “hockey stick” effect that everyone is hoping for is indeed possible with visual content marketing. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was one example. Another phenomenon is Red Bull:
Brave the wave. #surf #brave #wave #juno #? #? Photo Credit: @timmckenna A photo posted by Red Bull (@redbull) on
If you don’t focus on shareworthy content in the execution of your big idea and emotion – then put simply – nobody is going to see it.
You (brand, organization, person, CMO, whatever) cannot buy your way in front of eyeballs as effectively as you once could. The reason “banner blindness” and “commercial blindness” and the decline of the ROI on all forms of media advertising is a testament to this fact. You have to make them want to look and more importantly you want to make them want to share so others can look.
In another post we’ll talk about share-worthy images – but put simply – study Taylor Swift. Yes, I realize Taylor Swift – you’re rolling your eyes. But the woman is a brand – a rather powerful brand – who beat up the biggest company in the world (Apple) over her music – and could do so because quite frankly she has the chips in music to do it.
And that audience was built almost exclusively through her visual content. There are lots of artists who sell records. But few have the visual panache that leads to millions of shares like Swift:
The “muscle” – Great Power
It would be foolish to think all this is easy. It’s not. It requires resources. It requires talent. It requires know-how. Just like your muscles carry the weight and get you around – you are going to need “muscles” in your visual content marketing to make it go. That means, content generators: artists, photographers, copywriters, writers, editors. These are not people you would normally think about having as freelancers or contractors (or even on staff), but now is the time to start thinking about acting like a publisher who makes great visual content that leads to people liking and adoring your value, and less like whatever the heck it is you did before. You’re a show runner, a producer, an impresario – now. That means you need really smart people who are experts at making really nice visuals. Visuals that are smart, funny, clever, engaging, have heart, have passion, and make people want to share. It is important to plan for these people in your budget and in understanding your outlays to accurate measure your returns. Advertising agencies may be able to do some of this for you – chances are they’ll have a lot of it nailed (at least the good ones do). The only problem is – they’ll likely be unable to figure out how to get you to pay for it. You see – the big lie in advertising was – the really impossible stuff – like coming up with the big idea and having a mountain of creative people who could pull a rabbit out of a hat on command against deadline – that all happened for free. Where they made the real money was in buying media – that they got a cut of from each buy (the commission). Although that’s changed a lot over the years, the key thing that really hasn’t changed is agencies being absolutely retarded at figuring out what to charge people for the really hard stuff – namely – creative content creation. So if you’re using an advertising agency for your visual content creation/execution – great. But understand they’re going to be a bit limited in what they’re likely to propose unless you get some idea as to how to pay them for their resources. Even then – it may be a struggle – most agencies had the creative beaten out of them long ago, especially if we’re talking the “venerable” whose founders are the titans long since buried in the ground. But it can be had to be your own ringmaster – finding artists, musicians, photographers, videographers, directors, to make your content sing. But you need to plan for muscle, and if you’re weak in that area, then you need to plan for the efforts of hitting the “gym” – namely – building that talent. That takes time and money.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
The Skin – Contact with the outside world
Our skin does two things – one, it keeps all our insides, well inside; two – it is the face we project to everyone else. It’s the basis for how we’re perceived and understood. Our appearance changes based upon the environment we might find ourselves in: a dinner party may require a tuxedo, while our attire at a tractor pull might be better suited in jeans in and a flannel shirt. The final element of your visual content strategy has to be the “skin” – how is it all going to be held together, and yet simultaneously, change as it moves in medium channels. For example, Tumblr gravitates towards the risque, the weird, and content that pushes the envelope. Your finely polished graphics and photos just won’t be useful in that medium. Calvin Klein is no stranger to risque materials. That said, what’s available on their Tumblr site (above) is considerably different from what they have on their Facebook page. That said – it’s not different in idea, execution, look, feel, emotion. But it does have a tailored approach for each audience channel. You wouldn’t go naked to the formal ball. And you wouldn’t wear the tuxedo to the tractor pull. Same rules apply here. The “skin” you’re in will have to change as you move from channel to channel. Your audience will generally not change (at least not much), but the content they’ll want to consume will change. For example, on GQ’s Tumblr page – they share only the most “shareable” content they’ve developed at any one time: National Geographic’s Instagram content is curated by roughly 100 photographers who chose only the best image (one per hour) through a voting process and then put it up on Instagram. They’re by far the most engaged brand on social media – with having over a billion “hearts” of their material on the service.
Photo by @markleongphotography. As the Naga tribes converted to Christianity over the past century, church elders insisted they bury the skulls once headhunted for power and fertility. The Konyak village of Shianghachingnyu is one of the few places in Nagaland that still maintains its collection – machete blows, bullet holes and all — hidden away from the public in a small display room. The Northeast Indian state of Nagaland is home to 16 indigenous hill tribes. Formerly headhunters, today 90% of Nagas are baptized Christians. Warrior ways have continued, however, with armed insurgents fighting India for autonomy. In August, the Central Government just signed a peace framework with the NSCN-IM, the largest of the factions. See my profile link for full Nat Geo story. #Naga #Nagaland #headhunters #NortheastIndia #phrenology A photo posted by National Geographic (@natgeo) on
So gone are the days of “come up with an idea” and run it everywhere. You can still come up with the big idea – and you should. But the final touches will ultimately be knowing where your audience consumes the visual content, and knowing what little “twist” is necessary to make that content exciting and interesting.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]