Humans are social and visual creatures. We’re also hunter-gatherers. So it’s not surprising that we created the Internet in our image: bending and evolving it to meet our information hunting and gathering needs. Evolutionarily, it makes sense that images popping into our Facebook News or Twitter feeds get hunter-gatherers like us clicking, watching, and sharing. Facebook and LinkedIn are betting on it, while the popularity of Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr seem to prove it. But creating visual content for its own sake is pointless; like all marketing communications, visuals need to support your strategy and be created in the context of meeting customer needs.
Consumers are increasingly using social networks to “see” what other people like them are doing, what decisions they’re making, and what the results are. Instead of knocking on doors or having impromptu coffee shop chats, consumers are posting their problems or needs on Facebook and asking for recommendations.
How did that vegan BBQ recipe turn out? Your friend Sharon just posted a picture to her feed and even her non-vegan friends are gushing. How valuable was the online certificate program John took earlier this year? Check out John’s updated LinkedIn profile with a new, official headshot for his new official promotion.
One big reason visual cues are so persuasive (and attractive) is that they fire up a large chunk of our brains at once. Apparently, the neurons in our brain that handle visual processing take up a whopping 30 percent of the cortex: Compare this to 8 percent for touch and 3 percent for hearing.
As marketers, we’ve all been told “Show, don’t tell,” or “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Why? Because humans are drawn to visual imagery, we process it easily, and because of this, visuals do a great job helping consumers cut through information clutter, especially in today’s uber-cluttered online world.
Online, consumers still desire some kind of “visual proof” of what people and organizations are posting, reviewing, using, or listing on their resumes. We may be glued to our iPad miles away, but seeing is still believing.
Social networks are primarily ways to connect with like-minded people, and to some degree, reinforce our preferences. We assume people we know are similar to us in some way. This means we have a higher level of confidence that the information coming from our social networks is relevant to us and our decisions.
Keeping this in mind, your content strategy should use visuals wisely. Yes—photos, videos, and infographics grab eyeballs online and engage your customers. More importantly, brain research also shows that images can improve the quality and speed of learning, information retention and better convey meaning—as long as those images are relevant to your topic or audience, and help clarify or add context.
Hit the mark and your visual content can stand in for a friend’s opinion on Facebook, or an online review. Your videos and photos can speak directly to the right customers, offering the “visual proof” that’s most beneficial for the way each customer segment makes buying decisions.