Now more than ever, marketers are discovering ways to tap into their visual resources, and turn the images they share into content that sparks engagement, attracts more buyers, and builds recognition around their brand.
… But that doesn’t mean the process is going smoothly for everyone.
Every day, we watch companies “throw visuals at the wall” to see what sticks. They’re not sure which visuals to use, or which ones will work, and why. (That’s why suddenly every brand on the planet is firing off inspiring quotes on their Facebook page.)
The truth is, if you want to make real, repeatable waves with your company’s content, you can’t treat visuals as an afterthought. It’s time to give as much consideration to your visual strategy as you would for your blog strategy, Facebook ad strategy, etc.
Having a game plan in place isn’t just the way to give your team clear directives on what to share when; it also gives everything you post a purpose, and helps you develop a consistent visual brand people will recognize.
Why Visuals Matter
Using visuals helps potential buyers remember and engage with more of your company’s surrounding content (including ads, articles, product descriptions, etc.). So, the more visuals you share effectively, the more interested readers and customers will be in learning more.
Making strategic use of the right, appropriate visuals is especially critical for written content. People will typically only read 62 words on a page, and spend about 15 seconds on average doing so. However, they'll view every image for over 15 seconds. Researchers have also found that colored visuals increase people's willingness to read a piece of content by 80%.
Along the same lines, when people hear information, they're likely to remember only 10% of that information three days later. However, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, the average person will retain 65% of the information three days later. That’s why content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without.
A new challenge for today’s marketers, however, is that the visuals associated with their brand are not just being created by the brand itself. There’s a whole new, user-created world of content out there, waiting to be tapped into.
The rise of User-Generated Content (UGC)
Take a quick scan of Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and you’ll see millions of people posting photos of their clothes, meals, and travel experiences.
You might be thinking, “But we’re a B2B company – does user-generated content really apply to me?” Turns out, it does. People are sharing photos from trade show floors, videos of their experiences with tech solutions, conferences, and more.
And for companies that sell direct to consumers, UGC is a goldmine of social proof and authenticity for your marketing claims. The downside? Your target audiences have many sources other than yourself for getting information about the products and services they are interested in. For example, people planning a vacation often look at Instagram photos tagged with that geolocation, and use it as a way to discover new activities, accommodations, and restaurant options.
However, you can turn that to your advantage as well by selecting and sharing specific on-brand photos from users who’ve visited your destination on your own feed (with permission of course.) That shows that you’re both participating in your community, and are an expert spotlighting the best of the best in your location.
Finding out how to use that UGC gold mine can help you become a “visual influencer” rather than a brand that is out of the loop with your audience. We’ll share exactly how to do that shortly.
But first: what does it mean to be a “visual influencer”?
Visual Influence is defined as the ability of a brand to be a visual authority of their products and services, by bringing together both owned and earned visual media, a.k.a. UGC. Brands that are visual influencers create and share consistent, impactful, action-inspiring visual content across all platforms, to get users engaged, interacting, and buying.
But there’s a ton of content out there, right? Just search for “Nike” on Instagram and you’ll receive millions of examples, many created in the last few minutes. So how do you sift through it? How do you make it effective, make it yours, and use it to express your brand’s mission, and achieve your goals?
4 tips to develop your brand’s visual influence
Step 1: Go back to your brand foundations
Start at the beginning. Remember all those questions you answered when you were creating your content plan? It’s time to take a look back, make sure they’re still relevant, and start applying them to your visual content.
What is your brand promise?
What audiences are you serving?
What is your brand’s personality?
What kind of experience do you want to deliver with your content?
What kind of feeling do you want to leave your audiences with?
Put on your visual influencer hat, and reexamine your answers from that angle. How will everything you share – from your own photos, to professionally commissioned ones, to UGC – serve these key components of your content strategy?
Step 2: Take stock of your existing owned content
If you’ve been in business for a while, you probably have stockpiles of professional photos, event snapshots, and more waiting in files and folders across your server.
Set aside time to go through the images (if the thought of this is overwhelming, CrowdRiff can help). Start looking at them through the lens of a visual influencer for your company:
CrowdRiff's Visual Influence platform
What do you have today that you can use for social media, your website, your ads?
What aligns with where you are NOW as a brand?
What can you create yourself to support your marketing content?
When you pull all your images together in one place, it can be easier to identify gaps that may exist. For example, you might have a large number of stock photos, but no infographics or charts. You might have photos that show your product or your team but few that show your customers or the product out in the field.
If you see the need to beef up your own visuals, it’s never been easier. There are a number of free tools out there for marketers to create their own visual content. You can build an internal team of graphic designers and visual content creators. Alternatively, companies like Crew can connect you to creative professionals, or you can outsource the entire process to a content production studio like Arnold Street Media.
Step 3: Find existing UGC content
Finding existing content about your brand that other people are posting can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. But for most companies, that content is right under their noses, shared by the people that are already following their company or their team members on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
In addition to doing a sweep of your existing social media followers, we recommend:
Tracking hashtags and keywords related to your industry
Checking your “tagged” photos to see what your audience has been sharing with you
Checking photos geotagged in your location if you have a physical presence, such as a retail store or restaurant
But remember: don’t just use or repost a photo that you like! Start a conversation with the content creator, and tell them why you like their photo, video or infographic. Ask the creator if you have permission to share it, clearly specifying where and when it will be used.
You’d be surprised at how many people are happy to be noticed, and more than willing to share their content if they know who is going to see it and how it will be promoted.
Step 4: Encourage your biggest advocates to create and share more UGC
There are many ways to invite people to generate content about your brand. But in addition to offering incentives, think about removing the barriers that prevent people from creating brand content on your behalf.
As an example, cloud backup provider Asigra gave out inexpensive Flip video cameras in the swag bags at their annual customer conference. (This was before the time when everyone had a camera in their phone.)
Their customers loved it and took videos throughout the event, and when they were back in their offices. Asigra had a centralized place where people could upload their videos. As a result, the marketing team went from having no video customer testimonials to having dozens submitted by customers in just a few weeks. The videos were not slick but they were a hit with other prospects because they were authentic.
More than free stuff, this gave Asigra’s customers an opportunity to stand front and center, and get featured on the company’s social feeds, partner portal, and website, exposing them to thousands of their peers.
Having that shot at visibility and recognition engages audiences in a powerful way, and encourages them to create and share even more with you.
Bring it all together to become a visual influencer
In order to be a true visual authority of your brand, you need to bring together both owned and earned visual content. There are times where owned content can provide the aspirational or authoritative visuals that your audiences will find useful and inspiring. However, more often than not, people will also want to hear from their peers and see photos and videos that they consider to be more authentic or unfiltered.
The best brands know how to showcase both, and share them on their own digital properties as well as their social channels.
Designing a more strategic approach to how you create, find, use, and share visual content can position your brand as a true visual influencer, one who your audience trusts as a source of information as they make decisions about which products and services to try and buy.