If you’re shown an image of a half-eaten apple, what comes into your mind? Some may say that it’s nothing more than an innocent fruit, but more will likely remember a certain brand of electronic devices. The importance of visual elements in marketing cannot be understated. Colors, shapes and patterns can represent a business’ set of values. They can deliver messages more effectively than texts. Societies were built and torn apart through collective action of people bound together under a flag or symbols that represent their ideals, goals and aspirations.
Today, visual contents are used to influence consumer behavior. The consumerist world is a different kind of battlefield, but similar with the past eras of conquerors and knights—it involves calling people into action by appealing to their logic and emotions. Visual elements are among a marketer’s strongest weapons.
Images go directly to long-term memory
Dr. Lynell Burmark, educator, consultant and author of Visual Literacy: Learn to See, See to Learn, said: “Unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about seven bits of information (plus or minus 2) […]. Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched.”
For a start-up business, visual elements are integral in creating a brand logo, developing marketing materials, and developing a website. It’s not simply drawing an image of a coffee mug for a coffee shop business or typing in the initials of the founding partners of a tech firm. You need to research on the right color palettes, forms and font to deliver and retain a message. International cosmetics brand Avon uses soft feminine shades in its product packages and marketing materials, symbolizing its main market: women. If you visit the website of confectionery brand Cadbury, you will notice vibrant and contrasting colors, as well as simple images with soft edges. Fun with the right amount of contrast, like Cadbury’s rich chocolate goodies.
The brain can process images in the blink of an eye
Visual elements, if done right, can help you deliver your message faster than text. A team of neuroscientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that the brain can process entire images for 13 milliseconds – that’s way faster than finishing this sentence. “The job of the eyes is not only to get the information into the brain, but to allow the brain to think about it rapidly enough to know what you should look at next. So in general we’re calibrating our eyes so they move around just as often as possible consistent with understanding what we’re seeing,” according to lead researcher and MIT professor Mary Potter.
Charitable institution World Vision uses a lot of photos of potential beneficiaries on their website. They have images of children in poverty-stricken parts of the world needing financial donations. Instead of writing long paragraphs appealing to potential donors, they post large and sharp images on their website. As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words.
Emotional processing begins with vision
Images are powerful tools to trigger certain emotions. In 1998, Dr. Peter J. Lang and his team published an important paper on the relationship of visual elements and emotions. They showed images to respondents to determine which can trigger activity in the visual cortices. They found more activation of the cortices when the respondents were shown emotional photos. Emotional processing starts with vision, the researchers concluded.
Triggering emotions is not the end. It’s just a means to a business’ ultimate goal: to bring in revenues and profits. Sports apparel Nike uses compelling photos of professional athletes and less known models working out, all sweaty and empowered. The images are stirring positive emotions and encouraging people to get active and “just do it.” If you’re going to work out those muscles, better sweat in a Nike apparel.
Use imagery sparingly and selectively
What website marketing solutions suit small businesses? There’s a wide range of visual contents you include in your website including high-quality photos, videos and infographics. When creating and publishing these content, take note of Google guidelines to ensure your web pages are of high quality and may rank well among search results.
Google strongly advises on the use of imagery sparingly and selectively. “Visuals should be used to provide context but avoided when the purpose is entertainment. Only include thumbnails in lists when they clearly help the user make content decisions,” it notes. Choose content that will serve your purpose. If you want to inform people about your services, use photos that clearly convey the features of your offerings. Use unique and high-quality photos. Avoid stock photos if you can.
Some publishing tips for visual content
When publishing photos on your website, Google recommends the inclusion of detailed and informative filenames. This technique will allow Google to “understand” the subject matter of the image and locate it for search results. Post images near the relevant text. If you’re placing them on the homepage, post them high on the page so people can immediately see them
Since time immemorial, visual elements have been used to send out messages, trigger emotions and inspire action. The impact of symbols and photos on people is well documented in a long line of studies. Visual content is an essential element in an integrated marketing strategy. The images and videos on your website should be purposeful, compelling and search engine-friendly. It’s true that a picture paints a thousand words, so exert effort in producing and publishing the right visual elements.