In 2008, Steve Jobs took the stage at the Macworld Expo and shared what seemed like a startling statistic: "Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year...People don't read anymore." Many are saying this statement could be seen as a foreshadowing of the explosive growth in visual content. But that wouldn't really be accurate. Direct marketers have long known this; creating compelling visual content has been at the center of their world for years.
People are compelled by strong visuals -- it's why we watch the movie without reading the book, why (prior to digital channels) we scrapbooked ideas for decorating our houses, and why "before and afters" make us buy stuff. Visuals matter. It's also why, nearly a decade ago, platforms like Smugmug, Flickr, and Photobucket were created -- to let people take their photo sharing online.
The biggest difference today is that the new players in the visual platform space -- Facebook, Pinterest, Instragram, and more -- have made it easy; it's easy to collect, easy to share, and, most importantly, easy for brands to get involved.
Yet with that ease of sharing comes important brand considerations. These new platforms are social at their core. So it's instantly about more than putting a few images on a page; it's opening a window into your brand. What companies share must strike a balance between bringing to life a genuine brand story and providing content that inspires and compels action. Furthermore, marketing strategies for how brands engage with consumers should reflect how and why consumers are using those channels.
Following are tips for navigating the waters of these new visual platforms using a combination of direct marketing best practices and our learned understanding of digital and social behavior.
Learn to stomach the sticker shock
If you've ever been a part of a website implementation, you know the biggest sticker shock is always the photography -- how much it costs to produce high quality photo inventory. Yet the rise of new visual platforms has made this component more important than ever. Brands must consider the quality of photography and what images should represent their products and services.
The most pinned image on Pinterest
The good news is that, thanks to these new platforms, your images have a bigger life beyond the walls of your website. Moreover, you can also start to attribute success metrics to individual images. You can follow an image's journey from a website to an individual's social feeds and then back to the website where a purchase is made. In fact, a recent study indicates that more than one in five Pinterest users have pinned an item that they later purchased.
Understand that not all platforms are the same
A visual content strategy is inherently social. That means you have to consider the way people use various platforms and why. Social marketing is as much about relationships as it is about driving action. You could look at the various platforms, and the content you share on them, a little like a foot race: there are marathons, half marathons, and sprints.
Pinterest could be viewed as a half marathon. People there are already in what we like to call "dreaming" mode. They're inspired and actively looking for things that fulfill their interests and passions. As they collect, they start to make decisions that ultimately lead to a purchase. To be successful as a brand, you have to be there from the beginning.
Then, there are marathons. This could occur in virtually any network, but here is a Facebook example. Typically, people on Facebook aren't researching, so they're not in a buying mindset. Yet something might grab their attention and get them to finally take action. For instance, my friends have been talking about doing boot camp for ages. There's a place right around the corner that gets great reviews, yet we still never signed up. What finally tipped the scale was one of those special discount offers from Schwaggle. That promotion was then shared through Facebook. So, my friends didn't go to Facebook to purchase a boot camp package, but they left with one. Multiple channels came together in this marathon to form purchase intent; it was just Facebook that helped close the deal.