What do you remember most about the last awesome piece of content marketing you experienced? While everyone’s sure to have their own preferences, the best pieces of content marketing typically have a few things in common:

  • Readability: Text-based content marketing must use language that is clear, concise and easily digestible.
  • Scannability: Whether text-based or relying on imagery, content must be arranged in such a manner that visitors can easily scan it for the most important and relevant points.
  • Visual storytelling: Website visitors are turned off by walls of text, making the implementation of visual components, including graphics and videos, essential to engagement.

While content marketers have been perfecting readability and scannability for digital audiences for years, visual storytelling is now the benchmark all marketing professionals must meet.

In short, content marketing is visual marketing.

Visual marketing is essential for modern content strategies.

 

Data on display

In a survey of more than 5,000 marketers, Social Media Examiner discovered the second-most important type of content among marketing professionals were visual elements, coming in at 37 percent. However, this number becomes even more impressive when put in perspective.

Blogging, which was cited as the No. 1 most important type of content, only beat out visuals by one percentage point. What’s more, blogging fell from 45 percent in 2015 to 38 percent in 2016. Visual marketing increased in importance among marketing professionals from 34 percent over the same time period.

 Visual marketing continues to rise in importance.

 

Furthermore, the survey included “videos” and “live video” separately. If added to the umbrella term of visual marketing, the latter would have beaten out blogging as the most important type of content with 41 percent of the vote.

Finally, if only counting business-to-consumer marketers, visual marketing triumphed over blogging, with 42 percent of B2C marketers citing it as the most important type of content compared to the 33 percent who chose blogging.

However, visual content marketing was still a priority for many across the business-to-business space. Data from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs showed that among B2B content creators, 51 percent cited creating visual content as a priority throughout 2016. This is only four percentage points behind the number of B2C content creators who said the same.

However, the question remains: Why now?

Visual marketing has always been important, long before the days of digital strategies. Yet why has a best practice suddenly become a necessity?

Allow Jeff Baker, Director of Digital Marketing Strategy at Brafton, to explain.

“There are two reasons,” Jeff said. “One, our attention spans are shrinking. The more data and stimuli we have to process on a daily basis, the more filtering our brain automatically does. Our brain is constantly looking for shortcuts. Secondly, we are biologically wired to absorb visual information. Visual content provides those shortcuts for your brain. It helps you follow your natural tendency to learn through visuals. The rate at which this is happening is only speeding up because of the amount of stimuli out there right now that’s demanded of you every day.”

Brain of a human, mind of a goldfish

A scientific study backs up both of Jeff’s assertions.

As a report from Microsoft Corp. pointed out, human beings now have an attention span on par with goldfish. In fact, goldfish beat humans when it comes to the ability to concentrate.

The average person's attention span is only 8.25 seconds.

 

The study  found that while the average attention span for goldfish is nine seconds, people today typically lose concentration after only eight seconds. This report, based on 2,000 survey respondents and 112 individuals whose brains were studies using electroencephalograms, points to our new digital landscape as the culprit. According to Canadian researchers, the average attention span decreased from 12 seconds to eight seconds beginning in the year 2000.

Forty-four percent of survey respondents must concentrate hard to stay focused on tasks, while 45 percent admitted to getting sidetracked from tasks by unrelated thoughts or daydreams. Both of these numbers rose significantly among early technology adopters, heavy social media users, high-volume media consumers and people who interact with multiple screens on a daily basis.

“[H]eavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli – they’re more easily distracted by multiple streams of media,” the report stated.

Is it any wonder more content marketers are taking advantage of the human brain’s affinity for visuals? Study after study has proven that visuals:

  • Are processed faster by human brains.
  • More effectively stick in long-term memories.
  • Improve conceptual understanding.
  • Trigger human emotions.

90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. These visuals are processed 60 thousand times faster by human brains than text.

Visual marketing appeals to how our brains are hardwired.

Via Ernesto Olivares

One educational study found that after three days, only 10 percent of individuals were able to remember a written lecture. Ten to 20 percent were able to recall a spoken lecture. However, 65 percent could recall a lecture that included visual elements.

While it’s clear the use of visuals is important for all forms of content marketing, it’s even more vital in the realm of social media.

The social scene

According to Jeff, a strong focus on visual marketing is mandatory for social media.

“When you’re using social media, you’ve already primed your brain to disregard a lot of stimuli,” he said. “You’ve primed your brain for a short attention span type of experience. You’re not in the mode to sit down and read a novel. You’re looking for quick stimuli. When you enter that experience, that’s your expectation. When you see something that doesn’t match that expectation, it will drive you away. It’s like playing classical music at a dance club. There’s a time and place for it, but it’s not there.”

This is key for content marketers to understand, as 78 percent of the U.S. population has a social media profile as of 2016, according to Statista. Approximately a third of the planet’s population is forecasted to be using some form of social media by 2020.

At the same time, based on data from the 2016 Nielsen Social Media Report, 39 percent of heavy social media users said an important reason for spending time on social platforms is finding out about products and services.

As far as visual marketing performance on social media, once again, the numbers speak for themselves. Data from Buzzsumo showed that out of 100 million articles analyzed, those that included images every 75 to 100 words received double the amount of shares on social media as others. On Facebook, the clear leader in terms of social media user base, posts with images received 70 percent more shares than those without. Meanwhile, Twitter posts with both a summary and image are 78 percent more likely to be shared.

Visual marketing drives social shares.

 

While social media is typically associated with B2C businesses, it’s important for B2B companies to understand the need for visual content marketing as well.

“There’s sometimes an inaccurate preconception about needing to be sterile and safe with B2B content marketing, and visuals naturally lend themselves to more personality,” Jeff said. “The problem is safe is boring, and you don’t stand out. There are a hundred high-tech companies out there saying the exact same thing, all stuck in that safe zone. I think a lot of B2B companies forget their audiences are human, too.”

Understand your arsenal

Content marketers have plenty of tools to call on in their visual marketing efforts. As with other types of content marketing assets, the key is understanding the proper time and place in which to use them.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that relying on tired stock imagery will no longer cut it.

Stock imagery was killed by consumer preference.

 

“Stock images are so burned out – they prime you for stock content,” Jeff said. “You’ve seen it so much it just feels like it’s going to be stale and bland and uninsightful. Whereas custom images are for the user, and can be utilized in a way to convey a complex idea or story. You want to have visual storytelling – text that spells out the details and visuals that make those details more readily absorbable. The visual should enhance the story, not feel like an afterthought.”

Beyond the quality of the visuals, you must also determine the types to use and how they will best serve viewers.

For instance, infographics are liked and shared on social media three times as often as any other type of content, showing clear engagement potential with audiences. This helps explain why infographics were the marketing tactic with the largest increase in use among B2B marketers from 2015 to 2016.

Meanwhile, according to Wyzowl, 79 percent of consumers would opt for watching a video about a product over reading text. Additionally, 84 percent of consumers reported making a purchase after watching a video. It’s no wonder 63 percent of businesses are using video as a marketing tool.

Visual marketing can drive sales.

 

Marketers should also make full use of social media embedding opportunities, which allow them to leverage visuals without investing in original production. Including relevant tweets and YouTube videos in content marketing is an excellent way to enhance text with visual content.

With so many visual content marketing options to choose from, the problem may not be implementing visuals, but determining which forms to focus on. As with all content assets, turning to the sales funnel for guidance is a wise move.

“Ask yourself: What type of content are you providing along each level of the funnel?” Jeff said. “How much top of funnel content do you have? Is there a lot of top of funnel content that is bland with no visuals? Then it’s time to invest in custom images. Are you missing stuff in the middle of the funnel? eBooks would be a good conversion item to make use of visuals. Lastly, you should have videos at the bottom of the funnel to create content that will make visitors want to book a demo. Also don’t forget visual calls to action in blog posts and downloadable assets.”

Successful content marketing strategies require constant calibration. Next time you find yourself back at the drawing board to determine what aspects of your efforts require tweaking, be sure to spend some extra time on your visual marketing master plan.

Internet users are paying attention. Make sure you are, too.

Eric Wendt is a writer and editor at Brafton. He discovered his love of words after realizing he was terrible at math. If he's not updating his Tumblr with poetry he's too embarrassed to share, there's a good chance he's out in search of the perfect pale ale.