#CZLNY: The Power of Visual Storytelling

pure-michigan-instagramIn “The Power of Visual Storytelling: Building Brand Advocacy, Loyalty, and Engagement” at ClickZ Live New York on April 1, Boot Camp Digital chief executive (CEO) Krista Neher talked about how to tell stories with visual content and how brands can optimize their marketing for visual content.

Brains process images 60,000 times quicker than text, so images are obviously important. But, by now, online marketing has evolved to a point beyond which a brand can simply add stock images to its website or social posts, she says.

In other words, according to Neher, a brand doesn’t just need pictures – it needs photos that tell its story quickly, and that support and tell the story better than just text. In turn, these images will yield better results in part because they help elicit emotional responses. Brands like Pampers take advantage of this phenomenon by including images on every Facebook post.

What’s more, visuals are starting to become more prominently integrated into media sites and on social networks, she says. Images are also popping up more in news feeds on sites like LinkedIn, where users now have the ability to post images directly to the site. That’s something they couldn’t do a year ago, she says.

Facebook has also been increasing the size of images in shared posts over the last two years. Brands should make sure their images are of a high quality – the optimal size for Facebook is 500 pixels by 300 pixels – so that their posts have big, beautiful images that make them more effective.

Images also help a brand’s content tell readers what each post is about instantly and cut through some of the competing noise. That’s what Neher says brands should focus on – telling a story in a quicker way to give consumers value faster as the Internet becomes more cluttered.

Good pictures also enhance the shareability of content.

Neher gives the example of the Starbucks website, which has a page and an image for every single product, including individual pages for every single cake pop flavor it sells. That’s important because it means consumers can post anything from the site to a network like Pinterest and it will include a beautiful image.

Most websites, however, aren’t that developed, which limits their shareability, Neher notes.

“Without a picture, it is less impactful and there’s less probability people will take notice of it in their news feed even with a post from a passionate consumer,” Neher says.

But even brands with limited budgets and resources can create pinnable images – or what Neher describes as “an image that by itself tells your story” – with resources like Phonto, Haiku Deck, Piktochart, and Photoshop – and should look at the content on the site people are already sharing if they need potential examples.

Content without images can’t really be pinned, so brands also have to make sure the images on their websites show up well. One way for a brand to test how their images appear on social networks is to try to pin its own content to see what shows up or to use Facebook’s debugging tool to see how Facebook reads the page, Neher says.

Another interesting note: The kind of digital images consumers have demonstrated they have an appetite for are more realistic images from average people that seem more authentic, which is why consumer-generated content is increasingly grabbing attention, Neher says. She refers to the three Rs – real photos of real things taken by real people.

lululemon-sweat-lifeConsumers are becoming more skeptical of ads with stock photos and are looking more for user-generated pictures because they are an indicator of what consumers might actually experience. Neher gives the example of a restaurant on Yelp with a menu that includes images of the food submitted by Yelp users and Lululemon’s #thesweatlife campaign that saw a 5 to 7 percent increase in conversion rate because user-generated photos give more of an indication of what the clothing would look like on regular consumers.

Not only do user-generated images give brands an opportunity to show consumers what an experience will really be like, but it also means brands can potentially pass off the heavy lifting of creating content to consumers as well. Neher uses the example of Pure Michigan on Instagram, which asked consumers to post images with the hashtag #puremichigan to give the organization permission to repost pictures. The effort resulted in many beautiful images that show consumers what it’s really like to vacation in Michigan.

“I would suggest it’s a strategy many legal teams would find questionable, but they have gotten it approved by someone and now have beautiful Instagram content they didn’t have to create and that furthers their mark objectives and it’s more believable,” Neher says.

Pinterest, on the other hand, is a network with content that is highly viral, she says. More than 80 percent of the pins on Pinterest are repins.

Neher recommends brands go to www.Pinterest.com/source/yourdomain.com for their websites and their competitors’ sites to see what consumers are already pinning and to see whether there are any issues with existing images on the site.

This has the added bonus of helping brands see what kind of content consumers like. If, for example, they are pinning old content from the website, it may be a sign to that brand that consumers want more content like the old content.

It also helps brands reimagine how they think of content, particularly in industries that don’t necessarily lend themselves to beautiful images. Pinterest can help those brands reimagine what their audience might be interested in and what kind of images they should create.

Another interesting aspect of Pinterest is that content has a longer life than it does on other sites, Neher says. Whereas Facebook and Twitter posts are immediate, Pinterest posts have resurgences as people look for content and repin it, resulting in reboosts over time, Neher says.

But in order to show up in search results it’s also important to make sure Pinterest images come with descriptive text that is keyword-rich, as search engines can’t read images.

“If you don’t describe your pins well, no one knows what they’re about and it limits the pins,” Neher says.

Using keywords in Pinterest board names is also an important strategy.

Neher calls Instagram and Pinterest “hidden gems of visibility,” saying they are great ways to get views, engagement, and interaction that is harder to achieve on other networks.

It’s also a little easier for brands to get noticed on Instagram because fewer brands are active and engaged on the site, she says.

She recommends brands use sites like Statigram and IFTTT for help on Instagram.

lowe-s-fix-in-sixNeher likens sentiment about the rise of microvideo platforms like Vine, Instagram, and Snapchat to a few years ago when Twitter first came out and consumers felt they couldn’t summarize ideas into just 140 characters.

Great branded ideas have already emerged in short videos, such as GE’s #6secondscience Fair and Lowe’s Fix in Six.

Even brands that are unsure whether their audiences are on Vine and Instagram can create content there and repurpose it on other networks, Neher says.

But, again, even if a brand creates a video, it still needs to create an image to share along with it.

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