Show, Don’t Tell: The Rise of Visual-Based Content

Have we become lazy? Or are we just expressing ourselves differently these days? In the past two years, I have been noticing a big shift in how people and brands are changing the way in which they communicate and want to be communicated to. And this communication is all about visuals and simplicity. Truly living the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.

According to a new study from Socialbakers, single photos make up around 75 percent of Facebook brand content worldwide. Since Facebook’s design lends itself to visuals, that isn’t too surprising – however, only 10 percent of brand posts are links, while text-only statuses comprise just 6 percent of content. And on a daily basis, more than 300 million photos are being uploaded to Facebook and more than 8 million to Instagram, according to The Huffington Post.

The past few years we’ve seen image-based social networks the likes of Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest come onto the world stage, all in a big way. Instagram is currently the fastest-growing social site, according to the GlobalWebIndex. And 2013 saw Tumblr getting acquired by Yahoo and Instagram by Facebook, as these companies look to capitalize on the huge trend and behavioral shift around image-based communication. Not to mention SlideShare, a platform purely built around “sharing what you know and love through presentations and imagery,” which also consequently was acquired by LinkedIn in 2012. And currently, users of SlideShare add a staggering 400,000 new presentations per month to the platform.

Switching gears to Google, with their Google Image Search product seeing extraordinary growth over the past two years as people have started to specifically search for images instead of traditional text pages. In January of this year, Google totally overhauled their Image Search design and functionality to accommodate this growing behavior. And last month Google launched a new service called Stories, which, through its software, automatically sorts your pictures and video into personal online “storybooks,” giving users a platform to collect, catalog, and share their photos.

In Asia we have seen a massive surge in messenger apps, like LINE from Japan, KakaoTalk from Korea, and WeChat from China. Outside the fact that these apps are free, another big reason we’ve seen these take off is due in part to the fact that they are image-based forms of communication that are simple, quick, fun, and visually tells the receiver what you are thinking at a given point in time, which can be more efficient that text. LINE has almost 400 million users globally and around 80 percent of these actively use stickers in their daily communications, which are icon-based graphics that convey a certain universal meaning like “thank you,” “good night,” or “you need a beating,” among others.

So why are we seeing this big shift to visual and image-based content? And why is this happening now, all at once?

According to Trend Reports, between 65 and 85 percent of people describe themselves as visual learners, forming meaning and organizing thoughts based on what they see more so than what they read. And the brain processes images about 60,000 times faster than text.

Images also improve memory recall. In a 1979 study by Rusted & Coltheart, they showed that illustrated text was 9 percent more effective than text alone when comprehension was tested right away, but that it was 83 percent more effective when the test was delayed, thereby implying the reader’s ability to remember the information better latter, because of the illustration.

Also, typical engagement rates on Facebook for photos average around 0.37 percent while text is only 0.27 percent, translating into a 37 percent higher level of engagement for photos over text.

And it’s no accident that fast-food chains have added food images to their menus; the growth associated with this strategy has been exponential. If you want someone to buy, don’t simply tell them about your product or service – show them.

According to Cisco, more than 90 percent of all the data in the world has been generated over the last two years alone. Each and every one of us is constantly producing and releasing data about ourselves. And the two biggest contributors to this influx of information are smartphone use and social media addiction. This flood of data perfectly coincides with the very apparent rise of visual based content and the human shift to simplify communication.

A recent example of a brand getting into this space in a big way is McDonald’s. Their recent campaign, which launched in Paris last month, is a set of minimalist ads that feature clean and simple graphic illustrations of McDonald’s core products, set against all-white backgrounds, so that they completely pop out and attract people’s attention. You can see these executions on PSFK here.

So as behavior has clearly shifted the way of the visual, it is the perfect opportunity and time for brands to start communicating back in the same way. Whether it’s through infographic-led designs, photo-based social platforms like Instagram, messenger apps like LINE, visual presentations through SlideShare, or through specific brand campaigns like what McDonald’s did with their graphical icons, there is absolutely a role for visual-based content in this new economy. It’s just a matter of how deep you’re willing to go.

Image via Shutterstock.

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