Understanding our love of visual content
We are experiencing an omnipresent visual domination lately and it’s not expected to change any time soon. So what makes us love visual content?
Whether it’s an image, or a video, people prefer consuming information in a visual form, as it’s more appealing, which leads to an increased engagement. Human beings are naturally drawn to visual content and any type of it may enhance a post’s performance.
All of them can be very engaging and a mixed use of them can create an effective content marketing strategy, provided that they are used appropriately for each medium, always by taking the audience into consideration.
Social media has significantly relied on visual content, as it manages to grab the users’ attention, while its varying types (eg. the rise of infographics, or the domination of videos) allow it to maintain its popularity.
It is estimated that 63% of social media is made up of images and we assume that this number will only increase in the next years (especially if we also add videos to it).
Every popular social network could attribute its success to the right use of visual content and the way it is offered to the users, in order to create the right balance between words and visuals.
According to BuzzSumo, Facebook updates that include an image had 2.3x more engagement than those without one.
Moreover, Buffer reported that tweets that contain images lead to 150% more retweets.
Away from Facebook and Twitter, visual appeal has contributed to the rise of new platforms that exclusively rely on visual content, such as Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.
All of them (almost exclusively) focus on images and videos and that’s what makes them so popular, with users loving the simplicity of adding content to them, while brands face the challenge of experimenting with new types of (visual) content to maintain and increase engagement.
According to Jakob Nielsen, users only read 28% of words when visiting a website, with the trend of skimming rather than reading a text becoming prevalent in the online information overload.
Thus, visual content engages with a reader as fast as possible and in the most interesting way and that’s why publishers tend to rely on it even more every year.
The main reasons that we prefer visual content over plain text are:
Column Five has created an infographic on the power of visual communication and it presents three main reasons why we love visual content: Appeal, Comprehension, Retention.
Appeal refers to the natural attraction towards visual content, and the way it succeeds even in a short attention span, comprehension is linked to the way our brain translates data to simplify them and retention is related to the memorable experience that visual content tends to create.
It has been observed that 90% of the information sent to our brains is visual, with our brain responding to it 60,000 faster than it does for text.
Thus, our brains need a visual representation to process information faster and create a connection between the visual object and its concept. It’s impressive how the visual perception in our brain makes such a complex task easy and this could also be the scientific reason why an “image is worth a thousand words.”
However, this is not an automatic process, as our brain still needs to rationalise the connection. Visual perception and the calculation of the surroundings rely on the person’s past experiences and memories that could be relevant to the exposure to the specific information.
According to neurobiologist Semir Zeki of the University of London,
“The brain has to actively construct or invent our visual world. Confronted with an overwhelming barrage of visual information, it must sort out relevant features and make snap judgments about what they mean.”
Scene perception, or else the perception of scene gist is the process that our brain performs to perceive the world, from the objects, to the connections they create to our brain, and Monica S. Castelhano and John M. Henderson proved in an experiment in 2008 how even the colours may affect the activation of a scene gist.
Visual content may even become appealing in a way that we cannot explain and this is usually related to the emotions it may evoke.
The effectiveness of visual content can be further enhanced with the use of the right emotions.
A visual stimulation can create a visceral reaction by evoking a feeling that may even be subconscious, and that’s what makes it inexplicable to us when trying to understand what makes an image more appealing to us comparing to a similar one.
Visceral reactions form the strongest connections on visual content and they occur from the brain’s part that is also related to our survival instincts, which means that the reaction may be more direct and intense.
Visual content needs to indicate somehow the emotion it aims for, either with the colours, the subject, or even with associations that lead to an easier connection which can elicit the right feeling.
For example, this photo brings out the feelings of security and positivity with both the colours and the people contributing to it, appealing to the idea of the family and the bonding it creates as an association.
People appreciate the quality of the visual content, so don’t ignore it when creating visual assets. If you feel that you can’t find the right images, then here are some great free image resources of high quality images.
Image source: Unsplash
Visual content can be very effective as part of a content marketing strategy, but always when it is created and distributed in context, by delivering what your target audience will appreciate. For example, a high quality picture of an airplane you just found may be impressive, but can you add the right text to make it relevant to, say, young mothers you are targeting?
The choice of colours in visual content is very important, as this will associate a series of emotions afterwards, which means that the consistent use of colours should lead to a commitment regarding the emotions you want to elicit with your content.
Image source: Aftercopia
Typography can be interpreted as the first visual impression of your text and you want to make sure you engage enough with the reader to keep reading the text.
Thus, typography is a crucial part of your visual content, whether it’s a blog post or even an infographic, and it’s time to focus more on it from now on.
Last but (certainly) not least, visual content can boost your content marketing strategy, but it cannot replace the actual written content.
Be precise, informative and interesting and appealing visual content will serve as the right boost for your text.