(This post originally appeared on the Forbes blog.)
Eyewear startup Warby Parker just released its 2013 Annual Report, a perfect example of how important tone is in creating great visual content. The unique approach to a year-end report uses a calendar format, highlighting company events on each day. Some events are significant company milestones; others are little anecdotes showcasing office life and culture. It is more than a welcome deviation from the financial results and strategic initiatives that typically fill the pages of such a document. The dynamic layout is downright addictive.
This makes the report an excellent example of a brand showcasing its ideas and culture in a visually engaging way. At its core, the strategy of content marketing is not just about distribution and visibility. It is about telling the world who you are and what you stand for. This approach, when authentic, turns customers into brand fanatics.
Here are 12 important lessons all brands can learn from Warby Parker’s approach to creating great content.
1) Be Visual
Presenting your content in a visual format has a number of benefits. First, humans recognize and process images much faster than text; this is why visual content has much greater appeal. Second, using a diversity of image types makes your content continuously fresh, which encourages readers to explore more. Here, the combination of photography, illustration, videos and data visualization keeps the eyes interested and moving around the page. More time on site means more engagement with your brand.
2) Show Your Personality
Business is becoming increasingly personal—not in the barista-knows-my-order sort of way but more in the way that we crave more personal connection in a web-based world. People want to know that the businesses they support are run in a way they can relate to, that its employees are people they might hang out with and potentially even share a meal of 100% pork.
3) Only Share Company News that Is Really News
In an attempt to generate attention and additional content, brands often spin less-than-remarkable developments into supposed news events. It shouldn’t be a surprise that your audience sees right through this. If it’s not news, it’s bad news. You are better off just posting a picture of your fax machine dressed as Governor Chris Christie.
4) Show People Underneath the Hood
The growth in content consumption is not just because people are looking for a satisfactory distraction from work. That may be part of it, but there are also audiences with an appetite for real information. The vast knowledge-sharing that the web has facilitated has brought with it an increased curiosity and hunger for understanding. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that everything you do in the back end of your business is boring. Turn it into engaging content that will deepen your audience’s understanding of what your world is all about.
5) Talk About Your People
Your audience wants to know that there are humans behind your brand, and they want to know about those humans. Don’t make the mistake of hiding your people, relationships, interactions and office pranks behind a shield of professional language. These things are as interesting (sometimes more interesting) than what you are selling. In today’s marketing landscape, whether you are a product or service-oriented business, you are selling your culture, and your culture is your people.
6) Make It Easy to Share
With the multitude of distribution platforms now available, sharing content is no longer just about copy/pasting article links on your Facebook. Every image, quote and sound bite is a sharing opportunity. Make this easy for viewers by enabling sharing functionality on these items within your content. They will thank you with exponentially increased sharing.
7) Use Data In Context
If you are going to visualize data, display a comparison—that is what makes visualization interesting. The infographics revolution has brought with it many a missed data visualization opportunity in the form of single-data-point pie charts and big numbers with fancy typographic treatment. Distilling data into a statistic removes the context and comparison that makes it insightful. Don’t fear complexity; take advantage of the opportunity to add clarity with visualization.
8) Don’t Fear the Tangential
What does public transit have to do with eye glasses? What does it matter? It is interesting news (albeit mostly for New Yorkers), and Warby Parker found a way to tie it into its culture. Your content should be relatable, valuable and interesting for your audience. If you capture these qualities, ROI will find you through a captive audience with ever-increasing brand loyalty.
9) Share the Love
Marketing is about subtly and not-so-subtly bringing attention to how awesome you are. However, this doesn’t mean your awesomeness-recognition abilities should be limited to your own pursuits. Calling out the big (and little) wins of others—vendors, customers, ex-employees, maybe even competitors—shows that you are not afraid to give credit where it is due. This fresh perspective will add authenticity to your content.
10) Tie In Your Product Naturally
Your product! In this midst of all the love-sharing and random-news-breaking, you almost forgot about it. Feature your product or service naturally within content, but don’t make it an abrupt deviation from the other fun stuff. This means that you will want to tone down your calls-to-action and any other blatant hard-sell tactics. Use it as an opportunity to remind viewers what you do, without killing all those good vibes you have been building.
11) Share Your Values
Your content is a perfect place to let your audience know why you do what you do. Clearly articulating the values that give your company meaning helps you connect with people on a level beyond the business transaction, and it attracts people that share those same ideas. This powerful communication helps truly differentiate your brand—more than low prices and fancy features could ever do.
12) Pat Yourself on the Back Sometimes
While great content should never be focused solely on selling, don’t hesitate to highlight your big achievements. Maintaining a healthy balance of humility and promotion will keep your audience both informed and engaged. When you have established an authentic connection with people, they are happy to hear about your important new developments and celebrate your wins with you.
Creating original and unique visual content is key to engaging your audience today. And while content topics and formats will vary by brand and industry, an authentic tone and expression of your culture should be at the core of every piece of content you publish. People will certainly remember the ideas at the heart of your brand long after the price and feature comparisons have been forgotten.
Ross Crooks is a Column Five co-founder. Follow him @rtcrooks