Visual content marketing is not just about pretty pictures in blog posts and ever-popular infographics. It’s a powerful communication tool that leverages the human visual system to deliver information in a compelling way, making it an incredibly effective way to tell your brand story and achieve your content marketing goals.
Over the last decade, we’ve lived and breathed visual content marketing. (We even wrote the book on it—see Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling.) In that time, thanks to evolving technology and publishing platforms, visual content marketing has become one of the most valuable tools for content marketers, whether you’re a small startup or Fortune 100 company.
If you haven’t experimented with visual content marketing before, or want to know how to improve the visual content you create, buckle up. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about visual content marketing, from why it works to how to do it the right way.
Table of Contents
- What Is Visual Content?
- Why Is Visual Content Effective?
- How Can Visual Content Marketing Help Your Brand?
- Types of Visual Content
- Visual Content and the Buyer’s Journey
- How to Create a Visual Content Strategy
What Is Visual Content?
In short, it is the graphics and images that you see, read, and interact with as you consume media.
Why Is Visual Content Effective?
Visual content is unique because our brains process visual information almost instantly. Compared to other forms of communication, like text-only content, this makes visual content easier to consume in three specific ways.
- Appeal: Visual content uses design to present information in a format that is stimulating, attractive, and engaging. This makes it easier to synthesize and piques the viewer’s interest immediately. Visual content grabs people’s attention, which helps your brand stand out from the competition.
- Comprehension: The brain’s visual processing system is faster and more efficient than other communication systems, which means we are able to interpret visual information almost instantly and with minimal eﬀort. In fact, a 2014 MIT study found that the brain can process an image in as little as 13 milliseconds. This means visual content is easier to understand, making it more enjoyable to engage with.
- Retention: The visual processing system also works with our long-term memory, connecting the images we see to information already stored in the brain. This makes visual content more memorable than other mediums. (For more on this, check out MIT’s research on what makes a visualization memorable.)
To see the power of visual communication at work, check out this quick video.
How Can Visual Content Marketing Help Your Brand?
Whereas brand publishing was once relegated to traditional ads, sales collateral, and the occasional press release, content marketing is the new paradigm. People don’t want content that sells to them; they want valuable content that entertains, educates, and/or inspires. Infographics, e-books, videos, and other forms of visual communication are the perfect way to deliver that content online and achieve a variety of marketing goals.
- Awareness: Old and new publishing platforms alike are increasingly focusing on visual content, attracting and engaging enormous audiences. Delivering your content through these channels helps you reach audiences outside of your owned properties. This is especially important for your SEO. In addition to quality written content, visual content can attract more people to your site because it is something your audience craves and actively seeks out. According to LewisPR, image-rich content gets 94% more views than content without relevant images. And according to Hoosh Technology and ISDIA research, 63% of all visitors who click on a Google image will go to the website.
- Engagement: Visual content is particularly engaging on social. Users spend more time with it, and they are more likely to share it. Even a simple image can boost social engagement. According to Twitter research, tweets with photos get an average 35% boost in retweets, and videos get a 28% boost. Unsurprisingly, more and more social platforms are making big moves toward more visual content (online video is also on the rise, especially on platforms like Facebook).
- Lead generation: High-value, quality content is the best way to build a relationship with people and turn them into long-term customers. E-books, videos, infographics, etc., are all helpful ways to use visual content to establish your knowledge and credibility.
- Employee retention: Successful brands succeed with a solid team of engaged, committed employees. In a competitive job market, you need ways to connect with current and potential employees. Visual content helps you showcase your company’s personality, culture, and values in creative ways, whether it’s through your annual report or Instagram. This helps people get to know and participate in your employer brand. (See our Ultimate Guide to Building an Employer Brand for more on this.)
Example: Blizzard’s Instagram is full of employee photos that give you a peek into their company culture.
View this post on Instagram
In addition to supporting these goals, visual content is a good solution for some of the challenges that marketers say prevent them from being able to achieve their goals.
- Content variety: Visual content is highly versatile, as there are many formats to experiment with. Plus, the content you create can be broken up into microcontent for use on social and in blog posts, extending your content’s reach. For example, a single visualization from an infographic may also be used in an e-book and as a teaser on social.
- Budget: Because visual content allows for more repurposing, you get more value and mileage out of everything you create. (Try a divisible content strategy to get more bang for your buck.)
- Content creation resources: There are more content creation tools available than ever for visual content. (You might want to check out Visage, our sister company’s design platform, as well as our roundup of 100 resources for content marketing.)
⇒ Posts with one image get 2X as much traffic, 30% more shares, and 25% more backlinks than posts containing text only.
— 2020 State of Content Marketing Report by SEMrush
Types of Visual Content
Visual content includes many different formats, which can serve your brand in unique ways either by enhancing the content you already produce or adding new formats to your content strategy.
Your annual report is an ongoing representation of your brand story. Making that content engaging is important not only to capture your reader’s attention but build trust in who you are and what you’re doing.
Tips to Create Annual Reports
- Follow our tips to tell a strong story in your annual report.
- See how these 7 brands nailed their report.
- Get inspired by these 50 creative examples of annual report design.
- Experiment with these 10 design styles in your annual report.
Data lends credibility to your message and, when properly visualized, can bring hidden insights to life. You can use data to enhance many types of communication, whether it’s a presentation or whitepaper. Even a single stat shared online can create an interesting dialogue.
Tips to Create Data Visualizations
- Find out why data is storytelling gold.
- Use these 100+ data sources to find interesting data stories.
- Follow these tips to uncover the stories in that data.
- Learn how to design charts and graphs according to best practices.
- Make sure to choose the best data visualization for your story.
E-books are a great way to demonstrate your knowledge and provide value to your audience. Think of ways to turn dull information into visually impactful communication, whether it’s visualizing data or humanizing through imagery.
Tips to Create E-books
- Get inspired by these 75 e-book examples.
- Follow our complete guide to write, design, and promote your e-book.
- Turn these 8 types of content into your next e-book.
- Bookmark these 100+ tools to create great e-books.
- Find out how e-book templates make designing much more efficient.
Infographics have been the bread-and-butter of visual content marketing for several years, and they’re not going away. They are visually stimulating and highly shareable, making them great tools for communicating your message.
- Try these 16 ways to think of infographic ideas.
- Learn how to write a strong infographic story.
- Enjoy these awesome examples of awesome infographic design.
- Find out how to use infographics in your organization,
- Make sure to optimize your infographics for SEO.
- Experiment with different infographic design styles.
Interactive infographics are especially beneficial because they invite your audience to actively engage in the content. Whether it’s a simple interactive slideshow or a complex data set to explore, interactives are a great way to welcome your audience into the story.
Tips to Create Interactive Infographics
- Learn about the 7 ways interactive infographics can tell your story.
- Find out about the keys to a great interactive.
- Ask yourself these 5 questions to brainstorm a good interactive.
- Try these tactics to help your interactives get more traffic.
- Check out these interactive examples.
Microcontent is a budget-friendly way to make the most of the content you have. By extracting or repurposing existing visual assets, you can enhance other types of visual content you create, extend the life of the content you have, and engage your audience on different platforms.
Tips to Create Microcontent
- Find out how microcontent can maximize your reach.
- Download our free e-book to find out how to maximize publishing with microcontent.
When you have an abstract concept that you need to explain or a brand message you want to deliver in a succinct way, an animated motion graphic can be especially useful.
Tips to Create Motion Graphics
- Find out more about the differences between motion graphics and other types of video.
- Learn about the keys to a good motion graphic.
- Find out how to create engaging motion graphics in 4 steps.
- Try these tips to make better motion graphics.
- Check out these 100 motion graphics you’ll wish you made.
A good presentation helps you communicate your information, establish authority, and make an impact on your audience. You may use data visualization to support your argument, graphics to break down a concept, or a video to intro a sales presentation. Regardless, good design is a must.
Tips to Design Presentations
- Makeover your presentation design with these 11 tips.
- Follow best practices for using data in your presentations.
- Find out how to choose the right presentation design agency if you need some help.
Explainer videos are super useful tools to help introduce your company, explain a product or service, teach your audience about an abstract concept, or offer a helpful tutorial.
Tips to Create Explainer Videos
- Learn more about how explainer videos help your brand.
- Find out what 10 qualities your explainer should have.
- Follow these tips to write a great explainer video script.
- See how these 50 explainer videos tell a great story.
To find out more about why explainers are so effective, take a look at this video.
Video has exploded in popularity in recent years. Social media platforms are putting video front and center, and many audiences crave this type of communication over other formats. If you want to get more exposure, video can give you the reach.
Tips to Create Video
- Find out how video can help you crush your goals.
- See our interactive e-book The Content Marketers’ Guide to Brand Video for more on how to bring your videos to life.
- Enjoy these 15 examples of awesome brand video.
- Consider creating these 6 types of video (if you’re working remotely).
- Follow these tips to write a great video script.
Visual Content and the Buyer’s Journey
Your customers are looking for different information throughout the buyer’s journey. Visual content, in all its forms, can help you deliver that information in an interesting package. To be effective, you simply need to deliver the right content, in the right format, at the right stage. Here’s how you can make it work for you.
Stage 1: Awareness
Traffic Generation Content
Introduce yourself to the people you’re trying to connect with, and acknowledge their pain points. Focus on content that helps as many people as possible get to know you. This may be entertaining, educational, or inspiring editorial content.
Example: We collaborated with Charles Schwab to create their Invest Like a Woman video series, used to promote the brand across channels. These featurettes show how women from all walks of life have taken control of their financial futures. This approach is the perfect way for the brand to humanize its work, inspire women, and encourage them to learn more about how Charles Schwab can empower them.
Stage 2: Consideration
Lead Generation Content
Showcase your familiarity with the problems your audience is trying to solve. Demonstrate your value and the value of working with a partner to solve those problems. This content builds trust and establishes your brand’s credibility.
Example: This e-book, created in partnership with LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, educates marketers about native advertising practices to help them achieve their own goals. Presented in a bright, bold, and photography-packed e-book, LinkedIn connects with their audience through visual content that is both educational and appealing.
Stage 3: Analysis
Prospect Generation Content
Give your target audience the info they need to make an informed decision about working with a company in your space. Create thought-leadership and other content to showcases that you are the definitive leader in the space with a unique perspective, the right experience, etc.
Example: Through an engaging Anatomy of a Breach interactive, Microsoft walks viewers through the stages of a major security breach—and educates them about how Microsoft’s products protect their customers. This is the perfect way to combine visual storytelling and product information.
Stage 4: Purchase
Customer Acquisition Content
Provide information that will support your audience’s purchase decisions, such as sales collateral or product demos.
Example: We created an interactive animated product demo for iPort to help people see the product in action. It’s the perfect example of how to “show not tell.”
Stage 5: Loyalty
Partner Retention Content
Show appreciation for your audience, remind them why they like to work with you, and offer them content that continues to help them solve their problems or enhance their life.
Example: To celebrate our clients, we create a unique gift each holiday season. After being inspired by a Benjamin Franklin letter, we turned the words into a visual art print for people to hang in their homes or offices. It was a simple way to offer our gratitude for our partnership.
No matter what stage of the buyer’s journey you’re targeting, focus on delivering real value. (And check out our tips for creating the right content marketing mix to make sure you maintain a balance.)
How to Create a Visual Content Strategy
No matter how boring your content or lofty your content marketing goal, when applied strategically, visual content can help you get there. That said, simply throwing together a photo and words does not guarantee visual content marketing success. You need a visual content strategy to help you bring your content to life—and make sure the right people see it.
Step 1: Specify Your Brand Goals
Identify exactly what goals you are trying to achieve with your visual content. What steps are you hoping people take after they interact with your content? The clearer you are about your goal, the easier it will be to come up with the right ideas.
Step 2: Identify Your Audience
To create successful visual content marketing, you need to know who’s gonna see it. Ask yourself:
- Who are you trying to reach?
- What type of content do they consume?
- What level of knowledge do they have?
To really get inside your audience’s mind, use our guide to create strong marketing personas,
Step 3: Know Your Channels
Even the best content will fail if no one sees it. Luckily, there are more distribution channels than ever—and more platforms are being introduced each year. (When we started in 2008, Instagram wasn’t even around.)
Determine the best channels for distributing the content you create before you make it. Based on your budget and goals, choose the platforms that serve your needs. When deciding which outlet to use, consider the audience it reaches, as well as the content formats it supports.
You should have a solid plan for all channels, including:
- Owned: Company site, social accounts, newsletter, etc.
- Earned: Major publications, influencers.
- Paid: Sponsored posts, content.
For more tips, see our guide to choose the right distribution channels.
Step 4: Build the Right Team
To create effective visual content, you need the skill, knowledge, and infrastructure to pull it off. This means you need to have the right team who can get things done. You may be able to produce some content yourself, you may need to reach out to a creative network, or you may need an agency to do the heavy lifting. If you’re not sure what support you’ll need, here are some things to consider.
- If you’re doing it in house…
Make sure you have the right team assembled. You need experts to make sure that you’ve covered everything from designing in the right dimensions to optimizing for SEO. Take a look at our rundown of the key players you need to create great content before you pursue production. You can also check out our tips to optimize your content creation process.
- If you use a visual content agency…
They can take some of the stress out of the process. They are experts in their field, who keep abreast of trends and best practices. They have experience helping a variety of brands, which means they can help you find the right format for your message. And they have established relationships to help you get that content to the right audience. (If you’re on the hunt, here are 12 things to look for in a content marketing agency.)
Whether you outsource the work or not, staying organized is key. Create a timeline to guide the content creation process, and make sure content is approved by the right stakeholders at each stage, whether it’s outlining, copywriting, or designing.
⇒ 63% of B2B marketers cite content creation challenges as their biggest pain point.
— Content Marketing Institute 2021 B2B Content Marketing Report
Step 5: Brainstorm Your Ideas
Once you understand your goals, audience, and channels, your task is to develop captivating content that will be successful.
Before you start pitching ideas, write a creative brief. This will keep everyone on the same page as you brainstorm.
Once you’ve completed your brief, assemble a group of individuals from different disciplines to increase your pool of thought. (Oh, and make sure there are no outstanding questions before you start to brainstorm.)
Every idea you generate should be able to achieve the objective designated in the creative brief. As you ideate, vet each idea accordingly. Questions to ask:
- What unique value can your content provide your audience?
- Will it be interesting to your audience?
- Will it compel them to take the desired action?
- Can it be distributed effectively to reach them?
- Does it align with your engagement goals?
- How original is this idea?
- Does it fit your brand?
(If you’re stuck, see our 10 tips for a productive brainstorm and use these 9 prompts to come up with your next content marketing idea.)
Step 6: Choose Your Format
Some story ideas are better suited for certain formats or channels than others. It’s important to identify your format early, as it can change the way you tell your story.
When it comes to visual content, different formats take more work than others. As you begin to explore what types of visual content your brand may be interested in, keep cost, format, and time in mind.
Step 7: Tell a Strong Story
Good brand storytelling is multidimensional: It communicates who you are, what you do, and how you want to help your customers. (We honestly think that communicating these stories through content marketing can change the world.)
You can tell your story in big and small ways. It may come in the form of a helpful tip on Twitter. It may be an infographic series that explores your industry’s biggest challenges. It may be an interactive tool that helps your audience solve a problem. Regardless, your visual content marketing should serve to support—and reflect—what you’re all about.
Follow these tips to craft a strong story in your content.
Step 8: Nail Your Design
Good design is the foundation of successful visual content. (In fact, research has even shown that companies that put design first may have a better bottom line.)
Having a professional oversee the project, whether that’s an art director, creative director, or lead designer, is essential to ensure the end result is both beautiful and effective.
Whether you use an in-house designer or hire a freelancer, make sure you’re following best practices.
You should also apply your visual identity. Your logo, fonts, illustration style, and other brand elements make a powerful impression on your audience. When it comes to visual content marketing, a visual language is necessary to help you:
- Distinguish your brand from competitors. Is everyone in your industry using a red-and-black logo? That’s an opportunity to differentiate.
- Create a cohesive look. Apple. Nike. Google. These brands have such specific branding and style you can recognize their products and ads before you see the logo pop up.
- Build trust and credibility. The more recognizable your content, the more your audience will acknowledge, embrace, and interact with it. This helps you form a deeper relationship.
If your visual language needs a little refresh, see our step-by-step guide to building a brand identity.
Step 9: Distribute your content.
Once you’ve created your visual content, it’s time to get it in front of the right eyes. Since you know what channels you plan to target, make sure you’re following best distribution practices across the board.
- Optimize your content for SEO.
- Make sure your blog is up and running.
- Use the right keywords.
To learn more about developing your distribution strategy, download The Ultimate Guide to Content Distribution.
Step 10: Measure Your ROI
Online marketers have long focused primarily on the volume of visitors they can attract to a site, relying on the almighty page view as the most significant metric to gauge ROI. Certainly, a single piece of content can receive millions of hits, but when it comes to nurturing a long-term relationship with your brand, there are other meaningful metrics you should also consider.
- Conversions: Effective visual content compels action. As visitors explore your content, they encounter related CTAs that nudge them to take the desired action, whether that’s a newsletter sign-up or product demo download.
- Interactions: When you compel your audience to interact with you, you are creating true engagement. This interaction cements your relationship, allowing you to nurture it over time. Interaction can be gauged by things such as comments, likes, or new followers.
- Time on page/completion rate: It isn’t just about getting an audience to your site; it’s about providing that audience with a meaningful experience that will form a lasting connection. The longer a consumer spends watching a video, scanning through photos, or interacting with your visual content, the closer you are to forming a bond.
- Shares: Word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing. When consumers share your visual content, they are putting their own stamp of approval on it. Although a share does not necessarily guarantee that consumers have read all content, this credibility is tremendously valuable, helping expand your reach through your audience’s personal networks.
To measure ROI effectively, follow our guide to choose the right metrics for your content strategy.
Stay Educated About Visual Content Marketing
Above all, if you want your visual content marketing to succeed, stay educated and experiment often. Keep up to date on the latest trends in design, follow distribution best practices, and track what works.
And if you need support bringing your visual content to life, let’s chat about how we can help you do it.