More Than Words: Visual Content Marketing Beyond Copy

Content marketing is about conveying ideas. Many of us rely almost exclusively on the written word to do the conveying for us even though, for most audiences, a picture really is worth a thousand words. So let’s look at some of the ways we can turn our content into visual content marketing.

Content marketing is about conveying ideas. Many of us rely almost exclusively on the written word to do the conveying for us even though, for most audiences, a picture really is worth a thousand words. So let’s look at some of the ways we can turn our content into visual content marketing.

Clearly, writing is always going to be a part of the process – movies have scripts, cartoons have captions, and so on. But they also have visuals. And those visuals can make all the difference in your ability to capture attention, generate leads, and win business.

Video in Content Marketing

YouTube isn’t the second largest search engine in the world for nothing.

Video adds personality to just about any subject. (Who thought blenders or razors could have personality, and yet those videos were wildly well received.)

What’s interesting here is that even though I can read copy in my head more quickly than a person (on video or not) is likely to read it aloud, the video adds another dimension to the learning experience that makes it more complete. That is, of course, as long as your on-screen talent has some, well, talent, or at least the impossible-to-define quality of being “watchable.”

Many marketers shy away from video because they perceive the cost for high-quality production to be prohibitive. But production values don’t have to be award-worthy. You simply have to connect with your audience. Grainy visuals and inaudible voice-over aren’t going to cut it, but beyond that, the bar is probably lower than you’d think.

Still, short of having a Hollywood hunk or starlet on screen, you’ll probably want to use cut-away shots that illustrate or otherwise support the points you’re making and break up the visual monotony of a talking head. If you can’t create that kind of support material, keep your videos very, very short.

Infographics as Visual Content Marketing

I didn’t select that YouTube link above for nothing … it is, of course, an infographic.

They’re certainly not new, but the are a great way to pack a lot of bite-sized nuggets of knowledge into one larger but still digestible package. Infographics cut out the fluff and focus only on the most essential data points, but they’re much more interesting than slide deck-style bullet points. They provide a visual version of the executive summary, and that’s why people love them.

They don’t always work well for more nuanced content or content that requires more detailed consideration, but even in those cases, infographics can be an excellent gateway to content that offers a deeper dive into a subject.

Animation as Visual Content Marketing

For most marketers, and in most situations, animation is the most expensive option for visual content marketing. So unless you have an animator on your team, you’ll likely reserve it for only the most crucial marketing messages or those situations where you’re confident you can make a big splash. Animation excels at explaining complex processes clearly, particularly mechanical and industrial processes where it’s what’s going on inside the machines that is of interest and a real-world exploded view just isn’t possible.

Unlike video, where audiences are likely to be more forgiving of lower production values, audiences tend to be less forgiving of bad animation. Think of the groans you’ve stifled when looking at poorly executed “animation” effects in Powerpoint and other presentation tools.

Charts and Graphs

Charts and graphs are the bread and butter of your visual content marketing arsenal. They can be incredibly quick to produce if you have basic spreadsheet or presentation tool skills and can relatively quickly be dressed up by even less experienced graphic artists. Use these liberally and build them with an eye toward social media use and email embedding. They can be a real game changer assuming you have some interesting data to present.

Conceptual Imagery

Think of every television commercial or print ad that has made you say, “What does ________ have to do with selling ________?” That’s conceptual imagery.

Floating Lotus Flower

You can insert just about anything into those blanks and wind up with something very close to a recent real-life example:

What does a field of wildflowers have to do with selling prescription drugs?

What does an impossibly diverse and hip-looking group of people have to do with selling computers?

The answer to those questions, and questions like them in advertising for everything from cars to cloud services to consulting firms: Emotion matters.

If you can make use of it, you should, though you really have to feel that your design team is up to the task and your marketing team can guide them appropriately. It’s far easier to wind up looking amateurish here than with just about any other type of visual we’ve discussed.

Your audience doesn’t necessarily have the same expectations of a small tax consultancy, say, as it does of a national consumer brand, and they also won’t expect the same production values in a product-specific explainer video as they do for a commercial during the big game. But because conceptual imagery is nearly entirely an emotional appeal, the terrain is less forgiving and you really do need to be sure your content marketing message is connecting emotionally.

That’s no reason not to make your content more visual. You may want to begin with baby steps and test efforts you’re unsure of in front of smaller groups from whom you can get feedback and guidance. They will let you know whether you’re staying true to your brand promise and whether your visuals are a distraction or, as we hope, an element that further strengthens your content marketing message.

4 Tips for Better Content Engagement

There’s more to content engagement than just words on a page. Here are the details you must focus on to grab your audience’s attention and keep them focused on your message.

There’s more to content engagement than just words on a page. Here are the details you must focus on to grab your audience’s attention and keep them focused on your message.

1. Design Does Matter

Beauty may be only skin deep, but it gets our attention. And in the online content game, the importance of getting someone’s attention shouldn’t be underestimated. So invest the time and resources you need to create solid, professional designs that fit your industry, your topic, and your audience’s expectations.

Keep in mind that the quality you seek is a professional presentation. This isn’t about winning design awards. (Unless you’re a design firm …) Consistency matters more for content engagemen than achieving highest level of polish.

2. Graphics Get Results

An adjunct to “design does matter” is the use of photos, illustrations and other graphics. These serve to break up written content to make it more digestible and can also reinforce the points you are making in your copy. (For more conceptual content, don’t worry about that kind of literal reinforcement. In fact, being literal in a forced or cliched manner is likely to hurt your efforts more than help them.

And don’t forget the value of video. Here again, you don’t need super high-production values to have an impact. Video shot with a high-quality smartphone camera will do the trick. Add simple voice over and charts or graphics to illustrate your topic and you’re way beyond boring talking head videos. Talking heads can add a nice personal touch if the talking head is a key executive in your organization.

3. But Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

As important as design is, a great looking page isn’t going to keep your audience engaged if there’s no there there, as Gertrude Stein said. (Though not about content marketing …) Your content has to be engaging in its own right, which means:

  • Professional
  • Entertaining
  • Relevant

Professional is as simple as avoiding typos, spelling errors and other basic mistakes.

Creating entertaining content doesn’t mean trying to be a stand-up comic. It means having a voice that is unique and interesting.

Relevance is, pretty obviously, the most important of these goals. Your content must matter to your audience. And it needs to help them understand or solve a business problem they are facing.

4. Grab ‘Em and Go

Don’t bury the lede! A nicely paced build up is a wonderful thing for novels and bad jokes. But in content marketing, as in news reporting, grabbing your audience’s attention immediately is the key to getting them to come along for the ride. That’s our goal with all our content marketing.

Wasted Personalization

Chatting with a friend about this article, he suggested I write about the most memorable email I’ve received. And while that would be interesting, I know I find emails memorable for reasons you might not. I’m most enthralled by the development, design or concept, whereas you might be most taken by the message 

Chatting with a friend about this article, he suggested I write about the most memorable email I’ve received. And while that would be interesting, I know I find emails memorable for reasons you might not. I’m most enthralled by the development, design or concept, whereas you might be most taken by the message.

As my friend described the most memorable email he had received, I thought about why that same email would have been memorable to me. That led me down the path I started in my last article—applying direct-mail lessons to today’s email campaigns.

In 1995, I founded The World-Wide Power Company, the world’s first international distributor of all (graphics) extension-based technology. As the only distributor of all things plug-in, we had extensive records about who owned what, their core applications, versions, numbers of copies and so much more. Back then, this data lived in our invoicing system, which suited us perfectly as we had customized FileMaker Pro for inventory, invoicing, reporting, vendor tracking, managing the product matrix, and other day-to-day business activities. This meant our customer and purchase data were clicks away any time we built a direct-mail campaign.

Our most-successful campaigns were our weekly direct-mail postcards and letters, nicknamed PUN (product-upgrade notice) and CUN (competitive-upgrade notice). These events were mailed each week to everyone in our quarter-million name database who owned a product undergoing an upgrade during the week or for which a competitive product had been announced. The messaging on the cards went something like this (I’ve represented some of the messaging with the field names from our database, shown in all caps, to save space and to illustrate connections to fields):

CUSTOMER NUMBER: [001097]

[LESLIE STRONGMAN], [XYZ PRINTING]
OR THE CURRENT IS/IT DIRECTOR OR GRAPHICS MANAGER

[ 1/22/1997 216350 1 Imposer XTension]
[ 4/4/1997 221450 5 Imposer XTension]
[ 4/7/1997 221527 2 Imposer XTension/MarkIt Bundle]

Dear [Leslie],

On behalf of [XYZ Printing], you purchased [Imposer] from The World-Wide Power Company. Your purchase information, including invoice date, invoice number, and quantity, is listed above. According to our records, you currently own [8 copies] of QuarkXPress [4]. In order to upgrade your [QuarkXPress] to version [5] and maintain the ability to [SHORT DESCRIPTION], you must also upgrade your [XTENSIONS] purchases listed above.

[Imposer 2.0] has been upgraded to provide
[1-LINE BENEFIT] and to support [QuarkXPress 5].

[LIST BENEFITS]

[LIST FEATURES]

[Imposer Pro] retails for [$399]. For a limited time, upgrade each of your copies of [Imposer 1.X] or [2.X] to [Imposer Pro] for [$199].

Call ThePowerXChange to upgrade and take advantage of this special pricing before [31 March 2003]. Prices do not include taxes, where applicable, or shipping. Delivery options are as follows: [electronic delivery is free] or [CD-ROM sent via Airborne overnight for $12].

The response rates from these postcards averaged more than 50 percent, but our best result was more than 80 percent! This is a number to make any marketer salivate.

Having set the stage, the reason I bring this up is to discuss the opportunities lost by today’s marketer—even me, and I most certainly know better.

Today, personalization is demonstrated in our emails often by including the recipient’s first name in the greeting or subject line, but rarely, very rarely, do we see the level of personalization I’ve shown above—except perhaps in the case of our shopping cart abandonment messages … but that’s actually my point.

We know abandonment messages enjoy high open and click rates and yet we don’t apply the trigger of those messages to our everyday marketing messages. Why not? Difficult? Lack of technical know how? Lack of resources? All of the above? Probably.

Step back and ascertain a complete view of the data you have within your organization—and I’m not talking about big data here. Look to your accounting system and ferret out nuggets like those in my example. Look to your marketing database and find unusual bits to help you connect with the recipient. See if your badge scans can disclose something new, or if your sales team can add color.

What my friend told me about his most memorable email (from Hyatt) was the message thanked him for having stayed at a Hyatt property 75 times and provided the name and location of his first Hyatt stay. He enjoyed the trip down memory lane, and while he admits most of the information was wrong, he still felt a strong connection and fondness for Hyatt because they remembered him.

As with all things marketing, this could turn out poorly for the marketer if recipient’s recollections bring back unpleasant memories, but that’s simply a marketing risk we take every day.

The next time you send out a marketing message, consider if you’re wasting personalization on a simple greeting and see if it’s possible to take it to the next level by including something memorable, important, funny, or, well, personal, that can actually connect with your audience.

Learning From the Best (and Worst) Email Marketers

Following best practices is one of the quickest ways to get a high quality marketing program started and to improve one that is in place. The things that consistently motivate people to act in one channel or industry will work in others. Watching what competitors and non-competitors alike do provides insight and inspiration for connecting with your customers

Following best practices is one of the quickest ways to get a high quality marketing program started and to improve one that is in place. The things that consistently motivate people to act in one channel or industry will work in others. Watching what competitors and non-competitors alike do provides insight and inspiration for connecting with your customers.

Email marketing is one of the easiest channels for gathering information on what people are doing to inspire their customers and prospects to act. Subscriptions to most email programs are free, so the out-of-pocket cost is minimal. The downside of subscribing to a magnitude of newsletters and promotional emails is a full inbox that has to be filtered to find the best ideas. Subscribing to an email archive provider is an alternative that will save you time while providing access to a multitude of ideas. [Editor’s Note: The Who’s Mailing What Email Campaign Archive is one such service, offered by one of our sister publications in the Target Marketing Group, that provides research and data for The Integrated Email.]

Whether you compile your own or use a provider, look at what is being done to capture the recipient’s attention. You have a few characters and nanoseconds to make recipients decide they want to open your email. Everything has to fit together to make it work. Your customers use a variety of devices and tools to view their emails. You want your return address, subject line, and opening blurb to scream “open me now” at first glance regardless of the device or tool.

Looking at how others use copy and graphics to motivate people to act can help you find new ways to inspire and tactics to avoid. When you have historical data at your fingertips, you can start identifying the things that work best. Repetition of the subject line or special offer typically means that it worked well and the company wants to replicate the success. The exception is when the same subject line or offer is barely changed email after email. This usually indicates that the email program is in auto mode with little testing to see what has the best success.

In addition to seeing what works, reviewing archived emails also shows opportunities. A review of your competitors’ program and content will show where they are leaving holes in the information provided to customers and prospects. Fill those holes and your business will attract market share.

Every component of an email has one simple purpose: To keep the recipients moving forward step-by-step until they reach the end. The final action you want them to take is the objective of the email. It may be purchasing an item, completing a survey, or any other activity you choose. The perfect email is the one that makes the most people fulfill its purpose.

The components of an email include:

Subject Line
The subject line needs to lead strong and provide a reason for people to open the email. The best subject lines capture attention with the first words because some devices or tools only show a few characters.

Return Information
Use the return information to let people know who the email is from and why they should care. Your loyal customers will be more likely to open the email even if the subject line is unappealing when they know it is you.

Opening
The opening line is often shown when people skim through their emails. Apparently email marketers pay little attention to this because I routinely receive emails that appear on my mobile device leading off with “if you have trouble viewing this email click here” or “view in iOS out|view as web page.”

Graphics
Emails that are primarily graphics open in most email client inboxes with red Xs in place of those graphics. Use a good combination of text and graphics in your emails so there is something for people to read when the graphics aren’t visible. Use alternate text for your images to provide information that will motivate people to download the images.

Copy
The words you use make all the difference in an effective email. Invest in a good copywriter that knows how to speak to your customers in the language they understand with words that motivate them to act. It is money well spent because it always delivers a higher return on investment.

Call to Action
What do you want people to do next? If you don’t tell them, they’re less likely to do it. People have been trained from an early age to follow instructions well. Use that training to get them to take the next step.

Follow-up
Give people an opportunity to respond directly to your email if they have additional questions. Provide a call to action for questions that includes a link, an email address, and a telephone number. This allows them to choose the method of communication that fits them best.

6 Video Presentation Tips to Elevate Your Online Marketing

The video you create is but one component of your online direct marketing campaign. Yes, the video is what viewers are driven to—it’s the vehicle that delivers your story. However, without lists, email and landing page copywriting and design, blog comments and posts, social media entries, pay-per-click ads, YouTube advertising, etc., your video

Online Video Marketing Deep Dive co-author Perry Alexander takes over this week while Gary is away.

The video you create is but one component of your online direct marketing campaign. Yes, the video is what viewers are driven to—it’s the vehicle that delivers your story. However, without lists, email and landing page copywriting and design, blog comments and posts, social media entries, pay-per-click ads, YouTube advertising, etc., your video stands little chance to be viewed.

Think of the parallel: We know that without the intentional series of steps to get our direct mail package into readers’ hands, opened and scanned long enough for them to catch the lead, there’s slim chance it’ll make any impact.

Just as the direct mail letter headline and lead must drive the reader to stick with it, so must the first few seconds of your video. Your video must create and instantly set the visual and auditory tone that will draw the viewer through those precious first few seconds and into your story.

My co-author and business colleague, Gary Hennerberg, is the master copywriter of our team and, as he says, I “make stuff look good.” I make sure the story isn’t overshadowed by lousy presentation or distractions, which can repel, or at least divert the reader. Let’s go through some of the ways to make your video command attention—during the first few seconds and beyond.

  1. Bad audio will douse viewers’ interest long before bad video will. Don’t rely on your on-camera mike or, worse, your computer mike. You’ve heard these videos—they sound like they were recorded in a barrel or a cave. Viewer’s interpretation: Your presentation was slapped together, therefore your product or service is, too, so why should I bother listening?
    The Deep Dive:
    If your camera has a mike input, use a lav mike (Gary and I each use a $25 Audio-Technica). If there’s no external mike input on your camera, use a digital voice recorder to record quality sound, either through its built-in mikes or plug the lav mike into it (we both use the same $100 Sony recorder). Then, in editing, sync the audio from both the camera and voice recorder, then mute the camera audio. The mechanics of this are tricky at first, but once you’ve done it a couple of times it becomes routine and your sound is crisp and clear.
  2. Bad video won’t help matters. A webcam video looks like, well, you used a webcam—even an HD webcam. Not only is the image soft, but exposure is usually off, color isn’t great, and what about all that stuff in the background behind you? The message struggles to get out. Again, it screams that your story doesn’t deserve the viewer’s consideration. It’s just a throwaway webcam production about a throwaway idea. What does your viewer do? Click away to something else after just a few seconds.
    The Deep Dive:
    You wouldn’t dream of tossing a half-baked direct mail piece out into the market, expecting it to convince your audience of the value of whatever you’re offering them, would you? Anything that distracts from the message must be stripped away so only the message is noticed. Same with video. Get a $100 Flip or Sony camera and a tripod, or even the latest iPhone. Better: spend $400 for an HD video camera for long-form videos. If your shots are under 5-10 minutes each, use your DSLR. (We use a $100 flip-type camera on Gary’s videos.)
  3. On-camera jitters? Maybe the prospect of speaking into a camera lens is frightening, or at least off-putting. Really, though, after several miserable attempts, you will improve. Evenutally you get to where you imagine you’re just talking with another person in the room, and your fear melts away.
    The Deep Dive:
    Your job is to tell the story. How? Reveal your personality and mastery. Build trust. The call-to-action will produce nothing for you until after that’s all been established. Consider being in front of the camera just long enough to introduce your premise, then moving into slides, charts, photos, graphics or other images that tell your story. That way, you don’t have to memorize a long script. You can refer to notes as you narrate what’s on screen. On-camera script reading is usually deadly, anyway. If you’re on screen for a quick 20-30 seconds, know your stuff. Roll through several takes until you’ve looked that monster in the eye (lens), and said your piece naturally, completely, and with relaxed authority. Now you have their attention and trust!
  4. Stock photos, stock footage, stock music, stock sound effects? You’ve seen the websites with stiff and trite stock photos. Somebody, please explain what that might ever accomplish, because we’ve all seen that picture a thousand times. Filler doesn’t move the story along. But, relevant graphics that work can emphasize a point quickly and vividly. An occasional “foley” sound effect can emphasize a point, just don’t overuse transition swooshes, or they’ll become distracting gimmicks.
    The Deep Dive:
    Map out your storyline. What images will support or clarify what you’re saying? Use images that are specific to your product, service, technique, timeliness, etc. Short of that, invest time finding stock images, footage, music or sounds. It’s all online, and for not much money. YouTube and Vimeo even offer stock music beds you can use at no cost. But be careful in your choices. Be brutal in editing. Anything that distracts or detracts from your story and message, leading to your call-to-action, must be cut.
  5. Go short or go long? Conventional wisdom, born out by YouTube analytics, is that video viewer falloff is precipitous after the first 30 seconds or less. So, does that mean we must never consider creating a 3-minute or, horrors, a 15-minute video? Perhaps. Remember, everything must serve to support the story. Do that right, and they’ll stay with you.
    The Deep Dive:
    Conventional wisdom has always warned us not to use long-form copy in letters. However, seasoned, successful copywriters know that a well-told story will hold interest across 2, 4, even 16 pages. Same with video. Don’t rush to push features, advantages, benefits. Find the relevant hook, then reveal, build and educate about the issue. Lead them to want—then crave—the answer to the quandary or dilemma you’re setting up. Now, the sales copy tastes like good soup.
  6. Editing is half the storytelling. Putting up an unedited video is like mailing the first draft of your letter. It’s probably loose, meandering, dulling to the senses. Resist, revise and remove whatever doesn’t move your story along!
    The Deep Dive:
    Video editing brings clarity and precision to your story. The pace and direction are honed so the viewer is drawn in and held through the call-to-action. It’s an interwoven dance of timing, splicing, movement, color, design, sound, mood and the ruthless removal of what’s not contributing. But, you need two things: A) the knack to know when it’s right and when it’s not and, B) mastery of a video editing program, so you can accomplish your vision.

There’s so much more to cover, but perhaps you’re getting a sense of how online video marketing requires many skills and decisions so familiar to the direct mail pro. Different tools … different vehicles … similar foundational concepts. As always, we invite your comments, criticism or questions.

Drop me an email, and we’ll get you the list of resources, brand names, part numbers and such of what we’ve found works in our ever-evolving video marketing tool chest: perry@acm-initiatives.com