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.

Get Off the Content Hamster Wheel

Content is king, to be sure. But how did we end up on this crazy treadwheel, cranking out B-to-B content for content’s sake? Daily blog posts. Three tweets a day. Monthly whitepapers. Infinite infographics. We’re sacrificing quality for quantity. We’re becoming irrelevant. We’re knee deep in Content Spam. This has got to stop.

Hamsters in a Wheel
Are you spinning the content, or is the content spinning you?

Content is king, to be sure. But how did we end up on this crazy content hamster wheel, cranking out B-to-B content for content’s sake? Daily blog posts. Three tweets a day. Monthly whitepapers. Infinite infographics. Videos everywhere. Podcasts, e-books. We’re sacrificing quality for quantity. We’re becoming irrelevant. We’re knee deep in Content Spam. This has got to stop.

Check out these stats from IDG. They brilliantly ran a study of IT buyers in the US and UK that directly connects irrelevant content with sales results. Of US tech buyers, 66 percent said that digital content needs to be “more aligned with organizational objectives and relevant to the decision-making process.” It could be that IT buyers are more demanding than those in other job functions — but I doubt it.

Wait, it gets worse: 79 percent of the buyers told IDG that the level of content relevance affects the vendor’s “likelihood to make the short list.” Now, that hurts. But here’s the zinger: A vendor is 25 percent more likely to be actually dropped from the shortlist if its content does not meet a minimum level of relevance. Uh-oh. This is the opposite of customer relationship management.

In the SEO world, the notion of “content spam” has been around for a couple of years. Search professionals decry the practice of loading up websites with keyword-stuffed crap designed to fool search engines into thinking they are informative and popular. But what I am talking about is customers and prospects, not search engines. We are loading up our customers with crap.

To keep your content relevant, here are five principles to live by:

  • Tailor your content to the market need, by analyzing your customer’s buying process and buying roles, and developing a library of content assets to help them solve their problems.
  • Be disciplined about new content quantity. Do you need this item? Will it fill a gaping hole in your asset library? Stand up against the pressure to generate content for content’s sake.
  • To feed the SEO beast, repurpose existing content instead of relentlessly creating new. There are zillions of options for clever reuse. Good quality content is likely to have an evergreen capability to serve incoming prospects over time.
  • Cull your content regularly. It’s hard, I know. We all fall in love with our creations. It might be a good idea to bring in a third party to assess your library, and give an objective opinion on what can stay and what needs to go.
  • Choose your content distribution channels carefully. Joe Pulizzi — who should know — makes a compelling case for limiting yourself to a few key communications vehicles, and doing them really well.

Let’s go for relevant, top quality content. Less is more.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.