Visually wired: human physiology and content marketing success

Chihuahua phone

Photo: Stuart Miles

The above image serves no other purpose than to prove a point. The point is this: the image was the first thing that drew your attention after you opened this link. You did not first scan through the opening paragraph of this article or even read over the heading. For the first couple of seconds, you focused solely on the image and your mind tried to decipher its meaning. In those initial moments, the image was more important than the words.

This, in fact, is a common reaction and the question that we need to ask ourselves is why? Why are images and videos so much more engaging than text? Has this always been the case? Or have our minds been trained to react better to visual content than to that of text? Is it that visual content is just easier to digest and that we have become lazy due to the visually oversaturated environment in which we find ourselves?

It is obvious that our society has become predominantly visual, but again, why? One could argue that the advancements in mobile technology have played a significant part. These advancements have made it easy to capture and share visual content. Currently, there are more active mobile devices on earth (about 7.22 Billion) than people (about 7.2 Billion) and mobile users upload so many Facebook photos and videos that it accounts for roughly 27% of all upstream web traffic.

Visual content, however, does not only get created with mobile devices or to be shared solely on the internet. Last year, Hollywood produced 563 movies, Bollywood and other independent Indian filmmakers about 1 000. Then there are all the movies made in other parts of the world. Year after year, the number increases, and in 2009 alone it was estimated that about 50 000 movies were made worldwide. Bear in mind that we haven’t even touched on all of the series, music and promo videos that are made in a year.

Considering this data, one could argue that because we live in a visually oversaturated environment (both on and offline) where visual information is so readily available, we have reached a point where we only want to engage with visual content, where we find text tedious. To emphasise the power that images now have over words, also consider these statistics: on average, people remember only 20% of what they read and 80% of what they see.

But can we really blame the internet, mobile technology and film makers for this? The answer, despite the apparent evidence, is no.

Why we live in a predominantly visual society

The truth is that human beings are, and have always been, predominantly visual. We instinctively respond better to images than to words and the proof is in our physiology:

  1. 70% of our sensory receptors are located in our eyes.
  2. 50% of our brain is involved in processing visual information.
  3. We can understand a visual scene in less than 1/10 of a second.

This evidence clearly points to the fact that we live in a predominantly visual society because we are, simply put, visual creatures. We are not a product of our environment. Our environment is, in fact, a product of who we are.

But what does this have to do with content marketing success?

Human physiology and content marketing success

In essence, what the above statistics are telling us is that, from a human physiological perspective, visual content is, and has always been, the undisputed king of content, and any content marketing strategy that doesn’t take this fact into account is a strategy that is likely to fail.

The King of Visual Content or is the written word dead?

The king of visual content is undoubtedly video and the success of YouTube attests to this. YouTube has over a billion users, which is more than any other social platform. Other social platforms, like Twitter, have, over the years, evolved to incorporate visual elements, and even image-driven social platforms like Instagram, now have video options. Vlogs and Podcasts are also becoming increasingly popular, and considering that people, on average, now only read 28% of written content per visit, one cannot help but wonder whether the written word is moving towards a fast end.

Written content has, as a matter of fact, not outgrown its use nor does it need to evolve into something that it is currently not. People do still read, which is evident when one considers that, on average, over 2-million new books are published every year. So what type of writing should we be focusing on producing? Considering that we are visually wired, it stands to reason that the type of writing that works best is visual writing, writing that creates images in the mind of the reader.

Creating a Content Strategy that Works

What the above research makes clear is that for a content marketing effort to be successful, the underlining strategy needs to revolve around a strong visual concept. We also know, by analysing content marketing success stories (think of the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video which has received more than 66 million views on YouTube), that emotionally charged material works best. In other words, a winning strategy is a strategy that focuses on the creation of content that is both visual and that tells an emotive story.

The easiest way in which to do this is to conceptualise a central content pillar. A short, emotionally charged video is the best option, considering that video is the most popular content format and that you can engage people with this format in 1/10 of a second.

What content marketers should remember is that it isn’t necessary to tell the brand’s story or to force a connection between the story and the brand’s product or service offering. The most successful attempts have ignored the brand’s story and have made no mention whatsoever of products and services. The content marketers who created this content recognised the power of straightforward human stories, forgot about marketing, and ended up creating content for content’s sake. They know that people respond best to human stories and that the emotive power of a story will, in fact, be lessened by too much branding. A little logo and tagline at the end of your video is all that’s needed.

It helps to remember that, as content marketers, we serve the consumer and not the brand, and the consumer always wants a story to which he or she can relate. It is through giving the consumer what he or she wants that we create an audience for the brand, and so, we serve the brand.

Once the central content pillar has been created, uploaded and amplified through social media and other paid amplification platforms, you create a content web around this pillar, consisting of written and visual content that ties into the theme of the video. The writing needs to aspire to recreate through words the imagery and emotive nature of the central content pillar. Your blogs, and all other copy, needs to make people see and feel what they would see and feel if they watched the video.

Then you encourage people who have engaged with your content to relate similar emotional experiences from their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. This feedback should then be used to start a conversation and build relationships.

This is how you create a winning content marketing strategy and build an audience for a brand. Ultimately, what we as content marketers need to remember is that we are
creating content for human beings and can, therefore, not ignore the way in which we are wired (if we want our efforts to be successful, that is).



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