Worth a Thousand Words: Using Visual Content in Your Marketing Strategy
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick’s 2007 excellent book, had an introduction that goes like this; “But before you turn the page, I want you to picture yourself sitting in the darkness, like the beginning of a movie. On screen, the sun will soon rise, and you will find yourself zooming toward a train station in the middle of the city. You will rush through the doors into a crowded lobby. You will eventually spot a boy amid the crowd, and he will start to move through the train station. Follow him, because this is Hugo Cabret. His head is full of secrets, and he’s waiting for his story to begin.”
It turns out that you don’t have to do all of that on your own since Selznick conveniently included a series of illustrations that perfectly capture the scenes described above. Selznick’s work has always been a bit of an oddity, Hugo alone has hundreds of illustrations spread throughout the book’s 500 or so pages, it wasn’t exactly a novel nor is it a graphic novel or a picture book. Still, Hugo Cabret remains one of my favorite books and I do believe Selznick’s work here could be an example on how companies should approach content marketing.
Blending images with words
One of the phrases people tend to use to describe Hugo Cabret is that it reads like a silent film on paper and given how the first few pages of the book went, that phrase is rather fitting. It’s even more appropriate given the book revolves around the fictionalized account of Georges Méliès, a highly influential figure from the earliest days of motion picture. If you’re familiar with that image of the moon with a bullet sticking through his eye, then you’re already familiar with Méliès’ work as that iconic image is taken from Méliès’ film, A Trip to the Moon.
It might seem slightly contradictory that I, a writer with an unabashed love for good writing, is sitting here raving about an illustrated book detailing one of the most influential figures in cinema but I’m also far from what you call a book snob and I read quite a number of comic books and graphic novels. This One Summer remains one of the most beautiful coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read and defending the merits of the Japanese manga Fullmetal Alchemist to my more snobbish friends is a hill I’m willing to die on.
That’s just from a personal perspective but when you look at how the world is today, it’s not that hard to figure out that visual contents are all the rage. Facebook might have the edge on sheer user count, but really, do you know anyone who still logs on to Facebook regularly other than for Messenger? I’ve stopped using Facebook way back in 2011, before all of those scandals started hitting the platform one after the other and I don’t know anyone in my circle that do.
Instagram and YouTube is where we spent most of our time and these two platforms have one thing in common, they rely heavily on visual contents. It’s not that texts are going the way of the dodo; I’d be sadly out of a job if that was the case, but it’s worth considering adding a visual element to your blog posts every now and again just to break the monotony. Visual contents vary widely and depending on how your marketing strategy works, some options would work better than others.
Images are the simplest and most versatile option when it comes to visual content. They can be used as a visual aid, providing an illustration to help explain the text or they can stand completely on their own, showcasing your products and/or services in a detailed way that words simply can’t. For those that work in an industry where words are simply not enough, the food or visual arts industry for example, images are an essential part of your marketing.
The key to using images is to stay far away as possible from stock images unless you’re actually using them to prove a point and make sure they’re of a high quality. No matter if you’re going with a photo or an illustration, making sure that they’re both original and of a high-quality should be your first goal. The image you’re using doesn’t have to be elaborate, one of my favorite Instagram page is Project 1 in 4 from Marissa Betley, using simple illustrations and text to illustrate just how it feels to be living with mental health issues.
Videos are a trickier and more expensive to produce but they’re the perfect option when you’re trying to do step-by-step how-to instructions as seeing how it’s actually done provides more clarity than when you’re reading an instruction manual. Alternatively, you can use illustrations and animations to create the now-popular explainer videos. My favorites are those that detail the evolution of a particular car model, such as the ones from Cars Evolution and Donut Media.
There’s nothing more boring than statistics and nothing more infinitely annoying than a conversation partner who constantly drops statistics in every sentence. I know this, you know this and everybody knows this, which is why society invented infographics, a way for us to read statistics without getting bored out of our minds. It should be noted however that designing an infographics is actually quite tricky, the layout and color used has to be carefully considered to ensure the data shown can be read and digested easily while making it as attractive as possible for the purpose of sharing.
Using memes, gifs and webcomics
When my future grandchildren (wishful thinking, this) asks me how life was like in the early decades of the 21th century, I’m going to refer them to Giphy and this long-running random group text I have where I and a couple of friends constantly post absurd things we found online. Memes, gifs and webcomics are the perfect ice-breaker, especially for millenials and the great thing is, they’re very easy to do. There are a bunch of meme generators online and Giphy makes creating gifs as easy as tweeting.
Webcomics are more upscale but really, you don’t need more than a good sense of humor to create one. You don’t need to be as amazing as Fiona Staples (see her work in Saga if you need proof of this) to create quality webcomics. My favorite webcomic is xkcd, which uses simple stick figures for the characters. If you’re looking to stand out, webcomics are a better option than memes and gifs, which can be a bit samey.