The Visual Science of Content Marketing and What It Means for Creatives
Storytelling Content Creation

The Visual Science of Content Marketing and What It Means for Creatives

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There are many debates surrounding the conversation of learning modalities and the science of content marketing. Sure, you can subscribe to the philosophy that individuals can be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. You can even consider how left- and right-brain orientations play into content strategy. Despite your school of thought, there is no doubt that individuals prefer to consume information and absorb stimuli in certain ways—that’s why the information-hungry masses flock to one social media platform over another. For some, their preferred method of information consumption could be listening to podcasts, while others enjoy reading extensive articles or 140-character tweets. This has made the content creator’s job even harder and more time-consuming.

There is certainly a science behind data retention, whether it is psychological, sociological, or purely physiological. In analyzing the rise of recent content marketing trends, however, visual content is king. As platforms like Instagram, Flickr, and Pinterest continue to flood our retinas with new methods of visual storytelling, content creators need to ask themselves: What is the visual science of content marketing?

Pinning the Mind: The Psychology of Pinterest

Nothing represents visual overload more than Pinterest. The digital pinboard—used by 59 percent of B2C marketers, as the Content Marketing Institute notes—is becoming more of a necessity for content marketing campaigns. According to Psychology Today, “Pinterest is on the precipice of having the richest consumer data set ever assembled and may someday be able to predict what consumers want well before they know themselves.”

Psychologically, Pinterest is the forum where the visual acuity of the right brainers and the organizational needs of the left brainers come together in perfect harmony. But Pinterest takes visual content consumption to a different level. Psychology Today states that Pinterest turns consumers into the “hunters and gatherers” of the Internet. Like any scrapbooker, the sheer act of collecting others’ work becomes creation in its own right. While other platforms rely on timeliness, Pinterest caters so much more to the endurance of evergreen content. So for content creators, Pinterest is not only a tool that shows which visual trends and styles are more stimulating for consumers, it is actually a public art installation that freely displays your content as a small piece of countless larger original creations.

More Than Just a Pretty Face: The Aesthetics of Infographics

Physiologically, the eye is naturally drawn to that which is either aesthetically pleasing or simple to understand—so why not both? Infographics are perfect representations of form and function. In the past year, 62 percent of B2B marketers (up from 51 percent last year) have reported using infographics in their content marketing repertoires, according to the Content Marketing Institute, and those numbers are expected to increase in years to come.

Unlike photographs or pie charts, effective infographics tell a nonlinear story through the use of simplistic shapes and minimalist imagery (squares, circles, stick figures, et cetera). This allows for a message to be conveyed without distracting the eye with detail.

Amy Balliett, co-founder of Killer Infographics, wrote in Smashing Magazine that there are certain aesthetic tricks in designing infographics that anchor visual attention and promote content retention. These tips include:

  • Sticking to a three-color palette to be visually easier on the eyes
  • Placing a narrative hook in the middle or at the end of your infographic (instead of the beginning, like with any written piece)
  • Using typography as something that sets a piece’s tone rather than a distracting visual focal point

Keep these best practices in mind as you begin to create content, because the beauty—and brains—of your infographics are in the eye of the beholder.

I Can Has Kultural Signifikance: Sociology of Memes

Lolcats have actually led to a viable form of visual content marketing. But what does this mean about us as a culture? To think about the meme as a cultural phenomenon, you would have to look back to its roots. According to io9, the term “meme” was originally coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. The meme was described as one of the most “fundamental units of culture.” These bits of culture expand, grow, and evolve as ideas, looking for cultural significance like a host to a parasite. Similarly, Roland Barthes coined the idea of the “seme” just a few years earlier. The seme takes into account semantics that can be attributed to an image in an attempt at meaning.

“Today’s lolcats and animated GIFs fit the definition of Barthes’s seme as much as Dawkins’s meme because they are used in so many situations to mean so many different things. They become a flicker of meaning in our Internet conversations, an ambiguous rejoinder to a comment, or a vague representation of a feeling.”

Essentially, a viral image of a cat can represent anything once meaning is attributed. This can be “I Hate Mondays,” “Hang In There,” or “Join the ASPCA.” As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth 1,000 words.” Well, memes allow you to attribute just the right words to create an image, GIF, or video that is pertinent, humorous, and perhaps the ultimate representation of brevity in the content marketing world. They’re perfect for the visually stimulated and ravenous content consumer while also being rife with the potential to go viral.

Visuals in Content Marketing

From Social Media Examiner

So, what does all this mean for content marketing? Well, in Social Media Examiner’s 2014 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, the question was posed to see which content forms marketers wanted to learn to create most. Turns out, the creation of visual content through infographics and memes led the way by 68 percent. With an eye to the future, 70 percent mentioned increasing their visual campaigns.

Now, left-brained individuals may be better with numbers, but any side of the brain can see these numbers don’t lie. With the science of content marketing understood and the demand for visual content on the rise, content creators must learn to diversify their talents, expand partnerships with photographers and graphic designers, and even dust off their Adobe skills themselves to begin their entrance into the visual (and, apparently, scientific) realm.

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