Why visual marketing should be a 2017 focus

If anyone doubted that the internet is becoming a progressively more visual medium, two deals announced last month should have enlightened them.

Instagram revealed plans to create a live video function on its Instagram Stories platform, taking it up against Snapchat and Facebook Live. Unlike Facebook Live though, the short videos recorded by Instagram's users will disappear as soon as they are recorded – friends will only be able to watch them live.

Meanwhile, Facebook is continuing to invest in upgrading the visual aspect of its platform, by purchasing FacioMetrics. This company uses image analysis to determine emotions.

A Facebook spokesman says this will allow the social media giant to 'help bring fun effects to photos and videos'.

We weren't surprised to read of these moves. As the leading computer vision platform, we specialise in creating unimposing ad slots within and next to the images hosted on digital publishers and social media platforms.

Visual web is developing

We can see the vast potential for the visual web – in fact it's nice to feel that the market is developing around us. With three billion images shared online every day, it's clear that over the next few years there will be many new ways of accessing, exchanging and processing these images on social media sites.

But for marketers we know that negotiating the possibilities and the pitfalls of this dynamic digital channel can be tricky.

In particular, we've found some confusion from brands on how best to reach young consumers on the social media haunts that they love so much. After all, no one wants to be the dad at the disco in this respect.

So we commissioned some research to better understand the digital motivations of 18-29 year-olds and how they regard brand-related messages on image-focused social media platforms.

The first big finding is quite how much the main visual sites – Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat – feature in the lives of young consumers. Nearly half (42%) of this group visit Instagram at least five times a day.

While millennials might check in consciously looking for stimulation, the desire to feel connected to others (whether conscious or unconscious) is also a very strong attraction.

If they can’t be with friends and family, the periscope of social media allows them to share experiences with them. When we say 'share', this often means just tapping into what others are up to. Half of 18-29 year olds only browse content posted by others – far greater than the 27% who regularly post images themselves.

Insights from the younger generation

It was illuminating to discover how these young consumers respond to brand-related communications on visual social media platforms. The vast majority (91%) have never bought anything via a link from Instagram (slightly higher than the figures for Snapchat and Pinterest), and 60% actively skip ads on social media.

So the biggest lesson that marketers can take from our research, which backs our experience in this area, is that hoping for an immediate sales uplift from getting involved on these platforms will lead to disappointment.

What we are advocating is that brands start to see the longer term awareness-building potential from sites like Snapchat and Instagram.

Think back to that vast (often bored, they tell us) audience who spend much of their time browsing other people's content.

Users of these sites are hungry for visual inspiration, a gift to any brand that can offer inspiring images and video footage that doesn’t rely on explanatory text. Almost half of our sample said they only ‘somewhat’ pay attention to the words that accompany pictures.

We know that brands are heading in the right direction on the visual platforms – 90% of the top 100 brands now have an Instagram account for example.

The argument over whether they should be there was won long ago. But we would encourage a re-think on how they plan, create and distribute content, moving towards seeing themselves more as a specialised editor for their particular audience than a seller of products.

How could this work in practice? Progressive brands are now putting a lot of their energy into thinking about how they can contribute or facilitate video footage for the growing 'Live' functions.

I say facilitate because there is plenty of potential in becoming a branded conduit for your audience to feature in, or  create elements within a creative theme that a brand defines.

My prediction is that it is those brands that seek to aid their audiences connecting and having fun on these platforms that will ultimately raise sales. It just needs a little long-term thinking.

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