If you're a seasoned content marketer, it's likely no surprise that today's audiences crave visual media above all else. This is partly due to the myriad technological advances of the past 10 years training us to consume information in bite-sized chunks across various devices and social channels. But there's something more inherent at play that few consider when delivering content to their target audiences: Our multi-screen world and the barrage of media that comes with it wouldn't exist if there wasn't an appetite for it to begin with.
That appetite stems from one simple fact: We are inherently visual creatures. Before the written word, mankind scribed pictures on cave walls in hopes of sharing stories and information.
This was the most natural form of communication that existed and many would argue that it still is today. As we evolved to form language and text, the instinct to visualize our words never went away.
Think about it, as you read this article are you picturing text in your head and only text? Or did you instead visualize a caveman or cave paintings?
Our brains store and process information in visual formats. As a result, when brands compete for our attention we are naturally inclined to focus on the content that leads with imagery versus text-heavy reading assignments.
According to research cited in the SAGE Handbook of Political Communication, we are hardwired to interpret visual information 60,000 times faster than text. This means that when marketers look for the most efficient methods of sharing their messages, they need to consider speaking in our most natural language; they must speak visually.
Just any visual content won't do -- custom visual content is key.
Many marketers that are running visual content-focused campaigns understand that today's audiences crave images. They subscribe to the top stock image sites, use hero photos in all of their blog posts, and plaster them throughout social campaigns.
But simply adding visuals to your content isn't enough. In a world where consumers are inundated with information on a regular basis, it's imperative that content creators don't just cater to trends and instead understand and cater to the inherent needs that drive those trends.
Since our brains are wired to comprehend visual information as our primary form of communication, this means that we all have discerning eyes. We recognize overused images, photography lacking authenticity, and cheap design. On the opposite end of the spectrum, this means that we also recognize (and widely share) high quality, custom content.
Think about it: If money was not a factor and you had the choice between purchasing a manufactured house or having your ultimate dream house built for you, which would you choose? Most of us would choose the highest quality, custom option. Since content is free for the end user, they will always choose the content that is customized for the message over cookie cutter solutions.
The data backs up the theory: Custom visual content converts.
This isn't just an opinion, multiple studies back up what we all naturally know. In fact, a study from researchers at Northumbria and Sheffield Universities suggests that 94 percent of first impressions are based entirely on the design of the first message someone sees. In addition, a study from PWC states that custom, original visual content converts seven times better than stock imagery. It's because of this that the latest survey from Content Marketing Institute states that marketers attribute 85 percent of their 2017 successes to shifting their focus to developing quality, custom visual content and they are raising their budgets in 2018 to continue down this path.
As more marketers shift their focus to visual content marketing in the new year, those that lead with inauthentic, cheap visual content will likely see a decrease in performance. Consumers have raised the bar and the marketers that step up will see great success in 2018.