The Essence of Visual Marketing

“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at.” – Leo Burnett

Woman sees many examples of visual marketing

Definition and importance of visual marketing in the digital era

Long ago, when marketing lived in the domain of print publications and radio, visuals didn’t matter that much. Obviously, radio doesn’t include visuals so we can skip past that part. One-color newspapers prevented companies from using brand colors. Color magazines weren’t common until the 1930s. Our great-grandparents would be overwhelmed with the amount of color we have in our lives.

As technology evolved, we saw the introduction of movies and television, both of which added color as time went on. And today, in the digital era, there aren’t any limits. In fact, marketing in two dimensions is no longer a limitation.

Now that we have so much competing for our attention, visual marketing is more important than ever.

The broad scope of visual marketing within the overall content marketing strategy

Visual marketing sits at the intersection of brand marketing and content marketing. Visual marketing needs to be at the heart of most of your marketing, especially in these two areas because the right visuals can tie all of your content together. It lets the viewer know that everything they see that looks like [your visual marketing] is connected.

As time goes on, this creates brand affinity. People learn that when they see [your visual marketing] they know that they’re going to consume something valuable. Your visual marketing creates an expectation in the viewer’s mind. When it’s done right, whatever elements you use will let the viewer know that the content they’re about to consume is worth their time and attention.

This ads to your overall brand perception.

Roles and responsibilities of visual marketers in a team

The way a visual marketing team is built depends greatly on the size of your company. If you’re a one-person wrecking crew, you have to wear many different hats. [should I detail this out?]

Larger teams or teams with budgets can afford to build a team with many people contributing to visual marketing. Ideally, you should have some mix of the following roles:

  • Creative director: This is the person who will help define the concept, provide direction, and ultimate creative approval
  • Designer: Someone to establish the brand and create the ongoing visuals.
  • Brand strategist: This person is thinking about the big picture of the brand. Are you telling the right story? This person knows what is needed and helps define and shape the overall brand.
  • Video producer: Could also have a sound engineer
  • Initiator: This could be a marketing manager, a director, a content manager, or someone else who is thinking about the needs of the prospect and helping to initiate new projects. This role is probably outside the visual marketing team
  • Copywriter: Visuals will only take you so far. You need someone to craft the message and write the copy that will capture a prospect’s attention. Sometimes this person is also the Initiator.
  • Project manager: There is a lot that goes into creating content. This person can ensure the projects are progressing and being delivered.
  • Distribution: Someone needs to post this great content somewhere. It could be on a blog, on YouTube, on social media, in an email, or somewhere else. This is an adjacent role that could be broken out to multiple roles.

The interdisciplinary approach to visual marketing, integrating design, strategy, and analytics

There is a difference between brand marketing and performance marketing. One of these is easier to measure than the other. A brand is built up over time with every customer/prospect interaction. If you’re measuring brand marketing after one interaction, you’re not going to be happy with the results.

Knowing this, there are still some ways that analytics can come into play with visual marketing. Some statistics demonstrate the value that design adds to companies. We’ll get into that later in the book.

When marketing technology systems are connected properly, it is possible to measure the impact of content marketing on the bottom line. This is why there is so much gated content out there. It’s so marketers can measure their content marketing efforts and the return on that investment.

If you think of each email address as having a financial amount tied to it, people have to get something of value if they’re going to hand over their email address or other contact information.

When this content is designed and written well, and the audience understands the value they will get out of the asset, this is a result of good branding. Creating the right content that aligns with the visual brand, means creating content that people want. If they know it’s valuable and something they want, they’ll be more willing to give you their contact information.

Case studies highlighting successful visual marketing campaigns

Many successful companies have run visual marketing campaigns and programs to bolster their branding efforts.

Owens Corning was the first company to trademark a color.1 Insulation is yellowish brown normally. But due to a mistake where red dye was added to its product, Owens Corning decided to lean into this mistake and make it a differentiator.

In 1987, Owens Corning applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to own the color pink. This dye mistake has led to a 40-year relationship with the Pink Panther in its marketing efforts. What does an animated panther have in common with home insulation? Your guess is as good as mine. But they’re both pink and in this case, that’s enough.

Budweiser is another company that excels in visual marketing. For almost a century, the Clydesdale has represented Budweiser in parades and other in-person events. They have featured prominently in advertising campaigns for nearly 40 years. The majesty of these massive beasts helps to promote Budweiser’s slogan as the king of beers.

Budweiser also leans into the visuals of its bright red bowtie logo and classic brown bottle. Its visual marketing never tries to be “edgy” or “cool.” The company is consistent in presenting itself in an upscale way, even though that may not be how the general public sees Budweiser.

Future trends in visual marketing and its growing significance

As we move forward, both through this book and in the world at large, visual marketing will become more important. Marketing is begrudgingly moving into a post-social media, post-SEO world as these both turn into pay-for-play models. Brand building is one of the best ways to enhance marketing efforts and increase sales.

Visuals will continue to grow in significance because of the number of screens we’re exposed to. There was a time when a movie used to be promoted with a single poster in a movie theater. Now, a movie can take over huge digital billboards in Times Square with combinations of motion and still graphics.

There are screens everywhere screaming for our attention. Having consistent visuals tied to your marketing helps cut through the noise. Being consistent with those visuals and messages will help your audience know to jump the mental line to understanding what your brand means.

As visual marketing moves further into video and eventually the augmented reality/virtual reality/extended reality (AR/VR/XR) space it becomes even more important to have a strong, consistent visual identity. These are new spaces where people are exploring for the first time. You must tie those new experiences back to the familiar experiences so they know you can be trusted in this new space.

These people knew you in the known world where they felt safe. In these new, disorienting environments, your consistent brand visuals are a beacon of trust they can latch on to.

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