Beyond its well-deserved place in the canon of tired clichés, that a picture is worth a thousand words is perhaps still the best explanation for why marketing’s content supply chain has become so image rich.

Who wants to parse text when an image will do? Who wants to unpack prose when a picture will tell the same story, only more efficiently? Why pore over data when it can be served up as a whimsical infographic that draws you down a strange rabbit hole of inspiration?

Of course such snackable wisdom may ignore the analysis behind the findings—and perhaps lend to a slow cognitive decline—but it feeds the sound bites we crave and, like bubblegum-flavored cough syrup, it’s often so much sweeter going down.

Let’s also not forget that many of us are visual learners. While it’s by no means a scientific fact, I would guess that this population is on the rise as we face an unending avalanche of information.

Quick show of hands: Who among us feels their attention span has improved—not degraded—over the past decade? Thought so.

As much as it pains me to admit, words have seen better days. That’s not to say that they aren’t important, but images are what really get our collective hearts racing on the social web.

Digital marketers know this, which is why brand storytelling has become such a visual medium. It’s a fact that has ignited a renaissance in the talent and tools required to render stories with visual depth and dimension. Marketplaces like help bring together the visually talented with the visually needy, allowing brands to turn flat text and numbers into rich visual stories that stimulate engagement. And communities like Pinterest, Houzz, Instagram and other visually rich locales enable shared moments of visual inspiration that catalyze engagement and, increasingly, commercial transactions.

For eons, marketers have known that consumers make decisions largely based on emotion, which they subsequently back up by facts. Traditionally, marketers exploited this knowledge by using visually rich ads and other tactics to drive the awareness, interest and desire necessary to inspire action. In an analog world, the challenge was timing the emotional hook in close proximity to the point of sale—or using the twin force of frequency and reach to indelibly burn desire on the brain to condition consumers for action.

The digital medium is the glue that binds these consideration stages, allowing inspiration and action to happen in close proximity—often in the same moment. Unsurprisingly, at the heart of this inspiration is often an image that causes hearts to skip a beat.

In social communities like Pinterest and Houzz, these images are the coin of the realm. They catalyze moments of shared inspiration that are amplified by brand advocacy and reinforced by friends and followers cheering you on from the sidelines: “Do it! That’s perfect! YOLO!” Conviction becomes commitment as the 16 digits of a credit card launch that inspired moment into a commercial commitment. It turns out that, on the social web, a picture is worth considerably more than 1000 words.

In fact, images are so powerful that some suggest that this form of shared social experience is leading to a type of reverse showrooming where consumers find inspiration on the web—and then beat a path to the mall.

In this sense, traditional retailers’ mortal threat could actually become their greatest opportunity.

  1. 5 September 2013 at 2:02 pm
    Tammy Tipton says:

    I like this bit of snackable wisdom on content development! Not sure how to apply it to some of my own challenges in content development but very well done. Thanks.

  2. 5 September 2013 at 2:22 pm
    Dennis O'Malley says:

    Jake – great point on reverse showrooming. At ReadyPulse, some of our retailer customers are using in store displays to put their customers front and center of their marketing by showing off customer social photos from specific hashtags. We’ve seen that segments of customers (think anyone shopping in a mall) is highly engaged when they believe they have a chance to “get on the board” in their favorite store – leading to more walk in traffic, more social check-ins and photos, and usually more sales. The most successful retailer customers we work utlize their visual social content across channels, web, email, in-store, and as rich media ads.

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