Danny Ashton

Does Visual Content Marketing Really Work?

Video Transcription

Thanks guys. In my presentation today, I’m going to tackle the challenge of: Does visual content marketing really work? My name’s Danny Ashton and I’m the founder and CEO of NeoMam Studios, a visual content agency in Manchester, UK.

First, to answer the question-yes. I suppose you would expect that I would say that, as I do own a visual content agency. Rather than just accept my word for it, I want to look at a number of arguments that I think make a really good case for using visuals in marketing.

The first one is all of us suffer from information overload. Even if you just look into your own life, looking back one, two, even five years’ time, you can just imagine the amount of more information we have, whether it’s the amount of emails you’re being sent, or the existence of social media, advertising following you at all different stages. The truth is, this information overload is increasing every day and we don’t just lie over and fall down and don’t deal with it. Our brains adapt.

The way that our brains have adapted is to filter it and again, that makes sense. We filter our emails. We filter the information that we engage with and we’re able to then deal with this influx of information. This filtering has led to a situation, especially online, of users spending a lot less time consuming content. This is a study by Nielsen, who showed that 55 percent of users who viewed a page, spent less than 15 seconds looking at it.

With this influx of information, we’re then left with the challenge, as marketers, because we have less and less time to make our argument.

We have those 15 seconds to get our audience to notice, understand and try and get what we’re trying to tell them. That is a challenge that I think visuals help to support.

First, I want to give you a little bit of a gimmick, which is something I do quite often to show how visuals work, but just bear with me. Read the following in three seconds …  One. Two. Three. How about this? Obviously, it is a little bit of a gimmick, but it just shows you very easily that visuals done the right way can give you the gist of content straightaway. You know what it is.

The reason is because our brains are wired for content – visual content. Because of the evolutionary past of our brain, images were always a part of our life, whether it’s a predator in the bushes or some opportunity of food far away. Our brains are wired, evolutionarily, to engage with images and see what they were before anything else. Because of that, our brains are wired to understand an image in one-tenth of a second, which is obviously really, really quick. In comparison with the 60 seconds for written content, that’s a lot slower, just because of evolutionary reasons. Books and reading are still a very new phenomenon when it comes to millions of years of brain evolution.

When we apply this to the previous point about how we’ve less and less time, this makes a really powerful point, because if we have 15 seconds, how are we to get our message across in the fastest [way][03:45] of time? I’m not saying to everyone, and people might argue with me, “Oh, right. Change all your text and just replace it with visuals.” Certainly, that’s not the right process and text and content has an aim to play and should be combined.

Actually, studies prove this. This was a study on medicine labels. It showed that people understood just a plain text medicine label 70 percent, but then when they included pictures with the text, they had a 95-percent understanding. Actually, they found that people following directions with text and illustration, do 323 percent better than people following directions without illustrations. Visuals are very good at adding understanding to content, as well. It doesn’t mean we just have to replace everything with an origami instruction manual, but it does mean that having both of them really help our brains, so we can do the fast and the slow types of thinking.

That was some theory about it, but how does this work in the real world? It’s good to discuss about studies and how visuals work, but what I really like to do is look in what marketers are doing. These two studies looked at social media, which is looking at real users, which is great information that we can use. One of these studies looked at Twitter retweets. They found that the inclusion of a photo had a 35-percent increase in retweets. The next one was videos – again, another visual format. With regards to social media, and Twitter specifically, the inclusion of images was engaging people in a different way, which relates to the studies that we were looking at before.

The same is true with Facebook. Again, this was an analysis of a number of brands on Facebook. It showed that 87 percent of the posts that were shared were photos, which in comparison to the others – links, album, videos, status – just really blows everyone out the water. You can relate to that. You go on an average Facebook account and you’ll see just images everywhere. That all relates, because we are suffering from that information overload. We want to engage with content really quickly.

That, and I hope you agree with me at this point, is why visual content marketing works. In the next part of the presentation, I’m going to go through some real examples, not created by us, certainly not a sales case study lead-in, but these are things that- content that I’ve seen real companies doing and they’re really killing it. I think we can take all the inspiration from this.

The first one that I wanted to look at is Cook Smarts. It was specifically this infographic around “50 Simple Salads for Every Season.” I’m going to jump onto the browser so you can watch me and we’ll take it from there. The first thing you see when you get on the Cook Smarts landing page, and I have to say one of the best things they do with the visual content is the landing page, is straightaway on the page, you can see there’s no big call to action to buy the product or any sort of advertising at the top of the page. There is this one thing, which is a little start thing, but it’s hardly noticeable, which is really good. You’ll see that they also have lots of visual content options on the site, as well.

You should make the most use of when you do visual content marketing, by adding more options for people to engage with. The next thing that I really like that they do that isn’t done enough is we’re not straight into visuals, we’re using the text combo. As we talked about before, using text and visuals really helps people to understand. There’s things that you can do with HTML text that you just can’t do with a visual, like adding links to difference sections. They’ve really engaged with what we call multimedia articles. There’s a lot of rich content here in the text, and there’s even a video here that you can check out, which just adds a lot more value to the page. It’s something that someone can spend quite a bit of time on, which I think is really good.

Then we actually get to the infographic itself. It’s a great example of an infographic. It uses visuals correctly. The visuals are telling the story and there’s text as well, to give more insight. It is full of practical value, which is great. I’m not going to keep talking about how great their infographic is, but it is good.

The second thing that I really like that they do is this “Print This Handy Infographic Chart.” Many infographics might be right for people to print out and given this option makes their life easier and adds value, as well, to your proposition. When you click this, you get a great lead box that you can just add. They’re getting peoples’ emails as well as all the rest of the rich stuff that comes through visual content marketing.

One of the things that I really like that Cook Smarts did, was they broke down their original infographic, which was 50, into seasonal ones with 12 in each. These are a little bit smaller and they go into a little bit more detail for each one, which is awesome. It also means that this has a potential relevancy throughout the year, so you have winter, you’ve got spring and you’ve even got summer. This would be perfect now, coming up to the summer season, which is great. Rather than just having that one infographic option, you’ve got five images for people to take to, as well as more lead boxes.

What I really like, as well, is there’s this social button throughout, so there’s always the opportunity to share, whether it’s Pinterest, which is a big one with this, and then they have used – which is common within content marketing – is to get people on the list in exchange for some soft product, which is great.

It makes sense. It’s about salads and they’re giving away free meal plans. What I really like, as well, is use of comments, make sure there’s lots of comments here.

This is a quick review of Cook Smarts. I’m going to go back to the presentation and we’ll look at the second one now. Cook Smarts produced this infographic, but they didn’t just leave it on the website. They went out and pitched people. As part of this, they actually got a placement on Lifehacker, as well as lots of others that I haven’t quite got the time to go in to. You can see that Lifehacker featured the infographic and you can see that they’ve got a nice reference back to them that links back to the website. If you can imagine Lifehacker-  That one post got 58,000 people. You can imagine the kind of engagement that happens.

What we’re looking at long term … Cook Smarts are doing a lot of this visual content, as you saw on the site, but how is this affecting them? What I really like to look at is how is that affecting some of the … I come from SEO background, so I’m always interested in search visibility. If you have a look at the overview of that, and this is using SEMrush tool, you can quickly see that since 2013, where they’ve been regularly putting in, you see that really nice gradual curve of more search exposure. They’re producing visual content on a regular basis, they’re promoting it, they’re getting content that’s right and they’re really benefitting in the winds of the long term.

The next real-life example I want to talk about is from the Movoto blog. Movoto are a real estate company in the US. They’ve been doing content for years – really good content – and they did it way before it became cool as it is now. I want to show you one example and they’ve got many on there. If you want to get some inspiration, check it out. This is an interactive that they did, called, “The 10 Most Stressed-Out States in America.” It’s a very simple interactive, so there’s a bit hover adjustments, which I think is … If you’re going to do interactive content, it has to be simple. It has to make sense. It has to add value. A static image wouldn’t work, but it’s really visual and it really brings some value.

What I really like about this is just from this point of view, it could be, “So what? What’s so great about this content? It’s not the greatest interactive map I’ve seen.”

When we get a little bit deeper, we find out why. Because it wasn’t that Movoto just produced this from data that already exists. They actually developed and analyzed the data to actually build this option. What they do, and they kind of tell you how they do it, which again is a great example. If you’re producing content to accompany visual marketing, then explain how you did it. They said how they measured it. They looked at all these different variables. They used the data and they made it clear where the data was from. You have to remember that journalists, especially  big publications, are going to care about this. This is really important information that they have. They even have a page just for how they do these big deal lists. They say what their criteria is, what the data comes from, how they determine the rank. Because they do quite a few of these, it makes sense for that and it’s great for journalists wanting to see if this is right.

This is where it goes to the next-level content, because they actually do this analysis for each and every point. They have these elements of stress, the unemployment rate by county and then they do all this analysis. They even show the visuals of how they worked it. From this, they’re able to develop which are the states with the highest stress, based on not just one factor. You can see all of these. There’s so many opportunities for people to take. They’ve highlighted the most problematic states for each example. It could be that someone in New Jersey just wants to talk about the population density, because that’s the issue that’s affecting them. There could be local press in that area that want to take that content.

Like how Cook Smarts did it, you develop lots of opportunities for people to share, lots of opportunities for journalists to make that story, as well. You can see now the depth of this content. You even have a table, as well. There’s no reason why we have to use everything in pretty graphs. We can have the table so people can use it.

Let’s see the results of this. Taking the URL from this interactive infographic and I’ve added it to Majestic, which tells us the number of backlinks that this page got. We can see the number of referring domains was 443, which, if you’ve worked in content marketing for any sort of time, you’ll know that is madness.

Certainly, we’ve had the odd thing in the entirety of our agency’s history, to receive these type of results, but this is pretty impressive results. We can see the backlinks that are there – Time Magazine, Vox.com – the most powerful sites on the web.

What’s really interesting is when we look at how they repeated this process. Based on the results of their last one, they produced another big deal list – “The Top 10 Nerdy Cities in America.” A very similar process, how they did it – analysis. Maybe not with the data visualization, but still …

I want to take this and take it into Majestic and there we see again, 277 referring domains. The point was that something worked and they kept doing it. They found a policy that was working, a process that was working and they kept doing it. They could reach out to even more people and just generate backlinks. I know backlinks are not the be all and end all, but they do give you some signifier of how content has performed. I know I’m an SEO, and search visibility isn’t everything, but just look at this chart from Movoto. This is when they started their content and we can see that gradual rise to domination. We’re looking at around 500,000 search impressions by the latest month, which is impressive for any site, never mind a real estate blog. Whatever they’ve been doing, and it’s not just these type of content, they’re doing lots of other content, it’s certainly paying off and working for them, which is great to see for those of us who are working in the content marketing arena.

Finally, we’re going to come to my last example, which is a nice, fun one, and we’ll go through that in just a second. The next example is really interesting and something close to my heart, because I just love their products, especially  after spending multiple hours analyzing how they did it. Bellroy sell wallets. They’re an ecommerce store. It’s very rare to see good content marketing, never mind visual content marketing, within ecommerce, but Bellroy really do it. You can see, just by going through this site, visual is just a part of what’s going on. We’ve got gifts here, we’ve got imageries going here. We’ve got videos, we’ve got multimedia.

What I really like is … We have an example here, which is the ‘Slim Your Wallet’ option, which many of you might’ve already seen. It’s just a very basic interactive, but it really engages with what their brand’s about. You can play with how many cards are in there and it’ll change the size and show you what your wallet does, compared to what a Bellroy does. They don’t try and hide away from the fact that they sell the wallet. That’s the core of all the content that do it. If it’s done right, you don’t mind and everything kind of works really well.

Visual is everywhere. Whether it’s from the choice of which product to choose, from even the actual products themselves. We have a click on this one. We can see, obviously, the ecommerce, the normal ecommerce things are there. We have video, which obviously, is not completely outrageous. Even then, we’ve got illustrations. We’ve got multiple different photos from all different areas. We even have an option just to see how it compares – what kind of money goes in there. Even just photos of it, so you can really get a taste of what it’s doing.

They have basically three pieces of content on their site, which they call stories. The ‘Slim Your Wallet,’ which you’ve seen. The ‘Transit with Ease,’ which is basically an interactive infographic. It’s looking at how to travel lighter. It gives some facts and figures and you can even … Some very light interactive. We talked about interactive before. When it’s done really subtly and it adds to the experience, it works really well.

This we can roll over. We can see what’s working and also, they can talk about their product. They’re looking to slim your travel- packing light, and this wallet does it. There’s no reason to hide away from the product, which is awesome, which is great. It means that each piece of their content is probably not just a driver of links and SEO value and engagement, but actually probably converts like mad. I’m sure of it, because I’ve certainly got one on order. That was just from me spending probably way too long on there. I didn’t even know I had a slim wallet problem.

What’s interesting for them is when we go and have a look at the results. This is their SEMrush score, their search … Again, I’m an SEO, I’m obsessed about it, but it’s just going through the roof, which is great, considering that they haven’t done hundreds of thousands of content, they’ve just done their site. That’s it. There’s probably maybe 10, maybe 20, pages including product pages. That’s all performed to really get them into position where they’re ranking slim wallet, travel wallet – all the things that, for them, make sense as a business. It’s working.

When we look at the links, and we look at the pages they achieve the links, it isn’t just, yes, the ‘Slim Your Wallet’ page is amazing and it’s great and it’s probably the most content-rich one. It’s also the product pages themselves, because they spent the time to develop them to make  them visual, to add as much value in there. People are actually sharing them and they’re getting links and mentions all over the web, too. The product page is rich. If you’re an ecommerce channel, that makes sense. You want all your references to go back to there.

We’re coming to the end of the presentation. I just want to do a quick overview of all the things we went through. Firstly, landing pages are really important, especially  when it comes to visual content marketing. Remember with Cook Smarts, the use of multimedia, videos, text, using lead captures to give printable versions, adding more visual content to enable the user to engage more with the site. They’re really, really important and they’ve become really important when you’re doing visual content marketing. You want to get success.

If we look at Movoto, they found one idea that worked really well and they repeated it again and again to cover the different topics. Look at the results, see what works and build upon that, improve upon it, add more value. Do it in other sectors. Do it for other problems. You’ll find that you’ll get better results, but also you’ll be able to know, with more certainty, if content’s going to perform.

With the Bellroy example, make it as relevant as possible. If Bellroy had just done something really cool but it wasn’t relevant to that product, then it probably wouldn’t have worked for them.

Yes, it might have brought links, it might have brought them search, but probably the biggest benefit of the Bellroy site is the ability for that to convert someone who didn’t even know – had a wallet in their pocket – wasn’t looking for a wallet, but now wants to spend $60 to get a new one. That power is performance and that’s going to lead to the rest of the things, like social engagement, branding, links and the rest of it.

Finally, this is a point that I preach to the team endlessly, which is data and learning is the key to success. I think it was Buzzfeed who said they wouldn’t do TV and film because they don’t get data and learnings. Especially , when we work on the internet, we use visual content. Yes, you want to achieve success, but just as important  is the data and the learnings that you take from it or where you go next. Do you do more of that or do less of that?

I hope this was useful. Feel free to check me out on Twitter: @dannyashton

If any of this is interesting or you want to see what other work I’ve produced, feel free to check out NeoMam Studios. You can just put that into Google and you should be able to find us. Thank you.