The evolution of brand communication strategies: a visual approach
by Sasha Seddon
Social media has undergone an evolution, changing from lengthier, text-based communication to a more visual approach. William J Ward, Social Media Professor at Syracuse University has described a gradual movement towards visual strategies, from the early blog changing to the status update of Facebook, to the current state where “we are skipping words altogether and moving towards more visual communication with social-sharing sites like Pinterest”.
It could be argued that those brands implementing visual social media strategies will attain the social currency of likes, shares and follows necessary to survive and flourish in the online Darwinian struggle. Detavio Samuals, Director of Client Services at the successful advertising agency GlobalHue, postures that using pictures has “become a short form way of communicating lots of information quickly and succinctly…for publishers, it was evolve or risk losing their audience”.
A study by ROI Research in 2012 discovered that almost half of respondents were more likely to engage with a brand if they posted images as opposed to other forms of media. The market research company World Wide Worx has reported a ‘visual revolution’ in social media usage in South Africa. The MD, Arthur Goldstuck, summarizes the future of brand communication as such: “once the cost of mobile data comes down for the emerging smartphone market, video will become a dominant medium, strongly supported by other visual media.”
In an analysis by the lead generation marketing experts Wishpond, the predictions for 2014 were that visual content would predominate in brand communication strategies. Their reasons for this were based on research finding that: videos on landing pages increase average page conversion rates by 86%, social media posts with visuals receive 94% more page visits and engagement than those without, and 67% of consumers value detailed images over customer ratings or product information, amongst other findings.
Furthermore, a 2013 report by Shareaholic found that, from 2012-13 there was a 66.52% growth in traffic referrals from Pinterest. This increase was the greatest for all the networks examined. YouTube also displayed a high increase, of 52.86%. This shows that social media platforms predominantly focusing on visual material (photos/video posts) have recently shown the greatest improvement when it comes to converting viewers into potential customers. It suggests that the demographic swayed or enticed by visual brand communication material has increased in recent years.
But why has this trend become prominent in brand communication?
Images will always be more appealing and informative for humans. With images, there isn’t the same ambiguity as in text, which deals with the issues of rhetoric and semantics, language barriers and the literacy level of the reader. Pictures may not always say a thousand words, but they can compensate for these pitfalls in the written word, conveying a simple idea to a universal audience. From a psychological perspective, our brains are incredibly receptive to visual stimuli; many of our letters and symbols are based on shapes and morphologies found in nature. We also process visual stimuli 60,000 times faster than text, as all the information an image possesses is absorbed simultaneously – there is no linear narrative as with text – and they are assimilated into long-term memory much more readily.
We are now living in an era of constant multi-tasking and in which our brains are flooded by continual advertisements. We trawl through social media networks while watching TV. Adverts appear on the periphery of websites and on search engines; even when we’re reading news, researching for an essay, trying to find nightlife in our local area, nowhere online is safe from the threat of advertising and brand communication. Internet users and avid social media users in particular have therefore in a way been inoculated against this – we don’t pay attention to ads lurking on the fringes of pages, we install software to block pop-ups, we often only ‘like’ brands when they offer us something in return.
What determines whether the information seeping in will have any impact is the question perpetually asked by advertisers and marketers. It is not that the answer is elusive, it is that it is by nature continually changing. Companies have to carry on adapting their brand communication strategies in response to changes in technology and the inevitable trickle-down effect this has on social media. The evolution of technology and social media marketing go hand-in-hand, somewhat similar to the predator-prey co-evolution of the social media marketer and the online user.
What is important to acknowledge is that, nowadays, there is a shift occurring towards more visual forms of brand communication on social media channels. This may change in the future; a preference for text may resurge or a form of media not yet invented may pop up and revolutionize the world of social media.
Living in the here and now
This visual-centric paradigm is present now as it is the most adapted or ‘fit’ for our current environment. Using imagery means that brands can attempt to blast through the bombardment of brand communication we receive. In a world where social interaction can mean scrolling through news feeds and picking out items of interest, those items which immediately grab your attention (rather than slowly creeping up on you) will win. Images should do better than long pieces of text which you have to stop and concentrate in order to take in.
What should be considered for a visual brand communication strategy
Incorporating visual communication into social media strategies gives a company a way of showing, instead of telling, their story and showcasing their products. Also, a consistent brand message can be channelled if the company’s logo and pictures all bear similar connotations or themes – whether this be a playful/authoritative, ethical, luxurious/economical, innocent/fiendishly tempting voice.
It is also important for brand communication to account for the impact and connotations of different colours – colour psychology. Coca-Cola’s distinctive red denotes vibrancy, excitement and flavour, Facebook’s dark blue makes it seem trustworthy and secure, which is obviously important for a company involved in handling online security issues and the creation and maintenance of the users’ virtual social lives.
With regards to logos, symbolism is also a crucial factor in brand communication – the logo should not be confusing or complex, but should be unique. Bearing in mind the target audience is also of importance when choosing a colour palette or a design for the logo and brand images.