Words or Visuals for your Marketing Communication?


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This Fall, I switched from consulting to teaching Marketing Principles at the BPP University in London. It was quite a learning experience analyzing the most powerful ways of communicating a message out of the traditional business offer-client demand circle. Unlike clients, students are in demand of knowledge instead of a specific product or service. How does one capture their attention and transmit the right message? While designing a communication plan for students or marketing campaigns for businesses, the same question pops up:


Words or Visuals: What is the key combination?


Smart Communications, How it Works


To understand the origins of using pictures as a complement to words, I made a stop at the History of Photography museum (in Lacock, England). Inventors Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre changed the way we would see the world through photography. With the development of technological innovations in the 1850s, visuals gained momentum. Today, we can count on cameras, televisions, computers, mobile devices and the Internet of things to communicate. There are many ways of communication that you should use after a strategic consideration.


According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute (Attention Span Statistics, 2016), today’s average customer’s attention span is 8 seconds (-33% since 2000). It takes your customers 13 milliseconds to identify your image and leaves you with 7 seconds to engage with them through the right words.


Eyes respond quicker to visuals than text and we tend to identify to pictures faster. MIT Neuroscientists found that the brain can identify images seen for 13 milliseconds (In the Blink of an Eye, 2014). After an image hits the retina, the information (shape, color, and orientation) is processed into the human brain. Before the next image appears, part of the brain continues to process those images for longer. MIT researched how to use visual materials to clearly communicate scientific concepts (How to Communicate Science Visually, 2012).


As a business, you communicate your unique selling proposition (USP) through visual materials too. An effective combination of words and visuals optimizes your communications through various techniques: online marketing tools’ traffic analytics and user interface design. Engage with content designed to address your ideal customers’ needs rather than overusing pictures over words as your business’ USP could be unclear or misinterpreted... and so will be your smart inbound marketing strategy. Visual thinking is based on words and words come with visual thinking so your message and visual content should be related.


Let’s take the example of Konbini, the king that pops everything in visual. The digital media company has grown rapidly with over 60 million yearly visitors by developing a unique approach to live and disruptive content publication. Between display advertising, social advertising and client branded content channels, Konbini provides its mobile audience with engaging stories available online and on Social Media.


This leads to the hows for your business: how to position your message between words and visuals?


The Starts Word/Visual Communications Ratios


What if this blog post looked like:


starts consulting marketing communications words visuals


Not very attractive, right? Similar to how body language accounts for 70% of your message while content accounts for 30%, word/visual ratios should be considered in non-verbal communications too. Below are the 70/30% digital space coverage ratios recommended by Starts Consulting (not applicable to artistic businesses as visuals are the essence):


starts consulting marketing communications website blog post social media post ad

As you may have noticed yourself, visuals do not automatically take over words. Other tactics can be used over visuals directly with words: while reading through the list above, did you notice any color pattern (turquoise for word and green for picture)? In fact, your brain categorized the information by color association. Clear, targeted and colorful text can be an effective alternative to pictures.

You might have seen the American movie Words and Pictures (directed by Fred Schepisi, 2013) in which two different teachers Jack Marcus (Clive Owen), an inspiring writer and poet and Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche), a successful painter launch a words vs. pictures war with their students. On one hand, carefully chosen words can stimulate the audience’s imagination. On the other hand, visuals can evoke strong feelings. Still in the teaching spirit, I went for a combination of 70% of words / 30% visuals content to teach marketing to my students.

So... are you words or visuals?


Lena Baudo | Digital Marketing Nomad helping companies and non-profit organizations grow their business through marketing intelligence and actionable plans. My motto is to begin with the end: no data analysis = no effective decision.


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