“Hang on, let me draw it for you.”
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said that at work. Or the number of times over food a friend has grabbed the salt and pepper mid-sentence, illustrating their story with tabletop accoutrements.
Visuals have the power to convey or enhance meaning. Even a bad drawing can bring clarity where there was none. My skills are like those of a five-year-old with seven missing fingers, yet even they’ve helped people understand my point. Done well, visual elements don’t just bring clarity; they invoke feeling. And that’s important when you want your audience to do something with what you’re telling them.
It’s not just about the story you’re telling.
Over the past two years, we’ve seen a rise in the number of companies coming to us with challenges like, “We’re not telling our story well enough”, or “Everyone thinks we do X, Y, Z, but no one realizes we do A, B, C.”
When we dig into the reasons for this, 99 times out of 100 the piece of the puzzle that’s viewed as missing is there. It’s just buried in paragraph seventy-two on a third-level web page, masked with internal language. In short, no one is finding it, and if they did, chances are it would mean nothing to them.
This is a downside of the current focus on storytelling in our industry. Too often, the focus is on what needs to be communicated, not who the audience is or what the effect of that communication should be. Shouting into an empty cave isn’t getting your point across: the all-important story nugget buried on your website is the digital equivalent. And even if you take it out of its third-level cave and move it to the homepage, you’re still shouting in a language your audience doesn’t speak.
Experience is everything.
So, if the answer isn’t as simple as moving content up the food chain, what should you do?
As children, we learn to read through a trinity of language, imagery, and experience: big word, bigger picture, something furry to run your fingers over. A little older, and while ‘touch and feel’ books fall away, the experience element remains. From going to watch a play to cooking something rather than reading a recipe – if we want someone to understand, remember and feel something, there is no substitute for having them experience it.
Easier said than done in the digital world, but this is where good visual content comes in. With the power to translate dense copy into a clear, visually appealing infographic, or to convey the buzz and excitement of a working environment through video, visual content accelerates the time between a user learning something new and experiencing what feeling that evokes in them.
Visuals connect with people faster than text because of their power to convey meaning quickly: we process visuals 60,000 times faster than we do text. Visuals also help us remember something: a Hubspot study showed that when we hear something, we retain just 10 percent of it. Pair that content with an image, and our ability to recall what we’ve learned jumps to 65 percent.
In our online world of shortening attention spans and intense competition for user’s interest, the ability to be memorable and convey a clear meaning quickly is vital. So, does the rise and rise of interactive and experiential digital content – from virtual and augmented reality, to 360 video and interactive games – offer companies the chance to go one better?
The answer is yes. And no. Many companies from Tom’s to GE have used interactive visual content brilliantly, showing how it is applicable to their industries and the audiences they speak to. Done well, these are powerful technologies that bring audiences into the heart of a story, making them an active player rather than a bystander. And with the rise of the ‘age of asking’ thanks to increasingly sophisticated search engines and voice-activated software, the opportunities for ever greater personalization of, and participation in, interactive experiences are genuinely exciting.
But is there any difference between a client knowing what they want to say but not what their audience wants to hear, and a client wanting a VR piece because it’s cool? If you create a great interactive experience that your audience has no interest in using, (or can’t because they don’t have the necessary tools), you might as well go back to burying your most important messaging in the depths of your site.
What makes the best interactive experiences powerful is that they jibe with their intended audience. They’re created for a purpose, for an audience whose motivations, preferences and expectations are understood. We’ll always be excited about new technologies and the opportunities they bring to do things differently, but our most successful work for our clients isn’t always the showiest.
Transforming ten paragraphs of copy into a forty-five-second animation; developing a photography style to bring consistency; shaping headlines to create clarity – crafting content that delivers a sense of experience and facilitates understanding can take many forms. Simply doing something because it looks nice is pointless; something we’ve known for a long time (and that’s backed by findings in a study by Nielsen that web users ignore stock photography), yet still see companies asking regularly.
Basing your content output on knowing who you’re speaking to, what you want them to do and what they’re looking for means you can craft meaningful connections with what you create. When we reach a point of understanding, we’re equipped with what we need to move to the next stage in our journey; whether that’s applying for a role, investing in a business or becoming a brand advocate. Visual content can get you there quicker, experiential content quicker still, but only if you know where you’re trying to get to in the first place.