By adaptive - February 19th, 2014

Imagery is a powerful tool and by understanding the mind behind it, brands can use it to its full potential

Smart brands are transforming themselves into images. Their brand identity, messaging and themes are becoming visuals that translate into the viral and the beautiful. Today visual social media is a leading trend that is predicted to expand throughout 2014 and is driven by a number of factors such as speed, simplicity, engagement and visual attraction.

In part one of this series we examined the value of visual social and what platforms and tools were out there and how best to harness them for the corporate use. In this feature we are examining the psychology of visual and how to take advantage of it.

Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics and his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” examines the way we think and outlines two modes of thought:

System 1 and System 2. With the first, our thoughts are fast, emotional and instinctive and with the second our thoughts follow slower and more deliberate and logical paths. When you consider the influx of social media and how rapidly it changes and how much information is streamed across the networks 24/7, you can see why System 1 is very much a part of the way in which people work with social.

In System 1 we are almost in survival mode as we turn towards the sound of a crash – is it a threat? Are we safe? Or we scan information at high speed, allowing it to elicit an almost visceral response. It is in direct contrast to System 2, which asks that we pause, think, consider and make rational decisions.

Kahneman says: “System 1 runs automatically and System 2 is normally in a comfortable low-effort mode, in which only a fraction of its capacity is engaged. System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2: impressions, intuitions, intentions and feelings. If endorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs and impulses turn into voluntary actions.”

Visuals. Images. Infographics. Videos. They are very much a part of System 1 where the mind is scanning and computing. It is the organisation’s greatest challenge to take this phase and convert it to System 2 where their consumers will stop, think and engage with the brand.

“It is important to think about the complete visual journey and how to use your content as a hook to draw the viewer in,” says Charlotte Coltman, PR and Content Marketing Executive at Xuber “If you do pique their interest ask yourself where they will go from there. Consider developing a weightier version where they can get further information. A good example of this is Pinterest – while your attention is caught by the initial image, it always links to a page with more information.”

Social Media Trends

Inside the mind

Visual content may well be inspired by the way in which we process information, but it is also becoming increasingly popular on social because it makes it easier to process the sheer volume of information. Just a glimpse at the average Twitter stream sees thousands of words slipping past, moment by moment. Add to this the fact that brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text, with recent study by researchers at MIT finding that it takes 13 milliseconds for the human eye to process an image, developing image-based campaigns is clearly a priority for brand managers.

A common issue outlined by experts within the social media market is that consumers are time poor. They have maybe one moment to glimpse at their preferred social platform before shifting to the next task on their list. So what brands need to do is create an image or identity that instantly captures the busy brain and entices it into a deeper dialogue.

“Visual material offers a powerful and universally understandable medium for personal and brand expression,” says Lana Strydom, Head of First National Bank Digital. “Social media has made it easy for brands and individuals to express themselves without the geographical and cost limitations of traditional media.”

Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a well-known form of psychological analysis that identifies people according to their preferred communication styles. There are visual people (those who grasp concepts quickly via images), audio tonal people (driven by sound), kinaesthetic people (touch and feel) and audio digital (the thinker).

“In an image you attract the visual people, the audio digital people if it is clever, the kinaesthetic people if it can elicit an emotional response and the audio tonal people if there is video integrated as well,”says Dawn Walton, Cognitive Hypnotherapist at Think It Change It. “The nice thing about visual social is that it can hook more people through these communication styles than simple words.”

Whether it’s the brain or the information overload or the simplicity – imagery is a powerful social tool that is definitely not going away any time soon. More and more platforms and solutions are being devised to take advantage of the visual maelstrom and the business has never had as much choice.

“It’s all a matter of realising the power that visuals have in everything that you produce – from promotions to basic advertisements,” says Tony Ellison CEO and Founder at Shoplet. “The potential for a business to quickly communicate itself in the guise of refined, witty images is what makes visual social media platforms so attractive. By catering the development of your visuals to what your consumer and/or client base is presumed to enjoy, your visual content will strike a positive impression on your following's perception of your business.”

Charlotte Golunski, Head of Marketing at Taggar adds: “With images, photos and pictures there is an instant reaction or recognition and in that moment, unlike words, we interpret them in our own unique way." Don’t abandon the words, though. As the Finnish author, Sebastyne Young once said, “A picture can tell a thousand words but a few words can change its story.”

An expert opinion

The psychology behind visual is complex, rich and exciting, but there are some things that the experts say brands need to avoid at all costs. Here are some of the no-nos of visual social…

Strydom suggests that the business should not:

  • Clutter the message with superfluous information
  • Push product information only. Make sure the type of content is balanced across various areas of interest
  • Produce sub-standard content because it is going online, produce the best quality content possible within budget constraints

For Flora Busby, Social Media Manager at Xuber, her top two things to avoid include:

  • Using images you don’t own – credit where credit is due!
  • Making it all about you. Nobody wants a guest who talks about themselves all time so don’t be that brand on social media either

And finally, Tony Ellison throws his top three into the ring:

  • Never post anything political, controversial or questionable, it’s simply not worth the risk
  • Never be negative, people respond to companies that radiate positivity
  • Never be boring, get your following as pumped for the day as you are!

In the third and final part of the series we will be examining how best to track visual social media by chatting to the agencies, providers and businesses that use it. We will also be listing top expert tips for making the most out of the visual social experience.

Storytelling One Frame at a Time

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