Using Visuals to Engage New Audiences: Case Studies

March 06, 2017

The value of using visual content in your marketing is more apparent than ever before. The popularity of Pinterest and Instagram, calls to include images with Tweets and Facebook posts, all are evidence of a growing trend: increased reliance on visual content.

There’s science behind the trend too. Your brain processes and remembers images 60,000 times faster than words. The simple explanation is that images often do a better job of painting a picture – telling a story – than text. It seems like businesses plan to take advantage of this benefit: 21% of content marketers recently surveyed by Clutch say that including more visuals in their content is a priority.

How do you use visuals effectively?

The main challenge to creating effective and unique visual content, like graphics, videos, and presentations, is that production costs have decreased substantially over the past few years.

Consider the process of creating an infographic. Before the proliferation of drag-and-drop tools, pre-made templates, and graphic design software, you had to invest in Illustrator or Photoshop and then teach yourself how to use these tools to create an infographic. (And this doesn’t even include the necessity of learning about image and information hierarchy, color choices, and other components associated with online usability.)

Now, you don’t need a professional designer to create an infographic or a high-end camera to capture an image or collect video footage. But, if every business uses the same templates and tools, how do you know if your visual content is original? How do you compete?

This article presents four case studies to walk you through how to make your visual content go above and beyond. It requires adhering to the tenets of the acronym P.E.A.C.:

  • Practical
  • Entertaining
  • Awe-inspiring
  • Credible

The Type of Visual Matters: Stock Photos Not Best Option

Including visuals is important no matter what content format you’re creating. It helps move your content closer to Rand Fishkin of Moz’s definition of 10x content by helping it be more user friendly, elicit an emotional response, and present information in a pleasing format.

But, some visual formats perform better than others when it comes to engaging an audience.

In a recent study that explored how digital marketers use visual content in their marketing strategies, 35% of marketers said that they use stock photos more than any other form of visual content.

kinds of visuals produced the most

The frequent use of stock photos presents a conundrum. They’re used the most but perform the worst when it comes to engaging your desired audience.

Infographics and original graphics perform the best for about 42% of marketers, followed by charts and data visualizations (26%), and videos (20%).

kinds of visuals that perform best

Why do infographics and data visualizations perform better than videos? Visuals make ideas more digestible and memorable. In fact, the combination of visuals and text are over 300% more likely to be remembered than text alone.

The good news is if only 30% of marketers surveyed create infographics and only 14% use data visualizations, the majority marketers have yet to take advantage of these engaging visual formats.

Using P.E.A.C. to Create Visuals That Engage Your Audience

When it comes to creating visual content that engages your reader, it’s important to follow the rules of P.E.A.C.

P.E.A.C. stands for practical, entertaining, awe-inspiring, and credible. Content that performs well always has at least one of these elements. They’re the characteristics that impart value to the reader.

The four case studies that follow demonstrate how to incorporate each tenet into your visuals.

1. Practical Visuals

Let’s explore how to produce visual content that’s practical, or valuable to the reader. This means that the information the visual portrays addresses a reader’s burning problem or pressing challenge.

To identify user problems look to a few sources:

Survey Data

Looking up data in response to survey questions about greatest challenges in email marketing, social media marketing, cloud computing, or whatever topic your business covers, will help you identify the problems and challenges users face.

For example, if you’re a content creator at a marketing agency that offers email marketing services, you may find a report that highlights three email challenges: targeting and segmenting an audience, growing a list of subscribers, and tracking and reporting results.

A practical visual may focus on one of these challenges and show how to overcome it.

Personal Reflection

Consider the biggest pain points you’ve personally encountered. Chances are, if you struggle to understand a particular concept or perform a specific task, others do too.

Even though the process of self-reflection is not data-driven, some of the top performing visuals on Pinterest are infographics of recipes, “how-to” guides, and DIY projects.

Take a look at this image:

popular image on Pinterest

This picture has nearly 60,000 re-pins on Pinterest. Why? It doesn’t take a designer to see that the image isn’t anything special. The photograph is relatively low quality and the font is hard to read.

So what makes this image so “pinnable” – so engaging? It provides practical information that clearly solves its audiences’ burning problem: how do I make a body scrub?

How to Make a Visual Practical

  • Portray information that provides value to the reader
  • Answer a pressing questions
  • Address a significant challenge by providing actionable steps to overcome it

2. Entertaining Visuals

Have you ever seen a viral image that people just can’t help but share? What’s the secret behind that image?

What it really comes down to is entertainment. And there’s data to support this. A study by Moz and Buzzsumo found that content formatted for entertainment purposes – like videos, quizzes, or lists – is most likely to get social shares.

Let’s assume you’re making a series of tutorials to educate users about your product. The tutorial itself already meets the requirement of practicality, but how do you make it entertaining?

One example is the series of Photoshop Tutorials called “You Suck at Photoshop.” The videos feature a depressed narrator, Donny, who lives a lonely and pathetic life in his parent’s basement. This character instructs you on how to use Photoshop.

What you soon realize is that Donny channels his frustrations through Photoshop. In one tutorial, “Covering Up Your Mistakes,” Donny attempts to remove the evidence of what appears to be a dead cat in his living room by erasing the cat from a photograph.

photoshop tutorial video

Donny’s absurdity makes his tutorials highly entertaining to watch, which is why each one has well over a million views. The videos go beyond simply educating viewers to entertaining them as well.

While the tutorials have a repetitive tendency to close with Donny spiraling into hysterics, each one achieves its ultimate goal: they walk you through the exact steps required to use the tools to achieve specific effects. This is a perfect example of content that is both practical and entertaining.

How to Make Visuals Entertaining

  • Portray a relatable story
  • Engage the audience by using emotion to elicit a connection
  • Facilitate interactions – make a quiz a reader has to take, a list she has to scroll through

3. Awe-Inspiring Visuals

“What makes certain ideas and products viral?” asks Jonah Berger, professor at the Wharton School and author of the book Contagious. The element Berger deems most important is awe.

Visual content that goes viral must inspire awe. But what does that mean, exactly? What type of visual content elicits awe?

One example is an infographic produced by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, titled “World’s Deadliest Animals.” It breaks down the number of people killed by animals each year to highlight that mosquitos, in fact, are the deadliest animal.

World's Deadliest Animals, an infographic from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

What makes this image so compelling?

The infographic’s main goal is to raise awareness about malaria and to urge people to vaccinate themselves against the disease.

It does a good job, wouldn’t you say? Well, what if it was titled, “10 Reasons Why You Should Vaccinate Against Malaria?” This isn’t as effective.

The first version compares the amount of human deaths caused by different animals to show that even though shark attacks are in the news, malaria – or death by mosquitos – is actually the number one human killer.

The second version simply tells you information that you probably already know. Malaria is a dangerous disease. You don’t want to get it. Even though the visual may outline 10 steps you can take to protect yourself, most people will ignore the advice. They may brush off the risk: “I won’t get malaria.”

The creator understands that to be awe-inspiring, the visual needs to have a shock factor.

How the Visual Elicits Awe

  • Draws comparisons between familiar situations to put the effects of malaria in a relatable context
  • Has shock value ­– humans and mosquitos are the primary killers of humans
  • Makes you stop and think about the image

4. Credible Visuals

Engaging visuals highlight credible information. They present hard facts in a visual manner, ultimately making them easier to understand and process.

Think back to the last report you downloaded from an agency. This lengthy PDF would be intimidating without visuals to complement the text and data.

Reports that include an infographic give the reader a choice: either read the full report or scan the infographic for key findings. Consider the two examples below. Both portray the same data about website redesigns from VWO, but which are you more likely to process quickly and remember: the list of statistics or the infographic?

web redesign data

The infographic creatively puts data in a relatable context for the reader. It’s easier to process because the numbers are associated with images.

How to Make Visuals Credible

  • Include reliable information like data
  • Put data in context by associating it with images
  • Use visuals when information may be difficult to process on its own, like a list of statistics

Takeaway: Visual Content is a Necessity But Needs P.E.A.C.

Visual content is no longer just an added benefit to text-based content. It has become an absolute necessity. By amplifying your writing with infographics, charts, SlideShares, and videos, you ensure that your audience stays engaged, and even more important, they are more likely to remember the information.

So, you want to create shareable, engaging visuals that are original and stand out. What do you do? Follow the tenets of P.E.A.C.: practical, entertaining, awe-inspiring, and credible.