How to Do Visual Marketing (even if you suck at design)

Tips for Getting Your Message to Resonate with Your Audience Using Visual Content... Even If You Sort of Suck at Design

When you’re designing a social media campaign - whether it’s to promote a product, a blog, or yourself - deciding what kind of posts you’ll be using is one of the first step to a successful digital strategy. While text has its place in content marketing, content is about more than just typing up killer blog posts.  

It's 2018, and that means like it or not, you need to expand your definition of content to include visuals alongside your well-crafted copy if you want to capture the attention of your audience. I know. I know. You're probably not a designer, and the thought of creating an infographic may just send you into a mild panic. 

No worries.

This post is going to help you work through the thought process you need to develop to boost your visual content game. I'm sharing tips and tricks to help you maximize your social media marketing with a little bit of eye candy - even for the most design-a-phobic marketer out there.

 

Why Are Visuals So Important Now?

Our social media feeds are filled with all sorts of content, ranging from life updates from our friends, to viral memes, to news articles and ads from every brand out there. For social media marketers, trying to stand out in the crowd can be super tricky. Influencers, brands and businesses are in a constant push and pull to create and distribute content, turning big and small companies into full-on media companies (Starbucks anyone?). But curating your social media feeds isn't as easy as it looks. And figuring out which posts will lead to clicks is even harder.

By incorporating great visual content into your social media strategy, you can get more eyes on your content. I mean, think about it: When presented with an option between 1,000 words of black text on a white screen or an infographic that tells the same story in icons and pretty colors, which do you think most people would choose? Now think about that thousand words again and imagine you're reading every word on your phone.

Distracted yet? 

THIS is why visual content is so effective.

You could have the best product in the world, or pen the most insightful blog post ever written. In today's environment, that's called an essay if you're not swapping out some of those black letters and white space with high res images, videos, and graphics. 

 

 

Visuals make messages more memorable

It’s sad but true that we humans now have incredibly short attention spans nowadays. You may have seen pieces on TelegraphUK or Time.com citing the Webdam study that says our attention span is as short as just eight seconds - which is one second less than a goldfish! While I don't really believe the hype I'm sure that's true for each of us at one time or another. 

As marketers, we have to remember that every single person in our target audience has better things to do... until you convince them that consuming your content IS the better thing to do.

 

So, take that eight-second rule and run with it to help you create the type of content that people will focus on for nine seconds, or nine minutes.

A great headline and a strong visual will rope people into consuming your content better than a great opening paragraph.

Another study, this one conducted by Brainrules.net, tells us that when we hear some information, we will only remember 10% of it three days later. But, use a picture to portray that same information, and we will remember 65% of it in the same time span. So, if you want people to remember your marketing messages - clearly visuals are the way forward.

 

Visuals increase engagement

I don’t know about you, but when I’m scrolling through Facebook, so many of those text-only posts filling up my feed get a quick glance and nothing more. The posts that make me stop and take notice are usually images, memes, or videos. But, this isn’t really a surprise. As someone who works in social media marketing, I know how effective images are for increasing engagement.

In fact, a study carried out by OkDork and Buzzsumo analyzing 100 million articles. The study found that when shared on Facebook with an image, articles received more than triple the amount of shares. The same holds true for Twitter - articles got more than double the amount of shares on Twitter when an image was included with the article.

How would you like to get double or triple the engagement on your social media posts just by including an image? It’s a super-simple change everyone can make that pays off in spades.

 

 

We know creating visuals is a pain point for marketers

Experienced marketers know and understand the value of using powerful visuals as part of their marketing strategy. Now, creating them and making them work where the problem arises. So, I have some data you will want to see.

A study created by Venngage looked at the types of visuals that are the most effective for achieving different outcomes. Original images, including infographics, are the most popular; and stock photos and memes are bringing up the rear. But, most marketers are doing just the reverse - they're relying on stock images and creating original visuals only when absolutely necessary.

But, why?

Building up a collection of original images or graphics can seem incredibly daunting and time consuming. And, for those marketers without a design background, or wizard-like skills in Photoshop or Illustrator, creating anything graphics related can seem practically impossible. But, it doesn’t have to be as hard as all that.

 

How to Create Awesome Visual Content

One of the biggest hurdles many marketers have to overcome, especially in the beginning, is coming up with enough content ideas to fill their schedules. You don’t need to have a huge bank of amazing photography lined up to do this though. I have some simple tips you can use in your own social media campaigns.

You’re welcome.

 

Mix up your fonts

There are literally millions of fonts out there that you can choose from when designing your social media graphics. Don't be afraid to mix it up a little from time to time. Using a combination of fonts in your design can help to emphasize a certain phrase, or make your post more visually interesting.

 

Thrown on an overlay

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Have an image that you want to use in your post, but need some readable text on there as well? Overlays are your new best friend. Using a transparent overlay like this can transform your original image, and turn it into the perfect background for your text - winning.

 

Let your text and images work together

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There's no rule saying text needs to sit in the middle of every image. Sometimes? yeah. Always? No.  Move your text around the image in a way that works with the elements of your design. Marrying these two aspects together will give your visual a much more professional appearance, and make it more interesting that a standard image with text on top.

 

Negative space is a positive thing

Making a design super busy is more likely to distract from your message rather than add to it. Sometimes, simple is better. Using a plain, colored background or even a background with a subtle pattern that evokes certain emotions will work AS LONG AS it's not too busy or distracting. The pattern should draw the eye, without confusing it. We're all about patterns at The Shelf. 

 

Use vector icons to enhance your message

These little icons can make big improvements to your visual content. They can be used to easily emphasize the importance of one of the words in your text, and they inject a note of humor or poignancy - depending on the situation.

 

Abstract can be awesome

Not every image you share needs to be a literal representation of your message. Sometimes, using a more abstract image can make your post more interesting, and more visually appealing.

 

 

Tidy up your text

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If you have a small block of text on your image, keeping it tidy can help streamline your image. A huge trend in graphic design right now is this kind of lined up text. If you’re struggling to make this work with the amount of words you have - play around with different fonts or font sizes until you can get it perfect.

 

Highlight your hashtags

If you’re including a hashtag on your image (which is a VERY good idea FYI), then make sure it stands out. A great way to do this is to place it inside a solid shape on top of your image, such as a circle, a cloud, or a star.

 

Rules for Creating Killer Visual Content

Visual posts are obviously creative endeavors, and each brand and designer will have their own style, vision, and message they wish to share. So, while every visual post will be an individual piece of content, there are a few loose rules that you should try and follow to keep your content killer.

 

Legibility

If you only take one thing away from this article, this should be it. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your design is, or how awesome your product is - if nobody can read or understand what you’ve posted, you might as well not have bothered at all.

One aspect of this that many marketers forget, is just how much time we are spending away from our laptops, and on our mobile devices nowadays. That means that your design needs to be easily legible on a small, vertical screen as well as on a large, horizontal one. Font size is usually what lets brands down in this area. Resist the urge to use a smaller font to fit more information into your post. Stick to the big takeaway, and make it big.

 

Color

The next thing to be mindful of is the color palette you’re using in your posts. Your first consideration here would be to think about what brand colors you have, and how you can use them in your post. Depending on your brand and the message you are trying to get across - they may not be the best shades for the job.

If you’re looking to energize or excite your audience, reds and yellows can help you do that; if you’re looking to give off a calm or trustworthy appearance instead, then blues will be more your speed.

You’ll also want to be aware of how your colors interact with each other. Some color combinations can create what are called “visual vibrations”. This is when you lay text of one color over a background of a contrasting color, and that combination results in the text appearing blurred and difficult to read.

 

 

Design Hierarchy

Design hierarchy is all about using typography, color, and positioning to convey which parts of your design are most important. Just like different heading sizes in blog posts, this provides readers with an obvious journey when they take in the graphic.

Most people around the world read from top to bottom, and left to right - so bear this in mind when positioning text and imagery. So, for example, if you include the largest, boldest text on the right hand side of your image - this can make it more difficult to read, as it goes against our natural reading order.

Remember that social media users are expert skimmers - you want to make this as easy as possible for them Put your big messages in the top left corner to help draw the reader in, with your least important aspects over in the bottom left.

 

Typography

Now, we’ve already mentioned how essential it is to select a font that is easy to read on your design, but your selection of typography can have a whole range of effects on your post. Different fonts will inspire different emotions from viewers. If you use big, bold type - it will seem more forceful. But, if you use a more cursive, handwritten style, you’ll appear more down to earth and friendly.

So, when selecting the typography of your campaign, spend some time determining which style works best for the message that you want to convey.

 

Distribution

While the actual act of posting your visual content will be the last step in your creation process, it should always be your starting point because the content you create is largely shaped by the audience you're targeting and the culture of the platform you're using.

Different social media platforms have different optimal post dimensions, as well as different user bases for whom you will need to adjust your designs. This is especially important if you plan to use the same designs across multiple platforms - you need to be sure it will work on each network, both logistically and in effectively communicating your message. 

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The Takeaway

The takeaway from all of this is that you NEED to include visual content in your content strategy, and creating visual content isn't as difficult as you may think. As long as you follow our advice, keep your posts legible and appealing, and always be aware of your platform and audience, you learn how to get better and better results as you post. 

If you still feel like creating these kinds of visual posts is beyond your ability, consider working with an influencer who already has success creating the right types of posts for your target audience. You can work with your chosen influencers and use the amazing visual posts that they created for your brand. This can be a great way to dip your toe into visual marketing, and help to show you just how much benefit can be wrought from your efforts.