Editor's note: This post was originally published in June 2016. It has since been updated to reflect industry changes.
In today’s digital landscape, visual content has become essential for earning people’s attention and engagement.
BuzzSumo surveyed over 1 million articles to discover the perfect word-to-image ratio: Articles that used one image for every 75–100 words received twice the number of shares than articles with fewer images.
Video in particular has surged to the forefront — they’re shared 1,200% more often than posts containing text and images combined.
To stay competitive in your content creation efforts, you have to include visuals as part of your strategy. The look and feel of your content will influence how others see your brand. But many marketers still struggle with choosing the right visuals.
It’s not as straightforward as picking a pretty picture — but you don’t need a background in graphic design to tell an effective visual story. In this post, we’ll walk you through the basics of using visuals to elevate your message.
That's what we like to hear.
Why do visuals work?
It’s well-established by now that visuals are more effective than text. According to the Social Science Research Network, 65% of people out there — the majority — are visual learners.
Science has even given this phenomenon a name: the picture superiority effect.
Visual content has more staying power with viewers, making it an invaluable tool for driving home the most important parts of your message.
And visual content doesn’t exist only as a standalone — it can effectively complement word-heavy work like blog posts and eBooks too. Well-positioned visuals can help break up otherwise daunting walls of copy into digestible chunks.
Your visuals must be as well-positioned as this samurai.
What type of visual content can I create?
Stock photos are the go-to visual resource for many companies — especially smaller ones working on a budget. (At Sprk’d, we’ve certainly been guilty of turning to Adobe Stock on occasion!)
Not everyone will have the budget to take bespoke photos every time you need to make a social media post. That said, you’ve got lots of options outside of boring stock photos.
To get your creative juices flowing, here are seven formats that the Sprk’d team uses on the reg:
- Quote images (they’re so shareable!)
- GIFs (our team’s personal favorite)
Salt helps you to retain more of your creative juices.
7 guidelines for creating effective visuals
When creating visual content, skill certainly helps — but it’s not the only factor at play. You don’t have to be a whiz at Photoshop to put together a look that works. Start carving out your brand’s visual niche by following our seven-step checklist:
1. Match your brand voice
To keep your brand’s public persona consistent, your visuals must line up with your brand voice and writing tone.
Let’s say you envision your management consulting firm to be elegant and sophisticated. In that case, you might want to choose a clean and minimalist visual style.
At Sprk’d, we love cartoon unicorns and cheeky GIFs — but our irreverent graphic style wouldn’t be appropriate in that context!
2. Keep your buyer personas top of mind
Your content must always appeal to your ideal audience’s needs. So make sure you know how you want your audience to react to your content, then select visuals that will inspire that response.
If you know your customer base is older and doesn’t spend much time on the internet, maybe pass on repurposing the latest meme that’s been making the rounds on college Facebook groups.
Don't use this.
3. Choose relevant visuals
Your visuals should clearly relate to what you’ve written, and should serve a specific purpose. Irrelevant or redundant graphics will simply distract your audience from your core message.
For example, if you want to inform your audience of a special sale you’re holding, but you’re visually telling the story of a cute puppy frolicking in a field — your actual message is going to get lost.
I'm sorry, what was I saying?
4. Choose relatable visuals
People respond best to images when they can envision themselves in that situation. That’s why photos with real people in them are often the most memorable.
But whatever you do, just steer clear of obviously staged stock photos — the ones that look corny and unrealistic. You know the ones.
Yes, this is really what happens when I sit down to work at my desk.
5. Evoke strong emotion
“People don’t remember what you did; they remember how you made them feel.”
Yeah, okay, it’s a huge cliche. But it’s not entirely without value in the marketing world: To be memorable, your content should prioritize building an emotional relationship with viewers.
And people relate especially well to positive emotions. If they see a guy who’s really happy to be dealing with your consulting firm, they’ll be more likely to feel warm and fuzzy when thinking about your brand.
Not all stock photos are evil. I'd cut a deal with these ladies.
6. Color coordinate
Unless you have a good reason to go dull, keep your colors bright and eye-catching! These automatically redirect the viewer’s gaze and draw their attention.
On a more complex level, you might want to start using the psychology of color to inform your choices. Different colors (and even different shades) can profoundly impact how people feel and behave.
Ideally, you’d combine the theory and psychology of colors to build a memorable brand palette — which will make your brand more visually recognizable in the long run.
7. Use more than one
We basically made this point at the very beginning of this post, didn’t we? But the more visuals you use, the more opportunities you’re getting to reinforce what you’re saying.
This tactic is especially effective if you have a variety of visuals that, when put together, all tell a cohesive story.
I’m not a designer. Can I still make my own original graphics?
Yes! You don’t have to hire or even be a trained graphic designer to effectively incorporate visuals into your content.
For one, Canva is a robust free tool that makes it relatively painless — dare we even say fun? — for designers at every level to start creating.
Want to read more tips like this? Sign up for our 6-week content detox now: It’s a FREE email course that contains our best advice for whipping your writing and design skills into shape!