The science behind “a picture is worth a thousand words” is of prime relevance to B2B marketers. Pictures and other visual stimuli dramatically affect how we absorb, process, and retain information.
Vision is our dominant sense:
Expediting information processing
Visual information increases our ability to effectively and efficiently process information that we might otherwise find challenging. Here’s a classic example:
Text version: a curved line with every point equal distance from the center
Packing an emotional punch
Yet the power of visual goes well beyond expediting the processing of data, to also provide us with a much richer emotional experience both psychologically and physiologically. Pictures both enhance and sway our emotional response to information, often subconsciously, affecting our prevailing attitude towards the subject in question. Consequently, emotions are a key aspect of the decision making process. “[Emotions] play an essential role in decision making, perception, learning, and more … they influence the very mechanisms of rational thinking.”[i] (For more on this, read our post: How Psychographics and Insight Selling Drive B2B Behavior)
Persuasive storytelling best practices advise us to marry an idea with an emotion to more powerfully convey that idea. Visual storytelling elevates this art by leveraging its inherent emotional qualities to create a transformative, memorable experience. For example: Xerox uses the teachers’ inherent desire to help student learn to improve penetration in the K12 education market.
Today, between the internet, Big Data, and 24/7 mobile access, information is available to us in overwhelming amounts. Yet, it’s also available to us in a highly visual medium. Done well, information rendered in a graphic form conveys complex ideas almost effortlessly. Such a format is particularly effective for marketers needing to communicate the value of their complex solutions in an easily ‘digestible’ manner.
Moreover, visual representations of data can reveal patterns and connections, and place into context information that might not otherwise be visible, meaningful, or relevant. Data visualizations allow you to compare scales and show relationships in a manner that immediately conveys relevance. Providing your audience with a visual landscape or “information map” is critical to helping them rapidly orient themselves amidst otherwise meaningless, confusing, or overwhelming data. For example: this Adwords bubble chart displays significant amounts of data in an easily understandable format.
As knowledge is filtered through the lens of our individual ideologies and perspectives, providing your audience with a perspective-setting context is critical – especially if you are marketing innovative solutions or taking an insight selling approach and need to shift mindsets. Data journalist David McCandless describes the importance of creating relevant and perspective-changing data by finding fresh ways to combine datasets such that they reveal previously hidden meaning. (Learn how he ‘gets datasets to change mindsets’ by viewing his TED Talk.)
For B2B marketers wanting to make a personal, emotional appeal, affective imagery is a key component to guiding decisions involving risk. Set a mood or evoke an emotion associated with your audience’s aspirations, fears, attitudes, and values – all key aspects both motivating and mitigating prospects’ buying decisions. Engage prospects by connecting into a key value or motivator and its associated emotion to drive the effect you want to achieve in them (see our post, How to create the content buyers say they want to read).
Visual storytelling and data visualizations truly reside at the intersection of art and science by enhancing our engagement with ideas and information. By leveraging our various senses and faculties, marketers can merge the different ways information is conveyed and absorbed such that the whole experience is truly greater than the sum of its parts. And should you doubt the power of a great visual to trump the rational mind, simply stare at a great optical illusion for a bit and try to talk yourself out of its enchantment. In fact, try this one and let me know how you make out:
In this illusion, the colored regions appear rather different, roughly orange and brown. In fact they are the same color, and in identical immediate surrounds, but the brain changes its assumption about color due to the global interpretation of the surrounding image. Also, the white tiles that are shadowed are the same color as the grey tiles outside the shadow.[ii]