Should B2B Marketing Be More Visual?

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This post is inspired by the success of Instagram. It proves, once again, the impact of visual media on the human experience.

We can trace that experience from the primitive cave paintings at Lascaux, through religious iconography over the centuries and ultimately to digital representations of images, graphic elements, symbols, and so forth. Witness the success of Internet-based platforms such as Flickr, Photobucket and YouTube. One could argue that the genesis of social media platforms such as Facebook was, simply, social interaction around a photograph. Pinterest enables one less click to interact with an image and focuses on grouping disparate visual elements to generate new sensibilities.

Fresh business models around photographs continue to appear and will do so as long as humans are captivated by images. It’s a universal way of communicating – you don’t need to read or write a particular language to feel an impact or receive a message. Indeed, one doesn’t even need to be literate.

Marketing has always embraced visual elements, but the information technology revolution has opened a new universe of creative possibilities and distribution channels. We see this constantly; and in fact, we cannot escape it. Business-to-consumer (B2C) firms have led the way in the use of images and visual channels (e.g., YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest) to underpin marketing strategies.

To drive home the point: We are very fond of the powerful infographic on this page.

Business-to-business (B2B) firms are catching up. Company blogs with emotive images are one way of reinforcing key messages. In the last few years, we’ve also seen an increasing use of video to capture and hold the interest of prospects. This trend correlates to shorter attention spans and the declining efficacy of textual content in an era of information overload. This is especially true for a generation tuned to video games and television at the expense of books and newspapers.

Brand creation and reinforcement – as opposed to messages about specific products – may be the most important use of images in the B2B world. You should use the aforementioned platforms to get back to basics: Building enduring relationships with prospects by enabling and promoting social interactions around images – just as Facebook did with photographs at the beginning. Your goal is to be on the shortlist BEFORE someone shops for a product or service.

Images must of course be compelling. The art and science of aesthetics and positive emotions (especially compulsion) is itself a complicated subject as evidenced by the number of books and blogs on that topic. Regardless of your “secret sauce”, remember that the context of an image is equally important as the image itself. Poor usage can negate the effect of a powerful image.

We’re particularly impressed with B2B companies which use video-based case studies of existing customers. Written case studies will never go away, but there is no doubt about the extraordinary impact of seeing and listening to real customers talk about their success with a vendor’s products or services. Video images remove abstraction and bring a sense of immediacy to the viewer. This fosters trust, although the effect may be subtle. Many large B2B companies use this technique, but Cisco seems to stand out as a pioneer and leader in this area.

If you’re a B2B marketer and not thinking about these things, please begin immediately. You may gain a competitive advantage. Regardless of what you do now, your serious competitors will soon be fully immersed in “image battles”; and the minimum commitment for competitive parity will be larger than it is today.

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