Hey, Look at Me! Why and How to Leverage Imagery in Content Marketing

May 2020

Woman narrowing her field of vision by framing hands around eyes

Getty Images

Here’s the truth: I skip over your online content marketing (blogs, media announcements, videos, knowledge center resources, websites, social media posts and more) when your imagery, or lack of, fails to capture my attention. And, as a career creative director, it’s not a unique response that just I experience; it’s a universal human response. 

People react to and process visual data better than any other type of content. The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. In a study, a team of neuroscientists from MIT found that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds. One of the study’s senior authors, Mary Potter, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences, said in an MIT News article: “The fact that you can do that at these high speeds indicates to us that what vision does is find concepts. That’s what the brain is doing all day long … trying to understand what we’re looking at.”

It’s easier to comprehend the power of a visual compared to a block of copy in the example below. (Try covering up the polygon with your hand and reading the description only and imagining what that text describes.) 

Polygon shape and text describing polygon

So why aren’t marketers prioritizing imagery to capture our interest? 

Marketing managers typically have an education focused on statistics, business, market research, communications and social science fields. They are busy creating strategies that help meet sales objectives, conducting research, evaluating product demand, establishing pricing strategies, identifying a target audience and determining the best channels to reach those buyers. And, many small business owners are tasked with wearing the hat of a marketer in addition to many other roles. Most marketers are comfortable offering audiences written content that is relevant, original, helpful and thought-provoking, but words alone will not advance messaging. It’s the well-executed convergence of concept + words + graphic design + imagery that wins. That takes collaboration with a graphic designer who is best suited to connect the work of wordsmiths and image makers. 

I’ve had the privilege of working with top photographers and illustrators, but fret not … it is possible to use stock imagery with impact when budget is a concern.

Here are some tips to help you leverage the power of visuals to make your content stickier, enable speed, improve comprehension and trigger emotion … told using the visuals pictured below. 

Graphic design samples that use imagery

  1. The illustration of the woman holding chaos at bay while looking toward the sun evokes relatable emotions. I received lots of feedback with people commenting on how this captured their mental state in the early stages of the pandemic. 
  2. Stock art is not a dirty word! Get creative with it by cropping it tight, converting to black and white, using tints … and marry it to your concept and copy.
  3. Integrate all of your elements (concept, copy, imagery, space, color) to work together. Never just slap on an image or a headline.
  4. Conveying concepts are at the core of successful messaging. Collaborate with your team and be willing to change copy or imagery for best results.
  5. Resist using too much copy … bold graphic interpretations have impact. 
  6. Some imagery can take a back seat but support the concept. 

Unlock this essential tool of using well-paired visuals with copy to enhance the potential of your content marketing to better meet your business goals.

Thank you for reading this.

—Maureen Joyce

Image credits (top to bottom, left to right): Robert Neubecker, Getty Images, Jonathan Reinfurt, John Kuczala (Nos. 4 and 5), Robert Pizzo. Designs: Twirling Tiger Media.