You Should Be in Pictures; Tips for Integrating Visual Content into the Marketing Mix

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There’s been much buzz recently about the use of images in social media marketing.   More and more platforms are visual (think Pinterest, Instagram, SlideShare and Tumblr).   Facebook’s Timeline is all about pretty pictures.  And it seems that every other tweet references an infographic.

We love images because they offer a nice diversion in a busy social media environment, and, let’s face it; viewing can be more fun than reading.   Savvy marketers are jumping on board and exploring ways to incorporate imagery into the marketing mix.

It is about winning and keeping attention.  The right image can bypass our filters, trigger feelings and emotions, and get people in a buying mood.   They can communicate complicated information in an easy-to-understand way.

Yet there are some pitfalls; it is not necessarily easy to put images to work in an effective way.  This article explores the trend of visual content marketing.  It discusses challenges, and offers tips for overcoming these and tapping the power of pictures in marketing.

Writer’s Block:  Why isn’t it Easy to Put Images to Work?

Left-and-Right-brain-function-illustrationBrains or beauty?  Left brain or right? Words or images?  For as long as marketing has been around, there‘s been a tension between the use of words and pictures to sell products.

This probably has something to do with silos and the way we function.  Few people are great at both design and writing.   Pictures take many marketers out of their copy-centric comfort zones.

E.g., PR has always been more about copy, and not as clued into graphics as advertising.  It is hard to talk about online marketing without bringing words into the picture (no pun intended), especially keywords and SEO.  On the latter point, many, including myself, have often recommended against eye candy like Flash animation due to its lack of contribution to SEO.

Fortunately, in most cases you can use both words and images.  Yet, one usually needs to take center stage.

While using imagery may involve unfamiliar skill sets, a look at the psychology of Web marketing may convince you about its benefits.  Here is an excerpt from the ClickZ article Which Brain is Your Website Selling to?

… the instinctual reptilian brain can exert a powerful influence over both emotion and logic. In fact, if there’s one thing you can be sure of: in a battle of the brains, the reptilian will always win.

So what does this mean for websites and landing pages seeking to sell a product or service? The reptilian brain responds rapidly to visual cues. First impressions are always based on appearances, not information, and in the buying process, words are secondary to visual cues.

If images of dinosaur brains don’t sway you to use imagery in marketing, perhaps cold hard logic and numbers will.   Like me, you may be growing weary of but also are fascinated by reports about the crazy amounts of referral traffic generated via Pinterest, the visual content marketing poster child.  E.g., in the article: Why Marketers Should Invest in Visual Content Creation, HubSpot reports:

… a Shareaholic study revealed Pinterest generates more referral traffic than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined; only Facebook and StumbleUpon generate more. What does this mean?  Some early data is indicating that Pinterest is even driving sales directly from its website — in a survey of people with Pinterest accounts, 21% have purchased an item after seeing it on Pinterest.  [It} is now the number three social network in the country for total visits, and videos and infographics are peppering blogs everywhere.

The article points out that visual imagery can be a powerful way to support and communicate brand attributes, and that images drive engagement too:

But images drive more than just attention — they drive engagement. In fact, just one month after introducing timeline for brands, Simply Measured reports that engagement is up 46% percent per post, and visual content (photos and videos) have seen a 65% increase in engagement. 

Follow Professional Design Principles and Heed Basics in Image Usage

While there certainly is a place for user-generated content, in most cases you will want to give your campaign an edge through professional quality images and artwork.

Get help from the pros if you don’t have the talent in-house to produce the needed images.  E.g., it might not be the best idea to rely on stock photography.  A NY Times Bits blog post reported on an eye-tracking study by Web design and usability authority Jakob Nielsen.  Here is an excerpt:

“Big feel-good images that are purely decorative” are mostly ignored online, while stock photos or generic people are also intentionally disregarded. In contrast, when users know that a picture … is real they will engage with the image for extended periods of time.

Of course, you don’t want to ignore other basics – such as steering clear of overly large images that take too long to load and frustrate users; see this link for more tips from Nielsen.

Another point to consider:  when you are curating images (see my article on the benefits of content curation for marketing) take care not to skirt copyright laws.  Fellow Windmill Networking writer Michelle Sherman touched on this in her post To Pin Or Not To Pin: How Businesses Can Use Pinterest And Reduce Their Legal Risks Of Copyright Infringement.

Finally, avoid making your images too complicated, as pointed out in this article on Ragan’s PR Daily:

If you cram too much information into your graphic, you’re defeating its original purpose…infographics are “more clickable” than other multimedia, such as video, which may turn a reader off since it usually requires sound, as well as investing more time to watch….

Tune Layout, Leverage Specific Features of Each Medium

As I said above, in most cases you can put both copy and pictures to work.  It is important to understand the medium at hand and make sure that you are taking advantage of the features and optimizing layout for each.

Forbes tells how to do this for Facebook in the article Turning the Facebook Timeline into Content Marketing Gold.  It says:

The new Facebook Timeline makes it easier than ever for you to tell your brand story and take control of that story as well as visitors’ experiences on your Facebook Page. [You can] turn a boring Facebook Timeline into a successful content marketing initiative. Here are five features of the new Facebook Timeline that you don’t want to miss

The article tells how to use the cover photo, posts, milestones and apps to greatest advantage.

The Business 2 Community blog posted about text coexisting with graphics: When Copywriting and Graphics Need to Play Nice.  It focuses on use of images and layout with blogs, also quotes Nielsen, and says:

Put blog content on the left…. the left side of the screen is going to get the lion’s share of attention: and if you don’t believe us, believe usability expert Jakob Nielsen, who can statistically tell you that people spend more than twice the time looking at the left side of the screen rather than the right…Good design is essential to helping your copy stand out.

Fit Images into an Integrated Content Marketing Strategy and System

When done right, content and social media marketing employ images not just to grab attention – but also to engage, and coax the reader down a path that will hopefully result in some type of meaningful outcome, AKA conversion.  You want to make sure that the images you use support the greater effort and have a specific place and function in the overall system.

Magdalena Georgieva of HubSpot guest posted a great article about the Rise of Visual Storytelling in Marketing on Pro Blogger.  She explores Instagram, Slideshare and Pinterest, and offers the following advice:

Make sure that your visual content includes calls to action that take viewers to a landing page on your website related to the specific visual contentyou can include calls-to-action at the bottom of infographics, in the descriptions of images, or on the last slide of presentations as a natural next step for readers who want to further engage with your brand.

The post Pinterest for Bloggers – Image Based Content Marketing on Blogging Tips says:

Some blogs mention that Pinterest traffic is useless.  Why only Pinterest? In fact, referral traffic from Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others are useless too if you don’t know how to use them, that is, convert them…. In short, how you use Pinterest traffic depends on YOU. There is no fixed manual. You have to tweak and experiment.

The Mashable article 12 Essential Tools for Content Marketing suggests using embed code with your infographics, and shares a link with instructions about how to do this.  Doing so will ensure that the image points back to the right place (your landing page or website) when reused elsewhere.


I hope you have found my tips and the linked articles and resources to be useful.  I firmly believe that we are still in the early days of visual content and social media marketing, and look forward to coming back to the topic, as well as hearing about experiences and tips from others.

Is your company successfully integrating visual content into your content marketing mix?

Bob Geller
This monthly Content Marketing and Social Media column is contributed by Bob Geller. Bob is president of Fusion PR, and has a background that combines a solid grounding in technology with a 25 year record of success in sales, marketing, and public relations. Bob joined Fusion in 2000, and has helped build it into a leading independent tech PR agency. He has led client teams that have achieved outstanding results in areas ranging from enterprise tech, to telecom, online, CE, financial and clean tech. Bob also helped launch Social Fluency, a subsidiary of Fusion that develops dynamic social media practices which are integrated with traditional PR efforts. Bob has provided critical commentary to publications such as CMO Magazine, PR Week, PR News, and Bulldog Reporter. He created and manages the influential blog Flack’s Revenge, and has contributed to Cision Navigator, Ragan’s PR Daily, and Handshake 2.0, among others. +Bob Geller
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  1. says

    Great post Bob, with a hoard of very useful links. I picked up that real vs. stock photos are preferred.  What do you think? What are the challenges to meeting that demand with a high volume blog or news portal?

  2. says

    Joel, thanks for reading and commenting.  Great question, I think the answer involves leveraging third party content via smart and ethical curation (where you respect copyrights), and choosing battles so that you do take the time to invest in original photo or artwork for the most critical campaigns

  3. says

    Just wanted you to know, Bob, that I made use this information to persuade Markus Pirchner (our PR Conversations “Techster”) this morning to add a thumbnail image on the top, RIGHT-HAND side of our new post,
    Grunig PR Masterclass: Insight into diversity and excellence ( ).

    Cited you and your post for reasons why the right-hand side. Namaste.

  4. says

    Sometimes picking the right silly, quippy funny image is what takes me so long when blogging. But I think it’s a signature of my style – something that grabs the reader as part of the story. Videos, presentations.. right images for right medium, need to get on that for sure. FWIW I still have not tried Pinterest, but if you’re in a ‘picture = 1,000 words’ kind of business, those stats are tough to ignore.

  5. says

    Thanks, Davina and Judy.  Glad the post caught your attention and was useful.  I add images to all my blog posts these days, videos too sometimes.

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