How to add meaning to B2B marketing with visuals

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The power of visuals in B2B marketing is undeniable. And while the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is cliché, there is truth to that statement. In fact, the accuracy of that statement served as the presentation jumping off point for one of today’s leading visual marketing experts in late July.

As part of the Content Marketing Summit at LinkedIn, presented by Ragan Communications and PRSA, Ekaterina Walter, evangelist at social media software company Sprinklr, and best-selling author of books such as The Power of Visual Storytelling: How to Use Visuals, Videos, and Social Media to Market Your Brand, opened her after-lunch session on July 31 with some intriguing questions: Do you do “heart” marketing or “head” marketing? Do you sell a product feature story? Or do you tell how a product changed someone’s life?

Giving is the best communication

To illustrate her point, Walter showed a very moving video from mobile phone company TrueMove of Thailand. This television commercial, “Giving is the Best Communication,” opens on a scene of an older woman chasing a little boy out of her drugstore. She catches him, obviously having shoplifted a bottle of medicine. In the middle of scolding him, she is interrupted by a man who stepped away from his soup kitchen. He asks the little boy if his mom is sick. The boy nods. The man pays the woman for the stolen medicine and instructs his daughter to produce a bag of veggie soup fixings. He puts the soup fixings in a bag with the medicine, gives it to the boy, who promptly runs off. Fade out.

Thirty years later we see the same man, now older, keel over and fall to the floor, apparently from a heart attack. He’s taken to the hospital, bedridden, unconscious, on oxygen. His daughter is given a summary of his medical expenses: 792,000 baht (~$22,500 USD). The daughter, distraught, begins to cry. A sign on the door of the soup kitchen is shown reading “Urgent. For sale.” The family has no money to pay the medical bills. Next day, the daughter is at her father’s bedside, head down, when she realizes another copy of the hospital bill is there. However, this time it reads “0 baht.” A notation says, “All expenses paid 30 years ago. With 3 packs of painkillers. And a bag of veggie soup. Best regards, Dr. Prajak Arunthong.” The doctor who saved the man’s life and paid his hospital bill was that little boy who he helped 30 years earlier.

Louder than words

In one simple audiovisual file, Walter demonstrated the emotion and meaning that 250 words could only communicate antiseptically. And in much less time. “Our minds process visuals very quickly,” Walter said. “Ninety-five percent of communication is visual.”

In her series of slides, she elaborated that thinking in pictures is our nature and our verbal mind does not work without our visual mind. It speaks to the heart. And while virtual reality could take visual marketing into the future, here and now the mind’s eye uses images to transcend cultures and languages, according to Walter. “They speak louder than words.”

Each 60 seconds

With every passing minute 208,300 pictures are posted to Facebook; 27,800 photos are shared on Instagram; and 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, according to Walter. “Every 48 hours, we produce as much content as existed from the beginning of time until 2003,” she said.

If there isn’t a picture of a particular thing on the Internet somewhere, it doesn’t exist. That’s the takeaway from this series of visual stats.

The ROI of visual marketing

Ekaterina Walter at the Content Marketing Summit at LinkedIn
Ekaterina Walter at the Content Marketing Summit at LinkedIn

Why does any of this matter to B2B marketers? With the average attention span of modern adults down to 8 seconds or less in 2013, according to Walter, B2B messages have a better chance of being perceived by a goldfish with an attention span of 9 seconds.

By way of comparison in 2000, the average adult attention span was 12 seconds. With less time than ever available to communicate, B2B marketers need visuals to breakthrough to their customers because symbolic language takes too long. “Brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than words,” Walter said.

Beyond that, the return on visual B2B marketing is double that of words alone. For example, web pages that contain compelling images receive 94 percent more views than content without visuals. Plus, pages with video generate 100 percent more time on site than non-video pages. And to clinch it, when it comes to the bottom line, viewers are 85 percent more likely to purchase a product after watching a product video, according to Walter.

“In the age of infobesity, visual storytelling is a solution to leaving your own footprint on the hearts of others,” she said.

Think creatively

Walter urged her audience to think creatively with visuals, suggesting among other courses of actions, using cartoons in email newsletters to drive open rates. According to Walter, newsletters with cartoons have a 45 percent open rate compared to the typical 5 to 8 percent. And engagement is much higher, with customers actually looking forward to receiving B2B messages in anticipation of reading the next cartoon installment.

Also, SlideShare is great for B2B lead generation. It can turn customers into brand advocates who will spend twice as much as normal. (Read the B2Bnn primer on SlideShare here.)

No product is boring if you make customers feel good

However, what if your product is boring? Walter completely denied the possibility of boring products. “No product is boring,” she noted. “There is a community that uses your product every day.” And they are enthusiastic about it and committed to it. But B2B firms must connect with them.

For example, Cisco produced a video for Valentine’s Day in 2013. While up to that point there had been only three ways for a man to truly express his love for a woman (i.e., expensive diamonds, tropical vacations, carving her name, his name and a heart into a tree) now there was a fourth: a Cisco router. But in all seriousness, Cisco took what could be a mundane product to some and turned it into comedy marketing gold. In the process, they let their customers know they don’t take themselves too seriously. And that made Cisco’s B2B customers feel like they could relate to the company.

“We believe people never forget how you made them feel,” Walter said. It’s not about how many hits you get; it’s about the experience you deliver to the people.

“Don’t just create marketing campaigns,” she said. “Build tribes! Inspire movements!” It’s about businesses getting back to the human element, she concluded. Because you don’t buy from brands, you buy from other people.

Main photo via Ekaterina Walter’s presentation. Insert photo via Derek Handova

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Derek Handova

Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).