Literally, A Picture IS Worth More Than a Thousand Words

Traditional wisdom gave marketers three seconds to capture the consumer’s eye in the shopping aisle… or maybe 13 seconds… but how ‘bout 13 Milliseconds?!  A recent MIT study showed that using a visual in a presentation, it actually takes 13 milliseconds for your customer’s brain to identify and find meaning in it.

That’s fast. In fact, it’s ten times faster than the initial 1/10th second researchers had initially predicted.  For comparison, says the report, it’s ten times faster than it takes light to travel around the Earth’s equator. Researchers concluded that “the visual system is exquisitely adapted to the task of extracting conceptual information from visual input with every new eye fixation, three or four times a second.”

Mary C. Potter, MIT researcher, commented  “… 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… ”

This finding is very consistent with recent research, says the report, that shows that decisions are made in the oldest part of the brain (especially about survival and risk avoidance) while analysis and justification of decisions is done in the late-evolving cerebral cortex, the newer part of the brain.  In this light, a 13 millisecond visual response time isn’t surprising.  After all, you’d expect the “old brain” would develop the ability to VERY quickly identify and decide how to respond to potential danger, much more quickly than any subsequent “new brain” analysis of the situation, concludes the report.

The customer has an almost instantaneous ability to understand, find meaning in, and make decisions about visual messages.  Compared to the time it takes to read and interpret a bulleted PowerPoint slide, one can see why it’s so much more effective to communicate a sales message with pictures rather than with words.

So, the report suggests that if you want to get a powerful message across quickly to customers, begin selling with visual storytelling. A study by the Aberdeen Group points out that:

Right now, 87%PowerPoint & non-visual conversations, without any visual aid, dominate sales interactions with buyers. Whiteboarding techniques are used only 13% of the time in selling presentations.The Aberdeen research, albeit “whiteboarding,” found that conducting/leading a graphic conversation (as opposed to a presentation or static slide deck) leads to....

  • 29% shorter time-to- productivity
  • 15% shorter average sales cycles
  • 50% higher lead conversion rate

To access the PDF file of the technical aspects of the MIT study, assessing the minimum viewing time needed for visual comprehension, please visit here.



7 comments about "Literally, A Picture IS Worth More Than a Thousand Words ".
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  1. Robert Payne from, March 5, 2014 at 9:02 a.m.

    Great research and article.

  2. Pamela Horovitz from Internet Video Archive, March 5, 2014 at 11:16 a.m.

    OK, like the research. But what is a "graphic conversation" as referenced at the end of the article?

  3. Angie Thain from TailoredMail, March 5, 2014 at 11:43 a.m.

    Great article; the first thing this article made me think of was Pinterest. It's almost a completely visual way of engagement. I can scroll through pins very fast, and my eyes can scan and quickly find pins I like. And, so I wanted to pin this story; but alas, there's no visual image to go along with this post... ;)

  4. Kenneth Markman from kkm global brand strategies, March 5, 2014 at 1:10 p.m.

    Good reinforcement to intuitive piece of experience.

    We are hardwired...recall the cave paintings?

  5. Stephen Baldwin from Didit, March 5, 2014 at 3:16 p.m.

    Good article.

    But it could have used an illustration.

  6. Jack Loechner from Mediapost Communications, March 5, 2014 at 6:35 p.m.

    yep, could've used a picture, stephen... and, pam, it could be a whiteboard talk with graphs, charts, illustrations, sketches, doodles, or other memory joggers

  7. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis, March 10, 2014 at 11:08 p.m.

    Good article, but amusing that it had no image...

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