What You See Is What You Get

According to a recent study and report from Nate Birt for Visually, high quality visual content can have a major impact on the conversion funnel. From studying brain scans to tracking eye movements, researchers have discovered that visual content is simply processed differently than text. Visuals communicate more information, more effectively.

Part physiology and part art, the reasons for this reality are varied. No matter where you market your products or services, from websites to billboards to print, including visuals should be a core tactic your communications strategy, says the report.

Quoting from a Nieman Report’s interview with Marcel Just, director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University:

“Processing print isn’t something the human brain was built for. The printed word is a human artifact. It’s very convenient and it’s worked very well for us for 5,000 years, but it’s an invention of human beings. By contrast Mother Nature has built into our brain our ability to see the visual world and interpret it. Even the spoken language is much more a given biologically than reading written language.”

That reality means photos, videos, and related tech gadgets play well with human audiences overall, not just humans in a specific demographic. A study, by 3M, put this observation in more measurable terms, finding that 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual. Further, visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text, says the report.

A few more neuroscience nuggets describe the communication benefits of the visual message:

  • Visual content generates 94% more views
  • Tweets with images get 150% more retweets, 18% more clicks, and 89% more favorites
  • We retain 80% of what we see, 20% of what we read, and 10% of what we hear
  • Visuals are processed 60,000X faster than text
  • 80% of the text on most pages does not get read
  • Visual content is (seen) 40X as often as text
  • There were 3.6X more videos on Facebook news feeds in 2014 than 2013

An early study, by VWO by Wingify, dug up additional academic research before testing the concept, finding that faces rule:

  • The message “contact Jason” with a picture of a phone achieved a 3.7% conversion rate
  • The message “contact Jason” in text, with a face photo, achieved a 5.5% conversion rate

A deeper example comes from an roundup of research pointing to the power of imagery, which includes the human face. They found that images generate empathy and improve conversion rates among viewers. When it comes to the type of human images that work, women, babies and attractive people are the perennial classics. Trite as they may seem, says the report, there is still research coming out that shows they work in many instances.

Of the 3, the most universal in persuasion is babies. Research, reported by PubMed, shows that we are all wired to react to a baby’s face. The results of this (and other) neuroimaging studies have shown us that babies instigate a high level of activity in our orbitofrontal cortex, or in laymen’s terms, they make us react emotionally. Adult photos typically have zero impact in this area of the brain.

The manic, ephemeral nature of social media means you only have a brief opportunity to catch your audience’s attention, says the report, so you’ve got to make the most of the eight second attention span you’ll get if your posts get noticed at all. Sprout Social says that, when visuals are included, the performance improves dramatically: photos are liked twice as frequently as text, and videos are liked 12 times as often.

Content marketers can support their sales teams and build their brands by communicating a sense of quality through visual content, too. A 2015 post from Jeff Bullas articulates 10 things content marketers should do to capture audience members’ attention, boost credibility and retain genuineness.

For additional information from Visually, please visit here.


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