In this ‘new normal’ of a global pandemic, it has never been more important for brands to communicate with a sincere, authentic visual language which is relevant to their target audience Dr Rebecca Swift, Head of Creative Insights at Getty Images, offers top tips brands should consider when it comes to visual marketing, based on consumer research.
There’s an old saying that a picture speaks a thousand words. Yes, it’s a cliché, but in many ways, it’s plainly correct. I see this adage played out every day when it comes to visual marketing. Indeed, visual content has power on how people perceive, interpret and react to a story, a product, or a brand.
In my role analysing and predicting the course of global visual language, it’s important for me to understand how visual content can affect people, how they respond to it. Recently, a lot has been changing in our world. Consumer culture has changed dramatically in the past several years – and that was even before Covid-19 changed our culture even further and re-defined our ‘new normal’.
Earlier this year, Getty Images unveiled pioneering new research that uncovered the key factors that contribute to consumer decision making. Four key factors that inform and impact decision-making stood out: technology, sustainability, wellness, and realness. We call them ‘forces’ because they’re a powerful influence on the way people behave. Honing in on these forces has allowed us to identify the areas where consumers really respond to visual content – and equally areas where visual content can alienate consumers if done incorrectly.
In this ‘new normal’, it has never been more important for brands to communicate with a sincere, authentic visual language which is relevant to their target audience. Let’s go through each of the forces and take a closer look at what they reveal about consumers and how brands can best communicate with their customers by activating them.
Wellness goes beyond physical health to encompass mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. It also encompasses the relationships we have with others. The rise of the health and fitness sector, along with holistic health awareness has made wellness a priority for people globally. It is one of the main things they want for themselves and their family members, with 88% of people saying they value physical health and 90% saying they value emotional health.
The focus on wellness has only intensified in current times. People are being reminded and encouraged to get outside both for physical and mental health. When it comes to how brands can meet consumer needs around wellness, the visual content they share can drive this by depicting togetherness of family and friends – virtually as well as physically, along with images portraying stress relief and contentment.
That brings us to the next force – realness. People today seek authenticity, both in themselves, and from the marketplace. They want truth in advertising and demand greater transparency from the brands they connect with – in fact, 74% of people stated they want to know how their products are produced. Consumers also want brands to stand for something. They want to support brands that align with values that are important to them, such as inclusivity.
It goes without saying, therefore, that visual content should strive to be authentic and representational of a diverse cross-section of society. Try and avoid tokenism here and instead take an honest stance towards inclusion – and that includes celebrating all aspects of diversity, including age and ability. Interestingly, Getty Images’ top selling image for the keyword ‘women’ in 2018 was a group of senior women enjoying a yoga class together. Images that celebrate diversity and inclusion and provide the viewer with a sense of real human experience have the power to connect. Realness is powerful and not something a brand should overlook.
Until very recently, technology was the force that created the greatest amount of dynamic tension in people’s lives. While the majority of people – particularly those in the Millennial and Generation Z demographics – said technology connects them to those who matter most, many others were wary of its effects on bringing about negative self-image and sacrificing real-life connections in pursuit of digital ones.
Yet, attitudes have recently been evolving due to the Covid-19 crisis, which has necessitated self-isolation practices. This quick shift in how people live their daily lives has seen technology become a force that unites people. Internet usage increased sharply as people began to work from home and connect to their friends and loved ones – whom they couldn’t see in real life –- via their devices. Moreover, technologies like streaming movies and games have brought entertainment and comfort to many.
Brands offering technology products or services can address the positives of technology and assuage consumer fears around its negative aspects by highlighting the ways in which it brings people together. Imagery showing people using technology to connect and bring joy normalises its use in everyday life and helps people feel confident using it.
Additionally, controversial technology topics such as artificial intelligence (AI) shouldn’t be avoided in visual marketing where it is a key enabler of your customer experience. In general, humans feel happier with AI if it benefits them in some way and is part of their everyday experience. In fact, our research found that AI as a topic splits opinion (60/40 in favour). There are two ways to approach AI visual content. One is integrating app and smart tech usage into lifestyle, travel, healthcare, industry, education, and business content, which normalises and reassures those that are still nervous. The second is creating futuristic and positive visual content that depicts how we might live our lives or how the tech might look in the years to come. This creates an aspirational viewpoint on the technology for those who are excited about it.
With Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion having driven headlines around the world in the past year, you’d have to have been living under a rock not to have noticed society’s attention and turn towards sustainability. Environmental consciousness is more important to consumers than ever before. Research has shown that people who say they are passionate about sustainability will pay 10-15% more for a product or service if the company making it is committed to sustainability. However, there is also a disconnect when sustainability collides with things that bring people pleasure and improve wellbeing – 48% of people have also said that although they know they should care more about the environment through their purchasing habits, convenience takes priority. Personal desire can often override consumers’ alignment with sustainability.
With visions of toilet paper stockpiling and disposable gloves, masks and water bottles in high demand you could be forgiven for thinking sustainability has ceased to be a concern for business. In fact, against expectation we have seen customer searches for ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable living’ increase by 142% and 201% year on year for the month of March. It would appear that while some expressions of sustainable living (reusable items) have taken a back seat as personal concern overrides consumer commitment to sustainability, the issue of sustainability is ever present, never more so as our connection with the outdoors increases in these times of restricted access.
Visualising sustainability in the current climate we recommend brands go back to the basics and use images which speak to the simple pleasures in life.
Putting it all together
Our world is changing rapidly, especially at the present moment. At a time when there are more eyeballs online than ever before, brands stand to capture consumer attention and using the right visual content to do so can make a massive difference in how people perceive your brand, both now and in the future. Understanding the key forces that drive consumer behaviour is key if brands are to make inroads. By choosing visuals which reflect and represent your audience and brand purpose, you have the opportunity to engage consumers with your mission and forge ever deeper connections.
By Dr Rebecca Swift
Global Head of Creative Insights