By Chuck Frey published January 16, 2015

Experts Share Visual Content Mistakes to Avoid

CMI_VisualContentMistakes_0116_Frey-01

Like words, graphics and images can be powerful tools – but they must be used with great care to enhance, not detract from, your content marketing and branding.

Unfortunately, as visual content grows in popularity and inexpensive tools make graphics and images easier to create, many marketers churn out mediocre visual content that gets ignored by the very people it was supposed to influence. Even worse, some marketers post confusing or poor-quality images that don’t look like they’re from the same brand or meet audience perceptions of the brand.

To keep you from making common mistakes that diminish the effectiveness of your visual content, we asked seven visual content experts to share what mistakes you should avoid. The advisers include:

  • Paul Biedermann, creative director and owner of re:DESIGN, a boutique agency specializing in strategic design, brand identity, and visual content marketing
  • Rebekah Radice, a social media strategist, consultant, trainer, digital marketing specialist, and author of How to Use Social Media to Virtually Crush the Competition
  • Lisa Loeffler, publicity and promotions manager for social media guru Jay Baer and his popular Convince & Convert blog
  • Joseph Kalinowski, creative director of the Content Marketing Institute
  • Stephanie Diamond, author of The Visual Marketing Revolution: 26 Rules to Help Social Media Marketers Connect the Dots and numerous other books
  • Martin Shervington, a consultant, speaker, trainer, and coach on all things Google Plus and the community manager for Plus Your Business!
  • Donna Moritz, a social media marketing and visual content specialist, and founder of the Socially Sorted blog

What are the biggest mistakes marketers make with visual content?

Fail to strategize

“Your visual strategy should not only be a reflection of your brand, but embody it. A visual strategy is what brings your brand to life in all of your interactions and online engagements,” Biedermann says.

Fall in love

Too often, marketers get enamored with creating striking images and forget about what they’re trying to accomplish, Moritz warns. “What do you want your fans to do when they view your image? Marketers need to think of their visual content as a doorway to great information. It’s not about just catching the attention of fans with visuals but having them take action on your content,” she explains.

The Swedish-based division of Pepsi-Cola may have fallen in love with this attention-getting image of a voodoo doll resembling Portugal’s soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo that it used in a series of Facebook ads in 2013. Ronaldo’s fans and his team were not amused. Pepsi was forced to issue an apology.

Pepsi_Voodoo_Doll_Facebook

Think universally

Another common mistake is creating a single graphic or visual treatment to use across all social platforms. Every social network has specific guidelines and constraints for graphics. Each one spells out image sizes and other parameters that enable them to appear in their optimal form on many types of devices.

Yes, it’s time-consuming to create a separate optimized image for each social network. But if you want your images to perform well, you must tailor them to each channel as much as possible so that they can be presented without being cut off or distorted.

“Creating content that’s highly shareable should be your top objective,” Loeffler says. “Remember to take the time to step back from your personal creative lens and say, ‘If I was a fan of my brand, would this resonate and inspire me enough to share it in my social communities?’ ”

Don’t overstuff the visual

Pepto Bismol gave in to the sin of excess by trying to cram way too many visuals and too much text into this cluttered infographic.

Pepto_Infographic

Don’t grasp the brand

Another frequent faux pas made by marketers is inconsistency: They post infrequently or publish clashing images that don’t look like they’re from the same company. This approach can cause confusion and do more harm than good, Biedermann says. “A weak, conflicted, fractured presentation is the death knell for standing out in today’s extremely busy media environment. Only by presenting a strong, unified brand across all media touch points does a business stand any hope of gaining the traction it needs to be seen and understood,” he adds.

Another common mistake is neglecting to properly brand images, which helps audiences to quickly identify the image’s brand source. “Add your company name, logo, website address, and other important identifiers to your images. Maintain your brand’s look and feel by consistently using its colors, fonts, and graphics,” Radice says.

What are more effective approaches to these challenges?

Expand the horizon

Shervington recommends taking a bigger-picture view of your visual content: “Think storytelling. Take people on a journey through your content, linking each element back to another. Visuals can make content fly, but you need to know the direction in which you want it to go, and where it can land. Engagement for engagement’s sake is a rookie error,” he says.

GE Transportation created this engaging, interactive trip calculator to demonstrate how much fuel its new hybrid railroad locomotives can save versus conventional diesel-electric locomotives.

Trip_Calculator_Visual

Evaluate preferences

For best results, Kalinowski recommends testing different visual approaches and then tweaking your images based on the engagement data. “We test to see how well the images in the CMI blog posts are shared. We keep tabs on what works and what doesn’t,” he says. But this requires a major time commitment, he warns: “It seems there are always updates to the different platforms that will affect how images are previewed.”

Wear audience’s glasses

Moritz is a big believer in looking at your visual content from the perspective of your target audience, especially if you’re not convinced that it needs to be tailored to each social media network. “It’s important to step back and understand the nuances of each platform to see what type of content works best natively on that platform. Take off your marketer hat and step into the shoes of your fans. Then you will see that the styling and message of your visual content must vary from platform to platform,” she advises.

Use your fans’ content

Your fans already know they like their own images so why not use them? Coca-Cola’s Pinterest boards deliver on its promise of “Discovering moments of happiness, one picture at a time.” The global soft drink producer cleverly solicits user-generated images via its Flickr page, which it then repurposes for its engaging Pinterest boards. Consistent use of the color red helps reinforce its brand.

Coca_Cola_Pinterest_Image
Starbucks’ visual marketing program makes extensive use of user-generated content that shows its products in visually creative ways and people enjoying the products. In this example, Starbucks has transformed eight customer-submitted images to create a Facebook cover collage.

Starbucks_User_Generated_Images_Facebook

Grow your talents

Loeffler predicts that marketers and community managers will need to cultivate graphic design skills if they hope to respond to the increasing need for real-time content: “The ability to conceive, design, package, and showcase your visual content on the fly is the next set of skills that social media practitioners will need to possess,” she says. In other words, you can’t just conceive an idea for a piece of visual content and throw it over the wall to your graphic designer. This iterative process is simply too time-consuming in today’s real-time social media environment.

Don’t jump

Marketers must wear many hats in today’s tough business environment, making it tempting to focus on quick and easy image creation rather than taking the time to create the quality images that your target audiences expect. A growing number of free and low-cost image-creation tools make it easier to satisfy this need for speed.

But Biedermann cautions against jumping in too quickly: “While these tools can be helpful, I think they work best only after an effective branding/design/visual strategy is firmly in place. That is too often the missing link; as a result, far too many businesses add to the visual noise pollution rather than cut through it.”

In other words, it’s OK to use these inexpensive tools, but your graphic designer should create templates to help speed image creation and keep marketers on brand. Designers also should create detailed guidelines on the proper use of logos, color, type, and other visual elements. Do’s and don’ts need to be clearly spelled out to enable your visual content creators to develop a consistent brand experience for your target audience.

But isn’t this time-consuming? It can be, but Diamond shares a clever way to make time for it. “Look at what you’re doing in your business and eliminate something that has no impact on the bottom line. Magically, time opens up when you strategically eliminate things that are not valuable to your audience or your business,” she says.

What questions should content marketers ask themselves to get the best visual content results?

Our expert panelists recommend these questions:

Strategy

  • What are we trying to accomplish with our visual content?
  • Who is our audience and what content do they crave?
  • What problems does our organization solve?
  • How can we best position our business or brand and create a consistent look and feel?
  • What is our clearly defined vision of who we are and what makes us unique? How can we communicate those messages in a compelling way?
  • What metrics will we use to measure success? For which terms should this image appear in search engine results?

Design

  • Is this content worthy of creating a visual? Answer before you create it.
  • What graphics and visual assets appeal to our target audience and resonate enough to be highly shared?
  • Do the assets we plan to create adhere to our brand’s graphic identity standards?
  • How can we provide useful solutions and helpful hints and tips through graphics?
  • What do we actually want people to do with this content? What action do we want them to take? Should we include a call to action if that’s important to our campaign goals?

Skills

  • Are you nurturing your visual and graphic skill sets so your brand remains competitive and relevant in the visual content space?

Asking questions like these will help you focus your visual strategy so it gets the best results. As Diamond says, “There are so many visual choices that once you ask the right questions, you shouldn’t be at a loss for ideas.”

Need some help creating unique, impactful images, infographics, videos and other visual content formats? Why not try out one of these 27+ tools for better visual content marketing.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Chuck Frey

Chuck Frey is the director of online training for the Content Marketing Institute. He is also the founder and author of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the world's leading website covering visual mapping. In addition, he blogs about creativity, productivity and personal development strategies on his personal blog ChuckFrey.com. He has extensive experience in public relations, online marketing, content development and marketing, business strategy and creative problem-solving techniques. He is an avid photographer. You can follow him on Twitter @ChuckFrey.

Other posts by Chuck Frey

  • Katherine Kotaw

    Terrific article, Chuck, and well-timed as Visual Content Optimization (a term coined by Paul Biedermann) stands to become a driving force in content marketing in 2015.

    In traditional media, the marriage between written and visual content was a given. The two divorced in the early days of digital media, and visual was the loser in the custody battle. The focus was on words, words and MORE words and, because aesthetics didn’t matter to Google bots, well, they just didn’t count.

    Except, of course, to consumers who naturally take their cues from visuals. So then companies shoved visual content at their clients in the form of bad memes, bad infographics and boring stock photos.

    Finally — thankfully — digital content is maturing, and visuals are regaining their rightful due and respect.

    I think that new, stronger, better marriages are being formed between the best written and visual content marketers and that the new alliances will create groundbreaking content.

    • http://www.redesign2.com/blog.html Paul Biedermann

      Great summary, Katherine Kotaw — and as you know, I agree wholeheartedly!

    • Helen McCarthy

      Beautifully articulated Katherine – I totally agree.

      “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” ― Aristotle

      This is what happens when you combine great words with great visuals.

      • Katherine Kotaw

        Exactly, Helen!

  • Joseph Kalinowski

    Great stuff, Chuck! But of course, I am a little biased! Hats off to you for this great article.

  • http://www.sociallysorted.com.au/ Donna Moritz

    Great article Chuck, and refreshing in style with some great case examples… thanks for including my thoughts and illustrating it all so well… and lots to think about, for sure!

  • harrigaggiotti

    like Linda answered I am startled that a person able to earn $9815 in a few weeks on the computer . why not try this out

  • http://www.vinishgarg.com/ Vinish Garg

    Excellent article, and great real examples.

  • Detlev Artelt

    what a perfect post. Danke and Thx

  • Terri Zora

    I know I’m late to the party, but this was a great post. Thanks! My editor and I were looking through various infographics a while back and had an entire discussion about what we personally liked and didn’t like when it came to infographics and other visual content. Our main thoughts were that boring and confusing were two ways to lose us from the get go.