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Next-Gen Visuals Demand a Strong Foundation Today

Your content delivery systems could be closer to your audience than you ever expected – “smart” contact lenses.

Introduced at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show, the Mojo Lens technology improves on the promise once held by Google Glass. (Though if you’re anything like me, you probably aren’t ready for your eyes to be turned into computer screens just yet.)

Smart content lenses won’t be the only new visual tech in this ever-changing content ecosystem. That’s why now’s the time to ground your teams to successfully evolve with next-gen visual media.

Now is the time to ground your team to evolve with next-gen #visual media, says @AmyBalliett via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Prepare your team

Media-savvy audiences easily recognize when content appears unpolished, uninspired, or just lazy and templatized. And their resulting response likely mirrors the amount of thought and effort they feel was (or wasn’t) put into its creation.

To capture their attention and stay on their radar, you must raise the bar for visual content quality. It starts with how you empower your teams to continually deliver exceptional experiences. The following three-pronged approach is a great way to get started:

1. Feed your team’s curiosity and drive to self-educate

You can’t work with innovative visual technologies if you aren’t aware of or don’t know how to use them. Ongoing education lets the content team members’ brains recognize new opportunities and acquire the skills required to act on them.

For example, LinkedIn Learning offers robust and curated online training courses that can be completed in a few hours. Learning platforms like Udemy and Coursera offer similar education opportunities. If you work with designers who are adept at creating static images, encourage them to look for classes that can help them translate their ideas into animations. Once they have grown comfortable with that new skill, refocus their attention on other technical skills – such as learning to work in HTML5 – as the next step. The more multifaceted your talent becomes, the more agile and adaptable they will be as new visual opportunities emerge.

2. Embrace a team culture of innovation and inspiration

You also need to cultivate an environment where your team members can test what they’ve learned and see their creative explorations, ideas, and efforts contribute to the team’s success.

For example, carve a few minutes at the end of each team meeting or creative brainstorm session to discuss inspiring and innovative designs they saw or to share work they created in those new formats.

Cultivate an environment where creative teams can test what they’ve learned, says @AmyBalliett via @CMIContent. #visualcontent Click To Tweet

You also can support them attending trade shows like SXSW and CES to get immersed in upcoming tech trends and how they’re being applied. Ask them to pitch at least three new content ideas culled from those events at the next team meeting and give them an opportunity to experiment with one of those ideas for an upcoming campaign.

3. Invest in PEP: Personalization, connected Experiences, and high Production values

It’s not uncommon for enterprise teams to release volumes of disparate visual content pieces in pursuit of a single goal. But if these visual efforts lack proper alignment, unifying themes, or consistent standards of quality, audiences can easily get confused, lose interest, and drop out of the experience.

Not all businesses can access studio-quality filming equipment or a team of camera-ready talent. But all businesses can determine the overall look, feel, and voice all visuals should conform to. Maintain a consistent design style and incorporate themed elements in your content that your audience can associate with your business (i.e., logo, brand fonts, colors, spokesperson’s face, company mascot).

Maintain a consistent design style and incorporate themed elements in your #content that your audience can associate with your business, says @AmyBalliett via @CMIContent. #visualcontent Click To Tweet

From there, you can build individual campaigns as unifying components of your brand’s visual experience and further personalize messaging to drive increased engagement. Here are a few ideas:

  • Use cookies or interactive quizzes to deliver a custom microsite uniquely targeting each persona.
  • Draw customers to your conference booth with a theme-related augmented-reality scavenger hunt that asks them to collect virtual and/or physical takeaways.
  • Guide audiences through an exciting visual narrative crafted around your brand with the interactive video capabilities on social media platforms.

Once you invest in a clear plan for creating recognizable, high-quality content experiences, it is easier to repurpose individual visual assets for use across media platforms where your target audience engages.

Build a platform of expertise

It’s time to accept that it may take a village of specialists to deliver on your audience’s elevated visual expectations. While you can hire internally to add the specialized capabilities, I recommend a hybrid approach: Build a core marketing team in-house, while partnering with a dedicated content agency or a team of skilled freelancers who can fill any gaps in expertise. This combined entity allows your team to maintain strategic control of the content initiatives, while giving them a well of expert writing, designing, and developer talent to tap when executing on experimental ideas and innovations.

Partner with a dedicated #content agency or a team of skilled #freelancers to fill any gaps in #content team’s expertise, advises @AmyBalliett via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

3 must-have visual roles

Whether in-house, outsourced, or hybrid, your team must include three roles invaluable to creating next-gen visual content:

  • Visual strategists show visual content targets the right audience and contribute to marketing goals. They build the foundation necessary for individual content campaigns to succeed, relying heavily on the technical director’s guidance (see below) to identify which media trends to pursue and which ones to ignore.

Great visual strategists often have a career history that spans both marketing and design, giving them a thorough understanding of the science of visual communication, the core principles of content strategy, and deep customer insights. Their skill set will make it easier to develop and deploy end-to-end content plans that include goal-driven campaigns, a detailed breakdown of the media deliverables to be used, a go-to-market content strategy, and metrics for success.

While some visual strategists may also be adept at producing content, they function at their natural best when overseeing a team of producers who will handle execution.

  • Technical directors are tasked with keeping their fingers on the pulse of media innovation. They are adept at testing new products and building processes for the ones that offer the best potential to benefit the brand. 

Great technical directors should have expertise in Adobe Creative Suite applications, as well as the ability to work with alternative design tools when needed.

  • Creative directors work in tandem with the technical director to formalize new processes and build them into the creative team’s day-to-day workflow. Their role is to identify the visual language on which the brand centers campaigns while managing the team of content creators. 

They also should be able to dive into existing design assets and guide the team’s efforts to repurpose or improve them as needed. When hiring for this skill, look for professionals who bring at least five years of content design experience regardless of whether it’s in-house for brands or in an agency setting (or both).

Fine-tune processes

When working with new visual applications – like augmented (AR) or virtual reality (VR) – it’s highly likely you’ll encounter production challenges that even the most highly skilled teams might not have anticipated. For example, executing a VR campaign involves a lot more complexity than producing a static infographic.

While the foundational elements of your creative process should largely remain the same for any visual content creation, you can take steps to make that process more iterative and adaptable so your team can maintain optimal efficiency even in unfamiliar creative environments.

At a minimum:

  • Ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page. Accomplish this with a creative brief, a kickoff meeting, or a combination of the two before content creation begins.
  • Lay a foundation for the content through a narrative and wireframe. Just as a builder doesn’t construct a house without detailed blueprints, don’t expect your designers to create exceptional visuals without a clear picture of what they are supposed to build.
  • Avoid creating content in silos. Embrace an agile, iterative process with multiple cross-team check-in points throughout production to give everyone the tools and support they need to deliver the best possible product.
Don’t expect your designers to create exceptional visuals without a clear picture of what they are supposed to build, says @AmyBalliett via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

See boldly into the future

It’s hard to predict how emerging visual technologies and techniques like artificial intelligence, mixed media, and VR/AR may change how your teams and your audiences view the content landscape in the next decade. But if you set up your teams with the right skills, processes, and expectations now, they won’t need those “smart” contact lenses or other new tech to be able to explore, adapt, and address the visual future with confidence.

Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used). 

This article is an edited version of the original article published in CCO magazine in January 2020. Subscribe for free to CCO and get access to the monthly insights, video, and audio for content marketing leaders. 

Join author Amy Balliett for more about visual content strategy and planning at Content Marketing World this October. Attend her session and many other expert-led sessions. Register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute