If you’re up on the latest content marketing trends, you won’t be surprised to hear that 91% of consumers prefer visual content above all other types. While this is partly due to our innate human ability to communicate through visuals, our audience’s obsession with image-centric content is surely being accelerated by the rapid pace of development in visual media technology.

All signs indicate that new waves of tech innovation will continue to expand our very definition of visual content – and our understanding of how to use it to bond with consumers. Case in point: the first “smart” contact lens was unveiled at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Dubbed the Mojo Lens, this new technology improves on the promise once held by Google Glass while also offering up an entirely new platform for delivering creative content. (Though if you’re anything like me, you probably aren’t ready for your eyes to be turned into computer screens just yet.)

To survive in this ever-changing content ecosystem, content leaders need to establish a stronger foundation for working with next-gen visual media. Here are some ways to start preparing your teams to continuously adapt their view of the visual content landscape, expand their creative strategies, and incorporate new and exciting visual formats and features into the campaigns they create.

Content leaders need to establish a stronger foundation for working with next-gen visual media, says @amyballiett via @CMIContent Share on X

Prepare your teams to deliver exceptional experiences

Consumers have high expectations for the content they choose to consume – and not just because they have a wealth of creative and informative options at their fingertips. They also have powerful creation tools at their disposal at all times, enabling them to produce engaging, high-quality content experiences all on their own.

These media-savvy audiences easily recognize when content appears unpolished, uninspired, or just plain lazy and templatized. And their resulting response will likely mirror 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, we need to raise the bar for visual content quality – which starts with the ways we empower our teams to continually deliver exceptional experiences. Following the three-pronged approach I’ve outlined below is a great way to get started:

1. Feed your team’s curiosity and drive to self-educate. We can’t work with innovative visual technologies we aren’t aware of or don’t know how to use. So, content leaders – and the talent they surround themselves with – need to train their brains to recognize new opportunities and acquire the skills required to act on them. The best way to accomplish this is with ongoing education.

For example, LinkedIn Learning offers up robust and curated online training courses that can be completed in just a few hours. Additional 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. Learning new visual skills is only half the battle. You also need to cultivate an environment where your team members have the ability to test out what they’ve learned and feel their creative explorations, ideas, and efforts are contributing to the team’s success.

For example, try carving out a few minutes at the end of each team meeting or creative brainstorm to discuss inspiring designs they’ve seen online or to share work they’ve created in those new formats.

Another approach might be to allow them to attend tradeshows like SXSW and CES to get more immersed in upcoming tech trends and see how others are applying them. Ask them to come away from the event with at least three new content ideas to pitch at your next team meeting and give them an opportunity to experiment with one of those ideas for an upcoming campaign.

You should also pay close attention to the channels that are resonating most strongly with your target audience, as well as the media formats that are performing best on those channels. Then, to help your content efforts stand out on those platforms, consider serializing your content — releasing multiple pieces of content that follow a continued narrative united by a custom visual language that is unique to the 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 the proper alignment, unifying themes, or consistent standards of quality, audiences can easily get confused, lose interest, and drop out of the experience.

Your first step should be to determine the overall look, feel, and voice all your visuals should conform to. Not all businesses will have access to studio-quality filming equipment or a team of camera-ready talent to work with. As long as you maintain a consistent design style and incorporate themed elements that your audience will associate with your business (such as your logo, brand fonts and colors, a spokesperson’s face, or even a company mascot), they will start to establish a recognizable bridge among all the assets you produce.

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

  • Use cookies or interactive quizzes to better segment your online audience, allowing you to then deliver up a custom microsite uniquely targeting each persona.
  • When exhibiting at a large conference, draw customers to your booth with a theme-related augmented-reality scavenger hunt that asks them to collect virtual and/or physical takeaways (like fact sheets or trading cards, or by taking selfies at specific locations in the exhibit hall) along the way.
  • Take advantage of the interactive video capabilities offered by various social media platforms to guide audiences through an exciting visual narrative you craft around your brand.

To raise the bar for visual content quality invest in PEP: Personalization, connected Experiences, and high Production values, says @amyballiett via @CMIContent Share on X
Once you have invested in a clear plan for creating recognizable, high-quality content experiences, it will be easier to repurpose individual visual assets for use across additional media platforms that your target audience might prefer to engage with.

Build a platform of technical expertise

If your content teams are primarily composed of jack-of-all-trades practitioners, they may struggle to keep up with the increasing audience demand for more sophisticated and stimulating visual experiences. As a content leader, it’s time to accept that it may take a village of specialists to deliver on their high expectations – and to start fortifying your team resources accordingly.

While you can certainly hire internally to add the specialized capabilities that advanced visual content formats may require, I recommend considering a hybrid approach: building a core marketing team in-house, while also partnering with a dedicated content agency or a team of skilled freelancers who can fill any gaps in expertise. This combined entity will allow your team to maintain strategic control of your content initiatives, while giving them a well of expert writing, designing, and developer talent they can tap when executing on experimental ideas and innovations.

Fine-tune your process for greater agility and efficiency

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 on a VR campaign involves a lot more complexity than what’s required to produce a static infographic.

While the foundational elements of your creative process should largely remain the same for any visual content you create, there are steps you can take to make that process more iterative and adaptable, so your team can maintain optimal efficiency – even when working in an unfamiliar creative environment.

I suggest starting at a minimum with the following:

  • Ensure all stakeholders are on the same page. This can be accomplished with a thorough creative brief, a kick-off meeting, or a combination of the two. Before content begins, it’s imperative to ensure everyone’s expectations are properly set and communicated to everyone who works with your creative team.
  • Lay a foundation for the content through a narrative and wireframe. Just as you wouldn’t construct a house without detailed blueprints, you shouldn’t expect your designers to create exceptional visuals if they don’t have a clear picture of what they are supposed to be building. By scripting and storyboarding (or wireframing) your visual experience upfront, your designers will have the direction they need to get the job done right.
  • Avoid creating content in silos. Great content requires constant communication, collaboration, and a mechanism for pressure testing assumptions. 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 end product.

Go boldly into the new visual 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 proactively set your teams up with the right skills, the right processes, and the right expectations, they’ll be better able to explore, adapt, and address those future challenges with confidence.

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