Visual Content & Digital Marketing: Further Illustration

In my presentation this past week I covered “Social Media and the Visual World,” or “Digital Marketing and  Visual Content.” Here I want to take the opportunity to expand upon the topic by offering some strategies and practices from brands that I feel have innovative, consistent, and effective visual strategies (Threadless, Lego, Oreo) as well as other examples of powerful visual content, specifically data visualization.

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1. Threadless

During the summer of 2012 I stumbled upon Threadless and loved the concept and business model, as both a business student and artist. As we read about earlier in the semester, their machine is well oiled and successful : with no advertising, no professional designers, no sales force and no retail distribution, the company matches supply and demand seamlessly. My Christmas presents to my parents and brothers were all t-shirts that year.

Not only do they have a unique model but their visual content strategy is effective, engaging, and cost-effective. It’s important because the backbone of the business is the community, consisting of designers on one hand and on the other, if not designers, people with appreciation for good design and humor. Keeping front of mind, stimulating creativity and inspiration outside of the site, is paramount. The videos and images they create go beyond product and design images, often showcasing company culture and creative spirit: creating repartee between community and corporate.

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According to Inc., three marketing employees and a multimedia specialist each take a platform: Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, and Instagram. They also are on smaller platforms, like Periscope. The marketers primarily rely on iPhone cameras and Adobe Premiere, editing software that sells for less than $1,000. Posts mix in features of new designs, call-to-actions’s to vote on designs, discounts, giveaways, upcoming news, and special member offers. All posts are incorporated with relevant and original visuals, both images and videos. Posts are also catered to current events and cultural phenomenon (there’s a ton of Halloween themes and Back-To-The-Future shirts on sale now).

“It’s about keeping your brand relevant to what’s happening in the wider world,” – Threadless marketing coordinator Kyle Geib.

Further Reading

2. Lego

Lego is actually a powerhouse in brand content marketing across the board, with a depth and breadth of content to support its various products. This includes microsites, social communities, mini-movies, and magazines. They excel at social strategy by leveraging both brand-generated and user-sourced images and videos and featuring them on YouTube and Vine. As you can see from this video on shopping or this one on halloween, these can garner millions of views.

The purpose of the content is to spark the imagination and “animate” legos, both literally and figuratively. The videos are often geared to be amusing and relatable to the parents (who purchase legos) as much as children. Visual content shows the product in action, makes it interactive, can trigger nostalgia, and rewards creativity when Lego features crowdsourced content.

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3. Oreo

We are all familiar with the famous, opportunistic SuperBowl ad. But Oreo consistently churns out humorous and highly creative ads, and visuals, by looking at their products in new ways and in new contexts. For a brand over 100 years old, Oreo keeps things fresh.


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Oreo uses visuals to engage cookie lovers, showcase new or seasonal flavors, as well as introduce recipes and DIYs. Oreo’s social strategy is distinctive (what other cookie has the same amount of brand personality?). Though Oreo has more financial clout behind photographers and staff ensuring the cookies look good than perhaps an average company, the creativity and context of the visual is what differentiates Oreo from its competitors. Through its stream of visuals, Oreo tells a brand story and brings their customer along with them.

Data Visualization & Interactive Infographics

Some other things to check out are data visualizations and interactive infographics, which are rising in popularity and production as marketing trends towards visual storytelling. One of the coolest ones I’ve come across is “How Search Works” by Google (you should really check it out). This list also contains a lot of really interesting ones.

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What’s relevant here is that while the brand examples I outlined above achieve community engagement and brand storytelling, infographics and data visualization are highly useful for education, awareness, and persuasion for various causes– political, social, technological, environmental, you name it– and keep people engaged for longer and teach them better. As I said in my presentation, 90% of the information that goes to the brain is visual and 65% of us are visual learners. B2B companies, especially, could take an example from these firms and invest more of their marketing budgets towards visually showcasing what they do, how they do it, or the impact they do, when feasible.

8 comments

  1. Hi Alex, excellent follow up post. It was great to hear which brands you think have strong visual content strategies and I have to agree, the brands you mentioned are certainly top notch. I receive monthly Forrester reports and one article I read recently said “social content has reached the point that to be missing images is to be missing the conversation.” So you definitely are on point discussing this highly relevant topic. One point I found interesting in this report is that most brands are still in their infancy when it comes to understanding and analyzing visual content as there is undeveloped visual listening capabilities. Marketers at most brands have been listening to social data for over 10 years and have gotten pretty sophisticated at tracking hashtags, mentions and metrics like like sentiment and share of voice. As visual content continues to grow both from the marketer and consumer side, it will be interesting to see how value generated is tracked and measured.

  2. Alex, great post and awesome presentation. Oreo always rises to the top for strong visual content. In a world where marketers are competing for attention, it’s important to post strong visual content that has a chance of being shared. I agree that Oreo has more capital to create strong visual messages but the content isn’t expensive to create – brands just need to be creative and think outside of the box in order to come up with unique visuals that stand out against the masses.

  3. As a visual learner myself, I was very intrigued by your presentation on visual content & digital marketing, especially your stats about how much visual information we process at such high speeds. After learning these stats from you it no wonder that visual content & digital marketing are key the customer engagement on digital platforms. I am not very familiar with the infographics movement in marketing but the Google one you mentioned about is very interactive which has held my interest longer than any other infographic I have encountered. Overall, I think it will be interesting to see where larger, more well-established companies like Oreo take this visual content in digital marketing movement because I am sure but his time next year there will be a whole new type of visual content that all marketers utilize to grab consumer’s attention with.

  4. Alex, awesome post. As the owner of several Threadless tees, I appreciated your inclusion of the great visual content they crowdsource. As social media becomes increasingly visual, it is imperative that brands take advantage of its photographic and design talents. While the three brands you highlighted consistently publish terrific imagery, sadly most companies remain a step behind. One can only hope that more brands place more of an emphasis on their visual elements in an effort to communicate a strong, unified company message across social platforms.

  5. Great followup to a great presentation. Thanks!

  6. Love Google’s “How Search Works.” Visual and narrative content is becoming not only a great marketing tool for brands, but also a very lucrative business for publishers. See this recent sponsored post by Wall Street Journal on Cocainenomics (advertising Netflix’s Narcos):

    http://www.wsj.com/ad/cocainenomics

    What I think is changing in marketing is that information itself is actually becoming very much a commodity, and as a result, very little value is provided to potential customers in just getting information out there. I think most consumers are looking for relationships—to see brands in their everyday and engage with the products they like in a more creative, fun way.

  7. Alex, great post! I didn’t hear the previous presentation, but this article got me thinking about some of the great content marketers in the game. I came across a new Barbie ad this week and in the same way as many of these companies, it revolutionized the advertising style of a company that is now over 60 years old. I think the aspect of being able to place yourself in the scenario of a content marketing scheme is what makes truly great content, and the companies you mentioned did just that. Thanks for the article!

  8. Alex, excellent post and presentation. Like @oriordal I saw the new Barbie commercial (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2015/10/30/the-barbie-commercial-you-have-to-see/) and agree that based on the coverage and reviews it has received, as a great piece of content it can help revive a brand that has been on the decline. I also loved that you mentioned Threadless because I recently made a purchase and they really do have excellent visual content that sets them apart. Thank you!

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