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  • Writer's pictureElana Duffy

A picture is worth 1000 words... but is content still king?

We’ve all heard the saying: “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” The earliest recorded use of the sentiment was in 1911, where newspaper editor Tess Flanders advised journalists to “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” Images have always had a big impact on how people approach marketing and brand communication. Companies invest significant sums in the visual components of their brand building: on logos, packaging, flyers, commercials, eye-catching displays on the ends of shopping aisles and more.

But is it still accurate to value images at 1000 words? Tess Flanders’s advice came eight decades before the Internet. That’s more than three generations of humans. Content and our consumption has changed.

Anywhere you see people these days, you see their phones. Last week, at the ballet, I counted four people in my row with Facebook open on their phones as Act One was in full plié. An optimist would say that man has a new best friend. A cynic would say we have a societal addiction, complete with withdrawal symptoms during those dreaded times without cell service.

But, what exactly are we addicted to? It’s not the phone, it’s the content.

Smartphones have fundamentally changed how we discover, consume and share content. People are constantly taking photos and videos. When they’re not, they’re looking at those shared by the rest of the world. It’s hard to estimate how many images we see online per day. A recent Nielsen Report found that the average smartphone user spends about 100 minutes per day on their phone consuming media, and, according to a different study by Quicksprout, 63% of all social media content is made up of images.

Where there are eyeballs, advertisements will follow. In a recent study, eMarketer estimated U.S. 2016 digital ad spend to be $72.09 billion, surpassing TV spend for the first time, driven by an increase mobile ads. Visual content represents at least 25% of total digital ad spend.

This begs the question: With such inundation, is a picture still worth 1000 words? And if not, what can we do to stay compelling and relevant?

Scarcity, or at least the perception of it, drives value. The basic law of supply and demand shows as we increase the quantity of a good available in the market, the price goes down.

Industries experiencing a physical to digital transformation are the most affected by supply saturation. Take the example of music. When the CD gave way to the MP3, the scarcity of a song evaporated. Today, you can walk around with thousands of songs in your pocket, instead of twelve or thirteen. A generation that was given a smartphone in grade school now balks at the idea of paying $1 for a song.

So what about images? Now, between personal media and advertisements, consumers are hit with a barrage of images on screens all day. Not only has the value of a picture gone down, but the effectiveness of image-based advertising has gone down too, i.e. the cost of attention has gone up.

If the picture has been commoditized, and attention is now the scarce good, what does this mean for our marketing? What should we do, and how can we stand out?

Well, a picture may not be worth a thousand words anymore, but a story still is.

In the post-image economy, we need to bring stories back. Infotainment is content that both informs and entertains the audience with a compelling, relatable story that captures and keeps an audience’s attention while delivering a clear narrative. In short, you’re still going to need the written word.

Designing infotainment takes practice. Here are four things to keep in mind that will help you tell a compelling story and stay relevant and competitive:

  1. Know your objective. It’s a blessing and curse of online marketing - your content can reach an extremely wide audience. You need to determine what audience(s) you are trying to target and with what objective. Your message should be clear, as in they should be able to tell immediately that you are talking to them, and it should inspire them to take an action that you have articulated internally beforehand.

  2. Emotions matter. One of the reasons images can be so powerful is their seemingly unlimited capacity to convey emotion. A key difference between infotainment and pure information marketing is the provocation of strong emotion. Use mascots, avatars, testimonials and characters to produce emotion and make your message more memorable and impactful. Just as with the Objective in #1, be intentional on what emotions are being targeted.

  3. It’s about them, not you. People want to see themselves in the media they consume, so create a relatable, interactive experience. Inform questions that your target audience will want to have answered when you design your communication, not what you think is important for them to know. And the more interactive the better to help separate you from the pack of countless things scrolling by their eyes on the train (or at the ballet).

  4. Human touch. A story is worth is a thousand words. Well, a human is worth a thousand stories. It is no accident that voice is taking over - Siri, car commands, Alexa, etc. Adding the human touch via visual, video and/or voice goes a long way in infotainment campaigns.

As marketers we were brought up to believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, and so image-based advertising and brand-building became dominant. However, as images become increasingly commoditized and attention the scarce good, we need to adapt and think outside the box (or screen) to get our message through. Infotainment is one way to do this, delivering a compelling story in a short amount of time that is relatable and memorable. The brands that master this new frontier will be the ones who pull ahead in the coming years.

P.S. - For those of you still wondering if a picture is worth a thousand words, this blog post is 1,000 words… You tell me.

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