Book excerpt: Why brands must deliver compelling visual content or risk losing their audience

(Wiley Image)

[Editor’s note: Amy Balliett is founder and CEO of Seattle-based creative content agency Killer Visual Strategies. This excerpt is from her new book of the same name.]

While visual content in all its forms is king, quality visual content is the monarch that reigns supreme. Our ability to quickly process visual information ensures that we often can’t stop ourselves from subconsciously judging a book by its cover. And while opinions of quality may differ from person to person, there are universal expectations that align all audiences that brands must cater to.

The concept that we are all united by a set of aesthetic expectations may be most evident in the ways in which we judge physical attraction. Everyone is unique in what appeals most to them, but audiences often find common ground and form collective opinions on whom we deem handsome or beautiful. While commonly held definitions of beauty are often social and cultural constructs rather than reflections of fact, they are nonetheless powerful. This widespread appeal is used by brands of all sizes to garner consumer trust, attention, and ultimately sell us their latest products or services.

Amy Balliett. (Wiley Photo)

We are so attracted to beauty that it can easily cloud our judgement and lead us to unfounded and often unwavering conclusions. This is called the “halo effect,” a term that was coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1920.

Also known as the “what is beautiful is good” principle, the halo effect suggests that people look more favorably upon those who are deemed attractive. In the same vein, more judgement is subconsciously cast upon those who are considered to be less attractive by common standards.

Brands often take advantage of the halo effect. By using celebrity endorsements and models in tandem with their products, they’re subscribing to a formula that inspires seemingly instant trust and engagement among their audiences. But this effect goes beyond how we perceive people. Just as we may share common opinions on physical beauty, we often align in our impressions of design.

Perhaps one of the best ways to exemplify this lies in something as simple as website performance. Websites are a brand’s most important content asset. Sites that engage viewers are often visually rich, leading with motion graphics, infographics, iconography, and more to drive users through a conversion funnel.

Beautiful design reigns supreme?

You might be wondering why quality design is ultimately more effective than beautiful designs.

Imagine if you had the option of living in one of two houses. From a purely aesthetic perspective, both homes are extremely eye-catching. They incorporate all of the finishes you love in a house, have great curb appeal, and even have that wine cellar you’ve always wanted. At first glance, you would be thrilled to make your life in either of them.

But there’s a reason people learn about the bones of a house prior to buying. What if one of the two houses didn’t have working plumbing? What if the foundation was sinking or the walls were not insulated? Suddenly, these two homes that look the same and cost the same no longer deliver the same value for a buyer. While both catch your eye, only one can actually function in the way you need.

While this may be an extreme example, delivering value through your content is just as important as delivering something that’s visually appealing to the viewer. Of course you can have something that looks beautiful and quickly engages your target audience simply because of the “wow” factor of the design. But to keep their attention and build long-term loyalty, your content has to deliver value beyond a pretty picture.

By delivering content that puts an equal focus on form and function, brands have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

There is likely no better example of this than Netflix. What began as a mail-delivery DVD rental service evolved into the world’s leading entertainment destination in under a decade. Netflix could have simply focused their efforts on delivering a great streaming experience, licensing content from production houses and making it accessible to anyone with access to the internet. But with their success, it wouldn’t be long before others followed. They needed to find a solution to maintain customer loyalty, and that solution came through the prioritization of both form and function in their original content.

By moving entertainment into an online streaming platform, Netflix had millions of data points at their disposal. This data showed them which Hollywood stars were trending, what storylines mattered to different viewer demographics, which genres drove the most views, and much more. They used this data to inform the creation of bingeworthy and game- changing original content, combining production value with stories that were sure to inspire viewership.

Today’s audiences have 24-karat-gold expectations

Our perceptions of quality have greatly evolved over the years, and today’s media landscape has elevated our expectations beyond imagination.

By letting user preferences guide storytelling, Netflix and services like it have created a world in which quality entertainment is the daily norm, not the exception. Gone are the days when families wait for the hit Thursday-night lineup of Seinfeld, Friends, and ER. Today, we make our own lineups every night of the week.

Streaming content delivers 24-karat-gold value to audiences around the world, and all brands must now compete to provide the same level of quality to their customers.

But, while Netflix’s strategy has disrupted the idea of “engaging” content, it has also contributed to an ever more distracted audience. The formula of delivering bingeworthy media has taught consumers to expect nothing but the best at all times, and Netflix is struggling to keep up, as evidenced by a July 2019 stock-price drop reported by David Trainer in Forbes.

As Netflix and services like it continue to throw money at the problem brands have an opportunity to capitalize on the holes left in their audiences’ viewing schedules in between seasons. Consumers continue to crave high-quality entertainment, and brands are poised to deliver. In fact, trends show that consumers are beginning to expect equally entertaining content from their favorite brands.

To succeed in today’s content marketplace, brands must deliver high-quality visual content at all times. If they lead with poor form and function, they risk losing brand loyalty and trust in the best-case scenario — and their entire business in the worst.

Book excerpt: Why brands must deliver compelling visual content or risk losing their audience Book excerpt: Why brands must deliver compelling visual content or risk losing their audience Reviewed by TechCO on 7/18/2020 Rating: 5

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