Keep it simple and keep it visual


Are you familiar with the different learning styles? The visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic? Well you can forget everything you’ve heard.

 They’re not proven. Scientists report in the US journalPsychological Science in the Public Interest, that the research to support this idea isn’t valid. It’s a myth that training and education professionals like to keep alive.

We’re all visual learners first and foremost. However, it’s still important to share and receive information to appeal to our other senses if we want to fully engage our audience. Our brain receives about 40 million sensory inputs every second. Shorter attention spans, coupled with more distractions and interruptions make it hard to focus on what’s important. This modern day clutter demands marketers be more creative to capture the attention of their audience. Visuals help with the creative heavy lifting.

How do visuals help?

Two ways. They help with processing efficiency and expressive potential.

a) Processing Efficiency:

Reading text alone is hard work. Remember those text heavy PowerPoint presentations you had to sit through? The best presentations are visual heavy, text light. The text distracts the audience from what the speaker is saying. With that in mind, use visuals for impact and minimal text to make it easy on your audience to understand. Understanding precedes action.

The concept of processing efficiency is tested every day on websites and social media. People regularly jump in and out of these mediums. They scan, check, leave. The online channels work best when the image complements the message as this requires less mental processing. This is also true if your purpose is to educate. From an educational standpoint, off topic images only confuse your audience and limit the effectiveness of your message being understood.

b) Expressive Potential:

Visuals short cut our path to understanding. The cliché ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ is true. Just look at the popularity of infographics to convey sequences of information or simplify complicated concepts. Text together with pictures improves our learning and recall. When you really want an idea to stick, use videos instead. They’re proven to have an even greater recall than an image alone.

What’s the impact for marketing professionals?

From a marketing perspective the learning styles myth is great news. When managing in an environment of competing demands, limited resources and reduced budgets, the idea of tailoring communications by learning styles is a burden we can do without. The bad news is that simply adding any old visual to everything isn’t going to work either.

Here are some ideas to make visuals work for you:

1. Take chance on the unexpected

Using incongruent images can work well in an advertisement. Ads that feature moderately incongruent brand information result in better ad processing, improved recall and recognition versus congruent or extremely incongruent advertisements. The key is to introduce something that’s unexpected, but not shocking. In their bookMade to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath, cover ‘Unexpected’ in their SUCCESS formula as a necessary ingredient to make ideas shareable.

The idea of incongruence can seem at odds with maintaining brand consistency. The way to apply an incongruent image is sparingly. Bring it out of your toolkit when you need to attract attention for a new initiative or a major announcement. If you operate in a ‘me too’ market then a certain amount of ‘pop’ in your visuals will get you noticed.

2. Tell stories

Another way to share visuals is through story telling. Through a story we give our audience the ability to ‘paint a picture’ in their mind. That’s why story telling is so potent to fuse a concept into someone’s mind and keep it there. Stories allow people to imagine concepts and help them to remember key messages.

3. Embrace simplicity

When making choices, people will choose the simpler option as this is perceived as the safer option. The design Law of Pragnanz says that if an image is ambiguous we will interpret it as ‘simple and complete’ rather than ‘complicated and incomplete’. People favour simplicity. Consider this best practice and apply this principle across your marketing communications.

4. Employ variety (but not inconsistency)

Use a variety of communication techniques to grab people’s attention. Keep your message simple and mix it up. When you think of variety in visuals think of stories, images, drawings, infographics, and videos. Use them all across different platforms and mediums. When our message and medium is interesting and varied, we improve the retention of the information we share.

Do you have any other ideas that have worked for you?


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