There’s something happening on Instagram, and it’s not just over-filtered selfies and latte pictures.
A four-year study by business intelligence service L2 of the social media platform across 850 brands revealed that not only is Instagram the fastest-growing network, it also completely trumps all others for engagement.
Marketers have responded to this: The 2014 Social Media Marketing Industry Report by the Social Media Examiner found that over time, marketers with more experience prefer Instagram and its companion in visual social networking, Pinterest.
What’s going on? As it turns out, nothing new. As L2 notes, "Humans have been . . . reading words for hundreds of years. On the other hand, we have been reading visuals for thousands of years, and absorb visuals 50x faster than words."
The future of marketing, it would seem, is visual. As email marketers, we’re in luck with this trend. We operate on a platform ideally poised to display images—it’s just up to marketers to make the effort to embrace visual messaging.
Sure, you don’t necessarily need to step up your visual digital marketing campaign. But adding an arresting, emotionally connective image to your email is a relatively easy way to completely revamp your email marketing campaign. Because we live in a post-Instagram society, your average reader’s visual expectations are higher than ever before.
Consumers easily view and create high-quality, provoking images every day, and never before have they been so adeptly attuned to taking away narrative details and brand value from a simple photo. The ideal image elevates the message and creates additional context. It engages the viewer and makes them look a few extra seconds. Most importantly, it makes them click.
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind going forward:
Be as thoughtful with your images as you would be with your words. Merely defaulting to a stock photo of an autumn landscape or a model pantomiming surprise does not make a great visual campaign. At best, it comes across as disingenuous, unoriginal and, frankly, boring. At worst, a bad image distracts from the email and creates an experience contradictory to the message or brand.
Selecting the ideal image is not always about going with the most obvious choice, though. Images that are a bit deeper conceptually or need an extra second to take in can make the viewer pause and think. This split-second connection to the viewer is what you are ultimately after. Take the chance, and assume an intelligent, culturally informed reader. You’re much more likely to trigger that emotional connection that should always be your end game.
Don’t be afraid to give yourself options. After searching and searching for a few visuals that might work, the final test occurs when the image is married with the message. The result is always surprising. Images that you thought were slam-dunks can fall flat, while others you thought didn’t have a chance actually resonate the loudest.
Ultimately, images can trigger subjective responses that are not at all what you would anticipate. Allow time to gather feedback before blasting out your creative. Put a few options together and ask your peers to vote. Or better yet, split-test between a few images and see which one performs best.
Feeling intimidated by the prospect of unleashing your inner Picasso and attempting to create an email masterpiece? You shouldn’t be; there’s not art-school training required here. Bottom line: Care about your images, and so will your customers.
—Dean Silvestri is creative director at digital marketing company Lyris.
[Image: Flickr user JAM Project]