If a picture’s worth a thousand words, it’s probably worth a lot more in dollars. You see, visual content marketing is like a secret weapon for the little guy; with a lot of creativity and a little effort, your business could finally stand on equal footing with major brands, racking up customers and prospects with the best of them.

Companies large and small are discovering that — with so many competitors turning to content marketing to differentiate their products and services — the power of a strong visual can often be the deciding factor in a campaign’s success.

Two major brands that have done exceptional jobs using images to their advantage are Target and Starbucks.

Target’s presence on Pinterest, for example, foregoes the mundane product placement photos that render so many lesser brands generic by comparison. Instead, the retailer engages its audience by combining images with text. The company’s Party with Pinners board does an excellent job of sharing images that are warm, inviting and captivating to consumers.

Likewise, Starbucks is using Instagram to elevate its brand image from that of a simple coffee company to more of a lifestyle company. Yes, Starbucks does showcase its products, but they do it in a way doesn’t seem like a typical advertisement. In fact, the company’s Instagram profile mixes in a variety of images that promote the brand’s values and reflect the interests of its followers.

The good news for entrepreneurs and small business owners is that visual content marketing is quick, easy and — when done right — highly effective. Some of the most successful and engaging campaigns take on a variety of graphic forms, including comics, memes, infographics, photos, videos and visual note taking.

Just consider why visual content marketing is defining a new standard through which brands engage their target audiences:

Consumers Devour Visuals

Reading requires work and thought whereas visuals can be passively absorbed. So it’s not surprising that consumers prefer to receive communications that blend words with imagery. And because it’s easier, it’s more entertaining. This preference holds true in the boardroom as well as the coffee shop, as evidenced by a recent Forbes Insight report that cited 60% of senior executives prefer to watch video instead of reading text when both are available on the same page.

Visuals Drive Social Media

Yes, consumers love visuals — but beyond what they love, there’s a good reason for you to adopt visual content marketing: it’s a great way to draw a sharing response from your customers. For proof, you don’t have to look any further than Twitter. Tweets paired with images pull 18% more clicks, 89% more favorites and 150% more retweets, according to Savannah Louie, a writer who covers marketing for SaaS platform NectarOM. If you’re using these channels — and who isn’t at this point — don’t you think you should be including visual elements too?

Equally important, consumers aren’t just viewing and sharing visual content, theyre remembering it. According to an infographic published by AdWeek, people recall 80% of what they see or do, but only 20% of what they read. By embedding visuals in your content marketing, you’re far more likely to create a lasting impression with your customers and prospects. Better still, if you underscore the visual with text or audio, you’ll potentially quadruple the odds of a consumer recalling your messages.

If you’re now sold on the idea of visual content marketing — and you should be — the next step is to make sure you’re packing some visual punch. One of the reasons Target and Starbucks were singled out earlier in this article is because both brands excel at visual content marketing. They get it, and they’re committed to producing strong visual content that hinges on three important variables:

Choosing Appropriate Content

For shorter pieces, such as a blog post, you may get away with using a stock photo. But why sell yourself short? Wouldn’t an infographic, or a short video summarizing your main points, carry more weight with your customers? Which do you think they’d value most?

For lengthier pieces, such as an ebook or a case study, using an animated character or theme could stitch it together nicely for the reader while boosting engagement.

Of course, if you’re short on time and money, using a stock image is still better than no image at all. In fact, studies show 40% of people respond better to text paired with images than plain text alone.

Including a Call To Action (CTA)

Sometimes entrepreneurs and small business owners are so eager to engage customers with visual content marketing that they forget to include a call to action (CTA), that little nudge that prompts readers to opt-in to your email list, share a post, or buy now. Your CTA can be subtle or blatant, depending on what you’re asking your audience to do, but it definitely needs to be there. Otherwise, you’ve wasted your time and effort producing content that doesn’t directly benefit your business.

Optimizing for Mobile

As a small business owner, you want every effort to pay off. When creating visual content, take the extra step of optimizing it for mobile because your customers and prospects expect to access all of your content without a hitch. And nothing turns people off faster than incorrectly linked pages, or content they can’t view on their device of choice.

Visual content marketing doesn’t have to be difficult, just compelling. Done correctly, you may soon find it’s your weapon of choice for leveling the playing field against larger, more established brands. Put it to use today and watch your leads and sales skyrocket.

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