Picture This: Using the Explosive Trend to Visuals in Social Media

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

visual eye graphicIf you don't already have a "visual marketing strategy," your healthcare branding message could be quickly slipping behind the power curve. This is more than an exercise in graphics; some see it as an important trend for healthcare marketing.

Healthcare providers, hospital marketing executives and medical advertising pros need to leverage the new emphasis on (and audience expectation for) pictures, images, videos, charts, drawings and/or artwork that tell your story and support your brand.

The "picture" elements of marketing and advertising-from print ads to television to your online presence-have as much, if not more, impact as the words, sounds, colors and whatever else contributes to the communications experience. And we're seeing a consumer and cultural trend that is picture driven.

In its infancy days, what we now call the Internet was strictly an alphanumeric affair. There were no pictures, and the color pallet was as dynamic as a green-on-black oscilloscope display. Letters formed words and words and numbers did all the heavy lifting to exchange ideas and information.

Fortunately, that visually bland phase didn't last long; otherwise the Internet would be as commonplace today as the telegraph. Technology has, in the past decade or so, propelled dramatic advances in television and computer science...and even more significant changes in society and how we use (or rely upon) the Internet.

As we look ahead, we see an increasing need for a clear strategy in healthcare marketing that recognizes, directs and utilizes pictures with a purpose. A large measure of effective branding-for hospitals, medical groups, and health systems-is what people see on their big screens, desktop screens and mobile, small screens. Social media and social networking sites are, more than ever, platforms for communicating with photos, drawings, graphics and videos of all sorts.

Images of faces, places, things, activities, peers, family, friends and colleagues are more engaging than words alone. "Smarter devices," says Antony Young, CEO of Mindshare, "are prompting more occasions for people to create and consume visual content, while social media is encouraging that content to be shared on multiple platforms."

Pinterest, barely two years old, is an example of a hot image-sharing platform. And its seemingly sudden popularity is evidence of the cultural rush to embrace and generate visual content. But years before Pinterest's user explosion in the social media scene, the search giant Google gobbled up YouTube, the largest and most successful of the user-created content platforms.

Beyond these 800-pound-search-gorillas, there are dozens of image-intensive platforms in the social media arena. Facebook-already one of the most popular photo-share sites-has been reinventing its pages with even more emphasis on visual content.

And, not to be outdone by rival Google, Facebook is buying Instagram for a stunning billion (with a b) bucks. (Newbie Instagram is a wildly-popular image sharing mobile app.) Advertising Age reports that "The Facebook community uploads 250 million photos a day, and one Harvard Business School study estimates that 70 percent of all activities inside the social 'liking' and commenting to looking at friends' content or uploading your own-revolves around photos."

The persuasive power of images.

We're not making a case for abandoning the written word. Words and images often are most powerful as a team in healthcare marketing and advertising. Consider however, how images have strength and stand-alone value:

  • Non-verbal images, drawings and photos are a universal language.
  • Images transcend cultural barriers and speak effectively to diverse groups.
  • Pictures convey emotion along with ideas and information.
  • Images communicate complex concepts more quickly than descriptive words alone.

But the societal swing in social media and online messaging demands a conscious effort to maximize the persuasive power and communications effectiveness of pictures and images. Online, via social media, in advertising...and anywhere visuals carry your marketing message:

  • Think visual. What communications channels are you using and how do they incorporate pictures? Are these the best available options and have you maximized the visual message?
  • Picture your target audience. Consider what media, platform or social site your target audience is using, and determine what visual content appeals to them. What visual content is likely to be of value or benefit, and/or what will likely be shared with others?
  • Grab attention, involve and engage. What images will engage the viewers interest, curiosity and cause them to become involved with the image and the message? What reaction and interaction does the visual inspire?
  • Good enough probably isn't. Pictures represent your brand in technical quality and in the message you communicate. Select carefully; what's appropriate and meaningful is more important than quantity.

An iconic advertising example of visuals, words and audience engagement.

One of the most powerful, persuasive and highly effective uses of visuals is seen in the now-classic Apple Computer (now Apple, Inc.) campaign from 1997 titled "Think Different." At the time, Steve Jobs had just returned to the ailing company as "interim" CEO.

Jobs went to extraordinary lengths to acquire exactly the right images to be used in what became an award-winning television commercial, print ads and posters...and launched a turn-around and business recovery for Apple. (More back-story is here.)

"Think Different" was itself quite different in many respects. The TV commercial never mentions the company name (only the logo appears briefly at the end). With almost no use of color, it never shows a customer or "sells" a product. There are no specs or claims of superiority. It was brand marketing through a passionate tone poem and visual ode to the creative spirit of the customer.

The message, which begins with the words "Here's to the crazy ones," appeals to the emotional and creative mindset and of the Apple customer. Richard Dreyfus narrated the broadcast version. And Steve Jobs read the words for this version that was not used.

Technology, the Internet, and social media in particular, have altered the expectations of audiences who are increasingly visually driven and expect to find, consume and share a visual message about healthcare and healthcare brands.

We'd like to hear about your visual marketing strategy.

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