When Looks Matter: Visual Marketing for Small Businesses

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Visual marketing is an essential aspect of a successful marketing plan, for businesses both large and small. Read on for our advice on establishing a strong visual marketing scheme that will make your business unforgettable.

When it comes to small businesses and visual marketing, internet and visual marketing go hand in hand. Besides for your business’ actual website, which should already establish a certain “look” for your company, we all know that social media — that catch-all term that encompasses a heaping handful of online networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and more — is nearly as essential to business growth as the company’s website itself. But what exactly is visual marketing — how does it work with the internet and social media, and how can your company tailor its visual identity in order to get the most bang for your buck? Here, we’ll go about demystifying the basics of visual marketing on the web for growing businesses; don’t forget to check out more marketing tips for small businesses, and definitely don’t sleep on our free business plan Excel to help you get started.


Visual Marketing and Social Media

What is visual marketing?

Visual marketing is defined as the study of the relationship between an object, its context, and its image — the question it asks is, how does one make an object the communicative center of an image? Memorable images have the ability to change how consumers imagine and perceive both product and company; in short, pictures speak a thousand words, and it’s in any growing business’ best interest to learn to deftly navigate today’s most important visual marketing spaces. A brand’s visual identity is comprised by the ensemble of visual elements that company uses in its communications: its logo and graphic design choices, visual advertising campaigns, website layout, the whole shebang. It’s important that the different elements that make up this “identity” work well together aesthetically.

Umberto Galimberti, an Italian philosopher and psychoanalyst particularly interested in the cognitive aspects of visual marketing, said “desire…does not refer so much to objects as to the myths surrounding them, and often the only thing being consumed is the myth itself.”

That may seem like a heavy reflection, so let’s unpack it a bit. The myth here refers to the larger narrative in which an object can be placed — myths are concerned with archetypes, and this can be said of most forms of narrative. Marketing, we notice, also takes on many of the same narrative frames and aspects as more traditional story-telling, and often, what visual marketing elements are “selling” are just as much, if not more, oriented around a company’s identity or ethos, than any particular product. In this sense, we can understand Galimberti’s wise comment as being about the importance of placing the objects (or services) we wish to sell within a larger aesthetic-narrative context, and one that hearkens back to codes (myths) with which we are already familiar. This is where the visual aspect enters into the equation — how, with a single image or a series of images, a typeface and graphic layout, a meme, or a short video clip, can we best place our goods or services within an aesthetic form that tells a story?

Who makes visual marketing?

Photographers, graphic designers and designers, videographers, programmers, students, bored teenagers, established artists, and more. Visual communication is, in many ways, a basic human behavior. But for a startup, it’s important that one’s visual communication be on-par right off the bat. In 2018, audiences have less and less patience for low-res or visibly low-budget content, especially given how advanced even camera phone technology has become in recent years. Keeping up with visual trends while you run a business on the side is difficult, and for this reason, it’s worth considering taking someone on who can run your visual marketing channels and content. More and more, photographers, videographers, and designers have cross-cutting skills that include social media, video editing, and competence on Adobe’s Creative Suite software, something of an industry standard in visual marketing.

What is social media, and what does it have to do with visual marketing?

“Social media” is the term used to denote online social networks where individuals and brands share “content.” A 2017 study from the Wharton School of Business found that a strong social media presence can be helpful for startups in two ways — first of all, social media presence can attract investors looking for opportunities who may have had difficulty finding your company otherwise, and investors also trust companies more when they feel that they know more about them. The study focused on Twitter, but it did find a positive correlation between social media presence and a startup’s ability to attract and secure venture capital financing. Visual content has become an increasingly important aspect of social media, with apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, Vine (RIP), and countless others focusing almost exclusively on visual content to drive the platform. In fact, social media networks provide brands who know how to use them strategically with what is essentially a free platform for visual marketing.

Building your brand’s visual identity

Once you’ve decided to start developing your visual marketing practices not only on your website, but on the free platforms available to businesses, the most important factor becomes establishing your brand’s visual identity. For this, you’ll want the advice or presence of a savvy Art Director or Creative Consultant who can guide you in making the right aesthetic decisions for your enterprise. It may sound surprising, but nothing can kill an advertisement for its audience like an outdated font choice or an image that simply doesn’t hit home. Or worse, can be misinterpreted.

Beyond that, it’s important to keep that visual identity coherent and consistent once you’ve decided upon it. This usually means, especially at the beginning, choosing a predominant color scheme, tone, and design elements (for example, choosing two or, maximum, three fonts for one’s website and/or posters). If your cosmetics brand, for example, focuses on empowering female consumers, it’s important to liaise with an Art Director and image-maker who can decide upon the appropriate aesthetic with you and run with that to create a coherent social media campaign whose imagery backs up the company ethos 100% of the time. 90 percent of the information transmitted to our brains is visual in nature: the more coherent the ensemble of your visual marketing campaigns are, the greater the impact on the consumer. Memorable color schemes and other visual stimuli are great ways to ensure that consumers remember your brand.

Here we’ve done a quick run-down of a few different visually-oriented social networks that will be great for your brand’s first visual campaigns.

1. Instagram

Instagram reportedly hit one billion monthly active users in June 2018, so it shouldn’t be difficult to convince growing companies that this social network can be a boon for companies that have savvy visual marketers and eye-catching products and services. Nearly any kind of business can benefit from a presence on Instagram, so long as their visual content has production value. Restaurant and hospitality companies, tourist-industry endeavors, fashion, cosmetics, and luxury companies, media ventures, cultural initiatives, the list goes on and on — with the right eye, nearly any kind of enterprise stands to benefit from a free digital marketing platform. The key to a visually successful Instagram feed is aesthetic coherence — don’t be afraid to plot out your feed before posting. In order to expand your reach, always use a geotag, research hashtags that are trending on your content and intended demographic. There’s no harm in including a good handful of strategic hashtags, and it’s one of the best ways to boost your profile’s visibility. Downloading an app such as Buffer will help you manage all your social media channels.

A relatively recent feature on Instagram is the Story. Similar to the concept of the Snapchat story, users can upload photo, video, or written content onto their “story,” which will play each clip in chronological order and keep them available on the user’s feed for 24 hours. Given that Instagram’s algorithm change has resulted in a significant loss in engagement with posted content for many users, the Story has in many ways mitigated this inconvenience — much like in Snapchat, the Instagram story is a great behind-the-scenes tool that allows brands to infuse their visual content with a more human presence behind the carefully-curated feed. The Story is the ultimate in flexible visual marketing due to its ephemeral nature — don’t be afraid to play with this feature. A helpful measurement of engagement is to pay attention to the viewer count — counts that remain relatively stable from beginning to end symbolize that your content is engaging. Watch out for big drop-offs after certain clips — they can be signs that your content is going in the wrong direction.

Another helpful way to boost engagement is to feature your followers. Create a hashtag that allows users to share their content related to your product or service, and feature them on your enterprise’s feed or Story. Giveaways or promotions are also a helpful way to boost engagement and following, and can motivate your followers to share content about your business.

Above all, take advantage of Instagram’s business profile analytics, and be sure to include your business’ contact details so that users can reach out to your enterprise directly.

2. Twitter

Created in 2006, Twitter has become one of the most-used websites on the internet and has an enormous reach internationally and across demographics. Influencers, journalists, bloggers, public figures, and creatives are all very present on Twitter, and it’s a great platform for getting your business message across to people who are liable to be interested in your venture, meaning they may retweet or mention your enterprise.

However, Twitter’s algorithm has changed over the past couple years and engagement on the platform has changed. Instead of the reverse-chronological timeline that Twitter used to feature, users are now more likely to see content that they engage with most often. This can create a vicious cycle of invisibility for certain brands, and it’s important to realize that in 2018, simply posting “good content” is not always enough to spark engagement. Use (don’t abuse!) hashtags, but don’t be afraid to reach out to individual users. Comment on other tweets, be friendly and have a sense of humor. The more engagement is drawn to your account, the more present you’ll be in Twitter’s feed.

Originally a text-oriented platform, Twitter has moved more and more towards visual content over the past couple years. Link your business’ Instagram and Pinterest accounts, and don’t be afraid to outsource your ‘grams. Infographics are also particularly welcome on Twitter, given its news-and-information orientation.

Twitter also now features a video section. The interesting aspect about this section of the app is how users engage with it — in contrast to YouTube, which many users use to search for specific video content, users tend to rely on Twitter to recommend video content to them based on their behavior on the app. Because video is still a relatively underused feature on Twitter, using the video section can also help expand your reach.

The question of how often a business should tweet is dependent upon that business’ voice, products and services, and numerous other factors — pay close attention to your Twitter demographics in order to keep track of how your activity is driving engagement — or not.

3. Pinterest

If your business caters to women between 15 and 30, Pinterest is a social network that you may have been sleeping on by accident. Predominantly used by millennial women, Pinterest is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s a free visual marketing space that’s particularly interesting for female-oriented businesses, and it’s also an good space in which to learn about visual marketing trends in a way less-likely to overload (the risk with Instagram).On Pinterest, the key is to feature immaculate visual content. Keeping track of how many users actually click through your images to the posts on your website is an excellent measure of how genuinely engaging your visual content is.

Brands like TD Bank have found ways of getting creative with their Pinterest boards even where content may not be thought of as especially “visual,” with their “Our Littlest Bankers” board featuring photographs of toddler “clients.” In this way, the brand appears more human and transparent via a creative Pinterest idea that highlights a sentimental side of a large institution, in turn important for consumer confidence. This example shows that with just a dash of creativity, any brand can create a helpful marketing initiative on social networks.


Other networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and still more, are not to be ignored, but you’ll also notice that a growing business ought not spread itself too think on social media. At the outset, streamline your visual communication strategy with creative professionals of your choosing, and focus on one or two social media channels and attracting organic growth through engagement with your audience and strong content. As your company grows, you’ll find greater need to diversify both your visual marketing and your social media presence, but for now, the key is to keep it clean and simple. Check back regularly as we delve into still more details of visual and creative marketing for the small business.

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