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BrainTrust Query: Let's Get Visual - Marketing in a Post-Text World

February 24, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail Prophet Consulting blog.

As you read this post, you are digesting a form of content that represents a quickly diminishing proportion of the total web content you consume each day. The written web is steadily becoming a thing of the past.

By 2013 Cisco estimates that 90 percent of all consumer IP traffic will be video. If you think this sounds implausible, consider that even today video represents well over 50 percent of all consumer traffic. Social bookmarking site Pinterest recently hit 10 million unique monthly users faster than any other site in history.

Infographics, a marriage of visual design and data, have become a common means of helping us digest and contextualize complex data sets. Traditional newspapers are increasingly turning to the infographic as a means of getting the story across to readers, giving welcomed relief from the graphs, charts and tables traditionally used by media to convey data. Even resumes are moving from text to graphics, with sites like visualizeme.com and others turning the traditional, dull resume into a thing of the past.

This move to a visual web makes sense when you consider the avalanche of information that the typical consumer is coping with today. A 2009 University of California San Diego study estimated that the average consumer was already being exposed to about 34 gigabytes of information or 100,000 words per day. With dramatic increases in both processing power and the ubiquity of mobile technology in the three years since the study, one can only assume these figures are even more mind-boggling now. Thus, it follows that our minds are seeking visual breaks — a respite from the enormous glut of data coming at us. Images and video give us that.

What it means for brands, manufacturers and retailers who haven't already realized it is that the days of telling customers about your product with words are coming to an end. Traditional catalogs, brochures and selling aids won't cut it in a world where consumers are seeking visual and audible alternatives. Your word-based pitches will be shunned.

Our brains are subconsciously seeking messages that provide our eyes these visual resting points. In other words, the brand with the best pictures, graphics or video will likely win — regardless of what they sell.

This means reimagining your business, your brand and your product through all visual tools at your disposal. It means exploring your brand through the lenses of YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest, Tumblr and other visually based social tools. It means revisiting websites with an eye to crystallizing thoughts and ideas into images and sounds, instead of words. It means showing consumers instead of telling them.

Welcome to the visual web.


Discussion Questions:

Discussion Questions: Do you see 'visual' forms of engagement replacing 'text' as the way brands will reach consumers in the future? How, if at all, should brands and retailers respond to calls for less wordy communications from consumers inside and outside of stores?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

What's that likelihood that communications with consumers will become notably much more 'visual' over the next three to five years?


19th century French writers wrote colossal books: 400, 500 page novels ... Why? They would largely make their living by publishing these books in daily/weekly newspapers, one chapter at a time -- and they were paid by the word! If you ever want to read 3 to 4 pages of text describing, in exquisite style and beauty, a single room, pick up a Zola or Balzac.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), times have changed. Busy lives and media saturation means communication has become visual and concise. Twitter and micro-blogs have gotten used to saying important things in a few words (unlike my own post...). I think copy remains as important as ever. For a proof of that look at the importance Microsoft is placing on the "Swiss style" of design in their next operating system (clear/crisp fonts, high legibility). Text is important to make an impression; just keep it short!

Fabien Tiburce, CEO, Compliantia, Retail Audit & Task Management Software

It make sense that pictures will replace text. Pictures require little if any language. Most mobile phones have built-in cameras. And the dramatic growth of smart phones, with apps that allow for instant sharing, encourage the use of pictures, not words.

Advertisers will need to adapt. Digital images will be used to communicate brand values, rather than blocks of text. Images will be active, so consumers can simply need to click on them to gather more information or to purchase.

Many retailers are already doing this through extensive use of photos in their advertising materials. Consumers glance at the photos, decide if they want more information and then decide whether or not to act on the image.

Simplicity -- a photo or video, and instant activation -- the ability to click on any image and take immediate action, are the future of digital retail.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

We definitely live in a 'Hollywood' world where engaging stories are told through moving pictures and sound. We also live in a 'nanosecond' world where we are exposed and expected to digest a tremendous amount of information in fractions of a second. The old adage of 'a picture is worth a thousand words' accurately describes what is expected and needed in order to not only tell your brand story but have it 'stick'. In addition to visual cues, the other senses- hearing, touch, taste and smell can further amplify not only the engagement but in many cases more importantly is the recall capacity of the senses. An aroma can trigger memory, recall and association like no other sense. Bring on the 'Smellevision'!

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Adrian Weidmann, Principal, StoreStream Metrics, LLC

"Text" is visual too, but I get your point and the answer, I'm afraid, is "Yes".

I think complex text has to be an "opt in" option for consumers in a world of otherwise increasing "visual" communication.

Will text go away? Of course not.

Will video become more important? No question.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

While I don't dispute the overall premise that consumers are getting "more visual," I would point out that Cisco's stat -- "90 percent of all consumer IP traffic will be video" -- still leaves a tremendous amount of bandwidth for text. A typical video could easily eat up 10 MB (megabytes) of IP bandwidth. A text-based web page might be in the neighborhood of 10 KB (kilobytes), meaning for each said video, a user could download 1000 web pages. Yes, video traffic is increasing, but the amount of data required is warping the stats considerably.

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Rick Moss, President, Founder, RetailWire LLC

"Branded content" is emerging as a big focus for brands and retailers. Communicating with consumers using rich media is a discipline with no established rule book.

Text-based messaging should augment and be incorporated into rich media assets. And above all, consistency in branding, tone, and message are critical.

Firms with established branded content practices such as Fresh Baked Entertainment, Totem, and King Fish Media are establishing new models of content planning and execution. Traditional agencies are scrambling to establish practices for how to grapple not only with multichannel campaign strategies, but also with ways to efficiently create more video and multimedia executions across many platforms (website, social, mobile, and in-store).

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Matt Schmitt, President, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Reflect

Will forms of communication with consumers change? Absolutely. However, will text go away? Not likely. Will it be used sparingly? Yes, but will video replace all print communication? No. Will companies have to use a greater variety of tools to reach consumers? Yes.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

We are living in a generation where we are told stories in pictures. We make up our own stories (with us as the star) by the pictures and videos we watch. Of course we will be seeing more of this as technology continues to improve.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Visuals carry more overhead and cost to produce than text. I do not believe text is going away.

This was the same argument used during the 1990s Internet ad boom when search engines were using "graphic banner ads." But a new firm called Google, Inc. used text-based ads and the rest is a history lesson.

Ed Dunn, Founder, (Stealth Operation)

The power of video is becoming more and more apparent. This, evidenced by a recent introduction of our company's all-new digital content library for home health care products best described "visually" through a YouTube type video.

Will text entirely go away? I think not. Although imagine RetailWire with video vignettes rather than these text-based comments. Hmmm.

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Dave Wendland, Vice President, Hamacher Resource Group

I'm not convinced the whole business of communications will change to video. I love infographics and am a huge fan of visual representation of an idea, but conveying a deeper meaning and building deeper understandings and engagements require a bit more content, not to mention context.

In the retail environment, so much visual clutter is just as hard to digest as words.

We're moving really fast to a world of "snack sized" everything. How can our society really focus and solve problems if we do everything in "140 characters" and jump around digesting only "bits" of information?

What will be the "Adderall" that slows us down and gives us a chance at wisdom?

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Anne Howe, Principal, Anne Howe Associates

Based upon the facts noted in the article and the fact that the written word is becoming an alphabet soup: "OMG," "LOL," "CUATSC" (See You at the Senior Center ... LOL), we are spending less and less time writing at all. I actually think about how little I write anything by hand these days, without a keyboard.

Video is satisfying all of our shortening attention spans and laziness. Static graphics in stores and on product packaging is more effective than the written word.

CPGers and retailers alike need to make our world become an environment of "big animal pictures." Sad, but true, if we want to reach the shopper most effectively.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

Overall the answer is a resounding yes. Those that don't want to accept it may be putting their personal feelings before the trend and tide. Can you accurately envision a dress from a text description, its shapes, colors, and textures, as quickly as you can by seeing it? What about a description of a news event as fast as you can watch it?

Newspapers were black text with artist renderings, then photos were added, then color. Why? Visual is easier to comprehend and more interesting for people with short attention spans.

Remember, more people watch TV in one day than will read a novel in a year. Why would the web, with nearly no barriers to entry, address content any differently?

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

Unfortunately, much content needs editing; it doesn't get to the point, or it rambles. I can skim text and pick up the high points; but with videos you can't do that. Fast-forward, and you may miss a key point. Given a choice between the typical text document, or talking-head video (which most of them are), I'll take text anyday. Net-net, we'll see more videos, but text ain't going away.

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Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

Certainly video on the web is forcing some long known facts to the attention of some slow-witted marketers. The reality is that visual communication with images, whether still or moving, feeds directly into how the brain processes information, largely through "images," of whatever sensory input received. See "Descartes Error," which is pretty much marketer's common error, too.

Remember the self caricature of Alfred Hitchcock, the single black line with a squiggle that was his visual signature? Same thing is true of the iconic Coke bottle, any 20% of which will be instantly recognized by consumers as being "Coke." Not to mention the Tide's "bulls-eye" which is a functional sign-post brand, that signals to shoppers that this is the "laundry aisle," not just the place to buy Tide. Campbell's Soup has preserved the basic "image," later immortalized by Andy Warhol, for well over 100 years. Some people know how to communicate, and some people don't. [Notice all the words I am using here? But consciously trying to create visual images with those words.]

Too often marketers are as brain dead as Freddie Eynsford Hill, who Eliza Doolittle urged to use fewer words, and "show me." Let he that hath ears to hear ... open your eyes! ;-)

BTW, in the average 24 seconds it takes for a shopper to consummate the purchase, (once in front of what will become their purchase,) the BRAND is the first dominant focus, followed closely by an image, such as a product picture or symbol. At the end of the 24 seconds those two are still the dominant points of focus, although they have traded places at the consummation. All other issues are relatively minor.

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Herb Sorensen, Ph.D., Scientific Advisor Kantar Retail; Adjunct Ehrenberg-Bass, Shopper Scientist LLC

The author's points are undoubtedly valid. Text will not disappear, but it will be consumed primarily via a graphic or video based entry point. The image will entice and create the entry point to as much data, both text and further visuals, as the consumer desires. Incredible tools like Flipboard already allow us to aggregate in a much more visual, e-magazine-like format. This is a wake up call for all marketers and content creators, even RetailWire.

Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

As usual, Doug has his fingers on the pulse of an important trend. As we are getting inundated with marketing messages, we are simply getting better at filtering those message out (thanks mostly to subconscious cognitive processes). In 1997 consumers were being exposed to about 500 marketing messages a day. In 2007 consumers were being exposed to about 5,000 marketing message a day. Today, a consumer is exposed to about 1,000 marketing messages ... in one (20 minute) shopping trip!

A time-traveler from the 1900s probably couldn't even function in the visual clutter of a modern grocery store, but we've all evolved the ability to ignore the overwhelming majority of it. When asked how much consumers typically read, my old usability professor used to quip "they don't." But a more accurate answer (on a web-page for example) is that visitors read less than 50% of the text on a page with 100 words, and the percentage goes down rapidly as you add more text.

I've spent a lot of time recently helping marketers develop experiences for smartphones (which always involves minimizing messaging for the small screen). Almost universally, the mobile version outperforms the desktop version, and the client speculates that mobile users are somehow more engaged. But when we apply those same content reductions to their desktop experiences, conversion goes up on those pages as well! Obviously, Apple is the epitome of a brand that gets this.

A great exercise for anyone designing a website, is to look at it through a tool that obfuscates the text like this....

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Jason Goldberg, SVP Commerce Strategy, Razorfish

There is no doubt that retail marketing is multi-channel. Video is growing. However, there are limitations to video too. One is a short shelf life. Another is that customers' patience is short and brevity is paramount.

Text will evolve; don't bury it anytime soon. Infographics allow the development and slotting of information in an organized manner. Inforgraphics will, therefore, grow dramatically.

Let's not confuse what we can create with what customers desire to digest.

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Christopher P. Ramey, President, Affluent Insights

I wouldn't say visual tools will necessarily replace text, but there's no denying that as consumers' attention spans go down, their appetites for multimedia go up. Way up. In this column, Doug is right to direct retailers toward YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest and Tumblr. These visually appealing sites help to broaden a company's brand impact.

As for visual customer engagement, offering multimedia displays both inside and outside of stores is definitely worthwhile. After spending endless hours on said visual websites, consumers are conditioned to respond to eye-catching graphics and videos.

The XQ Interactive Retail solutions we are developing at iQmetrix are built to draw customers into the store with that kind of content, as well as to offer elements of the online shopping experience in-store.

Christopher Krywulak, President and CEO, iQmetrix

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