Using Visuals in 2019 Marketing and PR Storytelling

“This will be the year of video.” “Infographics will rule this year.” “Visual storytelling will dominate.”


You’ve already seen variations of these “predictions” written hundreds of times since last fall. It’s likely you’ve been asked “what’s our strategy for video?” or “what’s our budget for visuals?” The trap is being set: You’re about to spend money without a clear strategy or direction.

Why Visuals Are Important

The average consumer is exposed to 10,000 brand messages a day (source: AMA). That’s the world into which you’re putting your brand story. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a B2B marketer. Your buyer doesn’t stay in a single lane digitally – they are trapesing through digital forests each day, all day, not hanging out by a few trees.

Whether you’re responsible for earned media results, lead generation campaigns or paid social, you need an edge. Video, graphics, compelling images, original artwork and other visuals can provide that. The story itself is still more important – I will never waver from that, but unless you truly have a one-in-a-million story to tell, you’ll need another way to stand out.

Want proof? Even B2B marketers, who are typically behind the curve with digital media, are bullish. Video marketing tops the adoption plans for 2019, according to data from Spiceworks.

But video won’t be the only visual to gain traction this year. The data below from B2C Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs shows that the use of “images” has increased, keeping pace with written content and audio/visual content.

Data from CMI/MarketingProfs related to B2B marketers track similarly. Unsurprisingly, written print content for B2B and B2C continues its steady year-over-year decline.

Why Just Any Visuals Won’t Do

Stock images and generic b-roll have been coins of the realm for some time, but that’s changing. Among those 10,000 brand images we see daily are artwork that is generic, lacks context and screams “I’m just using a visual element because data show it engages you.” Reliance on these me-too visual elements puts you at real risk of turning prospects off during their digital journey.

Marketers love to follow the leader. Websites, brochures, blog artwork and corporate videos are seemingly chiseled from the same block. There’s less risk in this approach, but the marginal return from deploying these assets shrinks with each use.

Developing unique visual content, from photography to iconography and b-roll, requires an investment. The data above from CMI/MarketingProfs doesn’t speak to investment, just use, but presumably we’ll see investment increase as well. According to Venngage, a website that helps businesses develop visuals, nearly a third of 500 digital marketers surveyed plan to spend more than 30 percent of their budget on visuals.

What does this mean for 2019 and beyond? Instead of following the leader toward commoditized visuals, as has been the trend for the past decade, marketers will need to invest real dollars toward visual assets. This means they’ll also be measuring return on that investment, and you should be too.

It won’t be enough to deliver something that simply looks original – visuals will require the same persona-based customer journey mapping and storytelling rigor that is now required of written content. In fact, given that buyers retain more of and have better recall from visual content, the stakes for this content may increase even faster than we imagined.

Don’t Forget the Mobile Experience

I don’t need to put a stat here on the explosion of mobile. The outcomes of both B2C and B2B buyer journeys are now dependent on a mobile experience that is at least positive. Look at where your traffic originates for your marketing campaigns and you’ll understand the importance of delivering a seamless mobile experience.

Larger, more vibrant mobile screens present an opportunity and an obstacle. Where a long infographic MAY have been fine when it was viewed primarily on monitors, laptops or tablets, on a smartphone the user experience is poor at best. 

Video is also a different experience on the small screen, and each audience is different. B2B audiences are especially hard. Will the audience engage even when they can only see, but can’t hear the audio? What about length? According to Wistia, engagement drops as video length increases. But if you shoot for two minutes, is that enough time for storytelling?

Whatever your medium of choice, be sure to consider where the viewer is likely to encounter your story, how quickly you can engage them and what action you want them to take. If you’re just going for awareness (and, hopefully, you’re spending a lot more money to do that), a viewer’s time spent over 30 seconds may be a win. But if your goal is to convert engagement into some action, a video that doesn’t convert well on mobile is probably budget poorly spent.

Your Visual Strategy Should be “TRUE”

Before you get creative, make sure you’ve thought through how to make your content targeted, relevant, unique and engaging (TRUE). Of course, you’re going to measure, so I didn’t include that in the acronym.

  • Targeting ensures your visuals – and the corresponding text content – map to your buyer’s journey.

  • Relevance challenges you to develop visuals that will be meaningful, even with limited context.

  • Unique content will perform better but cost more – be prepared for this. You’ll be expecting more from – and pay more to – designers, photographers, videographers and artists.

  • Engaging is your objective, and you’ll have metrics to track success or failure.

By sticking with TRUE visual content and having a strategy to develop and deliver across channels, you’re giving your story a chance to stand out. The volume of content across Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and other channels is staggering. And you’re not just competing against similar products, you’re competing against other businesses and organizations vying for a rapidly diminishing share of a consumer’s addressable attention. If, however, you’re ready to wade more deeply into visual asset-building in 2019, do so with a strategy that is TRUE to your brand and, most important, to the buyers you’re invested in reaching.


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