How Visual Content Affects Your Brain

From billboards to social video, visual content is the way to market your products. To be true, visual content is the most efficient way to provide information. In fact, visuals are the most efficient way that our brains process information. And this is why visual content is the go-to marketing strategy in recent years. Consider the statistics:

Our brains are wired to process the natural world through vision. That’s why visual content is often appealing to us as consumers. Marketing psychologists have conducted studies on the correlation between the two. So, below are four reasons you should consider visual content:

1. Visuals capture attention.

There’s no way to definitively say that the brain processes visuals “60,000x faster” than text. But consider this: how long does it take you to find a mistake in a sentence? In comparison, how long does it take you to find something wrong with an image? Is it easier to find contrast in an image’s color, shape, size, and orientation? Or do you have to reread your entire sentence to notice you typed “the” twice?

The modern world is manic. There’s new content on social media every minute. There’s a new thing that demands the attention of your consumers every time. In this bustle, visual content is necessary for its ability to catch the viewers’ eye. Quicksprout even notes that content with relevant images gets 94% more views.

It’s especially true on social media that people have a tendency to scroll through content. Often, they won’t even reach the end of an article before sharing it. In contrast, Buzzfeed’s Tasty uses a thumbnail of the appetizing finished food product. This is a tactic to get viewers to watch until the end to see it again. Afterwards, it’s the content of the video that makes people save and share it.

2. Visuals stir emotion.

It’s more than just the ability to convey a story in the shortest amount of time possible. Visual assets are capable of evoking emotion through a number of its aspects. There are the facial expressions of the actors. There’s the backdrop of the scene. There’s the composition of a shot. And, most subtle in its effect, there’s color.

Arguably, the meanings and emotions behind colors are subjective. However, evolution and universal associations mean that there is an objectiveness to colors. For example, there is a noticeable neural sensitivity to the color red compared to others. Clear skies and lush grass result in associating blue and green with freshness.

As a general rule, the colors and their corresponding emotions are:

  • Red is for urgency, energy, and stamina. It’s also often associated with hunger, which is why it’s a popular choice for the food industry. Red is the primary brand color of Coca-Cola, KFC, Lays, Netflix, Lego, Kellogg’s, and Nintendo.
  • Yellow is for optimism, youthfulness, and humor. The best color for a Call-to-Action button is the one that’s complimentary to your main color. Blue is the popular choice for a brand’s main color though. That makes yellow, its complementary, a popular choice for CTA’s as well.
  • Blue is for trust, honesty, and security. It’s the popular choice for banks like JP Morgan. Blue is the safe choice as well since the color is inherently appealing to the majority.
  • Green is the color that’s easiest for us to process. It invokes a feeling of wealth, health, and peacefulness. As it’s mostly associated with nature, green makes use of the biophilia effect to invoke a sense of calm.

There are more colors on the spectrum and more meanings behind them. There are guides on how to design the most effective infographic. There are theories on color schemes to capture maximum viewer attention. And then there’s film and art criticism that speculate on the emotions behind color usage. Color trends such as Pantone’s “Color of the Year” also forecast eye-catching colors.

Color is just one aspect of a visual asset, however. There are numerous others that can be manipulated to have the most impact on an audience.

3. Visuals direct attention.

Another bonus for visual content is its ability to direct attention. Marketers can manipulate their content to highlight the most important information. Or to attract a viewer’s attention along the creator’s intended path.

Design has this whole discussion about grabbing a viewer’s attention. There’s the bottom-up process and the top-down process. This is a long discussion though, so we’ll focus on the elements that can direct attention.

First things first, there’s the dominant visual element. This acts as the starting point for viewers. The dominant visual element is the one with most emphasis. As an example, the movie Her usually sets its main character above the background. It does this by putting him in the foreground. It also gives him a bright color scheme that largely contrasts him from his muted background.

After the dominant element, there can also be other focal points in the visual asset. The techniques to use to guide the eyes are:

  • Contrast. Outside of color, there are other ways to contrast the elements in your visual content. There’s size, shape, and texture too. Creating various contrasts in content creates varying levels of importance. That’s why headings and subsequent headings usually go from largest font to smaller. Although interestingly enough, larger types equate to more skimming when reading. Smaller font type forces the reader to focus on one element at a time.
  • Position. The hierarchy of importance in information usually flows from top to bottom. Usually, the elements on the upper portion have greater importance. This is often true for elements like titles or hero images. However, a study shows that product images placed on the bottom-right seem heavier.
  • Movement. One interesting facet of movement in visual content is the use of diagonals. There’s this idea that using upward diagonal movement conveys energy and youth. That’s why this design choice is usually found in sports-related items. For example, there’s Nike’s check which runs from lower left to upper right.
  • Humanize/Human Eyes. There are studies to support the idea that faces promote trustworthiness in consumers. Additionally, we tend to follow the direction someone else is looking at. So, another way to direct attention is to use eye gaze to emphasize importance.

Now, compare all of this to a plain text article. When presented with a long article, people will want to skim it. The problem is that people will have trouble identifying the information they need. They’ll tend to skip over the important information unless there are obvious visual cues.

4. Visuals are best for retention.

Studies suggest that we are less likely to remember auditory stimuli. There are popular percentages going around about which stimuli are likely to be retained. It supposes that we remember “80% of what we see, 20% of what we read, and 10% of what we hear.” The source for this was difficult to find. Consider instead a situational example most of us have been through:

Imagine yourself going to someplace you’ve never been to. You get a little lost and ask for directions. The person you ask gives you straight directions: take a left, then right, and so on. You’ll likely find yourself confused halfway through. So, you ask again. This time, you’re provided with landmarks to look for so you know where to turn. You may even get a hastily drawn map. Now, which set of instructions was easier to recall and follow?

Common experience suggests that we recall visual stimuli best. A study suggests we remember visuals better since a picture has more associations. It stands to reason since memories are usually accompanied by visuals.

With this in mind, visual content then inspires ad recall. A brand’s visual content can also portray consistency throughout. They could do this by using a specific color filter or scheme. In that way, whenever new content pops up, viewers could immediately recall the brand. They could pick up on the familiar cues even without checking the brand name. And familiarity with a brand inspires trust and impacts the possibility of purchase.

Even with our technology, it’s still unclear why the brain works as it does exactly. Emotional triggers and individual perception are especially unknown areas.

However, psychologists have supplied marketers with enough data to form a gist. There are also powerful analytical tools available to track which trends are popular. Or are becoming popular. There’s also a number of major influencers to follow for marketing trends. Additionally, there’s the act of listening to the needs of consumers you already have.

Marketers and influencers are, therefore, equipped to create data-driven visual content. The only problem is creating content that will leave a lasting impact.

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