How many times have we heard the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The phrase doesn’t really mean that images are more valuable than written words. Instead, it means that images have an immediate and lasting impact and can be an effective way to engage with your audience. It can’t be stated often enough or strongly enough: images have a powerful emotional impact and work strongly to engage with your target audience.
Just recall the pictures we’ve seen of wildlife fleeing our devastating wildfires. People around the world woke up to see kangaroos on the beach fleeing fires, and people risking their lives to save koalas. Over $150 million has been contributed internationally for Australian wildfire relief. In the single largest fundraiser, Celeste Barber raised over $50 million AUD for fire relief using Facebook. Her social media plea was so effective because she included a powerful image of a NSW firefighter silhouetted alone in front of a hellish blaze consuming a house. This image alone engaged with her audience and stirred such an emotional response that donations started pouring in from all around the world.
Your social media images may not need to be so dramatic, but they can use similar principles to those which have evoked such a powerful response to engage with your audience.
How do you engage your target audience’s emotions and provoke a response?
Psychologists use the word valence to describe relative values to human reactions. Positive valence refers to attractiveness or good/positive values and reactions. Negative valence has the opposite meaning. Intensity is another variable used in psychological research. In terms of images, a picture of an adorable, soft kitten typically produces a fairly intense response with positive valence. Another picture, perhaps one of a massive Huntsman Spider approaching an unsuspecting person, would produce an intense response with negative valence.
Images of Australian wildfires have produced a response more toward the negative side of the “valence” spectrum, but they also clearly have inspired a desire to help and encouraged immediate action by engaging effectively with the audience.
In common language, images with positive valence correspond with feelings of happiness, satisfaction, enjoyment, and hope. Images with negative valance have an opposite emotional impact: they can arouse fear, anxiety, worry, and a sense of threat.
To determine which images fit well with your target audience, you’ll need to invest some time in determining what your audience needs and wants. Then you can begin to choose images that fit their expectations. Over time, you should be able to find images that closely fit your customer audience interests, desires and emotions.
How do I choose the right image that will engage my target audience?
Sometimes images that arouse a desired emotion can be excellent choices for your marketing efforts. Numerous psychological studies have shown that images with basic emotional content lead to emotional responses from viewers. If you’re communicating a positive message and want to reinforce a feeling of happiness in your prospective customer, could an image of an adorable, soft kitten be a good lead-in for email direct marketing or a social media post? Yes, it could, provided that the overall message and image fits your customer profile and messaging needs.
Could you also find some benefit from images that arouse a negative response? We’ve all seen stock photos of faces with unpleasant expressions, such as disgust, dismay, or fear. While it’s not advisable to use such images constantly, if you want to communicate caution to your customers, or let them know about potential problems that your business can help them to overcome, a close-up of a fearful face might be just the image to encourage them to read further or take action on a request.
Why are images a universal language?
Did you know that babies will respond to a smiling face as young as two months of age? Their first genuine smile will come sometime between one-and-a-half to three months. Along with our sense of smell, vision is the human sense that has the greatest emotional influence and impact.
Your content marketing strategy should have strong, appropriate images for each piece of social media, digital, and traditional marketing. Choosing the right images combines a knowledge of human psychology and natural emotional responses with in-depth knowledge of your customers.
7 ways to choose and use images to engage with your target audience
Here are some guiding principles we always advise for choosing the right images for your electronic digital marketing as well as traditional marketing materials:
- Use high quality, high resolution images. If you can do a dedicated photo shoot, so much the better, but failing that, invest time with high quality, appropriate stock images and license them appropriately.
- Learn your audience and select images that they’ll respond to with the emotion you desire. Be able to say why you’re choosing certain images to evoke the desired response.
- Think outside the box: at times, abstract or conceptual images may be the right choice, not just literal images (like a stack of coins to represent money).
- Use the talents and skills of others to maximize your impact. If you’re good with words, seek someone with graphic design experience; if images and design are stronger for you — find a wordsmith to complement your visual talents.
- Choose your brand image and voice wisely and stay within it. If you’ve got a business with a wholesome, family image, don’t suddenly introduce non-family-friendly wording or imagery, for example.
- Humanize your images and words. Everything doesn’t have to be “perfect” or stiff. We have enough computerized perfection these days that ordinary people or slightly imperfect images can draw favourable attention.
- Give credit if you use images; purchasing from stock photo or image services allows you to use and to credit where credit is due.
When you do select images, take care with optimising them for different social media. Few things are more frustrating than spending time and care on social media messages only to have an image come out distorted, fuzzy, or the wrong orientation.
At Content Box, we’re expert in affordable small business marketing, including helping you to find and use images that can engage your target audience and achieve a response or action from them. Whether you’re investigating EDM marketing or have a mix of marketing channels to reach your customer, we’re eager to work with you to discover and use images that can offer emotional power and deliver responses. The Australian wildfire images provoked such a response because they were realistic and showed a real crisis. We all hope so strongly that the emotions evoked by the unforgettable images of our Australian wildfires won’t fade, and that the international response will inspire effective efforts to combat climate change and prevent the recurrence of this landscape and life-changing tragedy.