Commentary & Analysis
The Visual Element: Using Graphics vs. Words to Connect with Customers
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: March 13, 2007
--- Special Feature The Visual Element: Using Graphics vs. Words to Connect with Customers By Jeannette McMurtry, MBA March 13, 2007 -- Often when we think of advertising worth remembering, clever punchy advertising copy comes to mind. One of my favorites was a campaign years ago promoting a name change for a company which was built on the theme, "It's all in a name." Very clever radio spots told inspiring stories about hard working individuals that dedicated their lives to great entrepreneurial dreams but their businesses failed when they chose the wrong names. For example, Joe Lemon opened a used car lot named, Lemon Used Cars. You get the idea. The spots were so humorous and clever that I actually looked forward to the next episode in the series, and was disappointed when it ended. That doesn't happen very often. Yet beyond clever words, successful advertising depends just as much on emotionally compelling graphics -- colors, images, fonts, and layout. It's not enough to have strong words pop out of the headline; you need the right visual presentation to evoke the emotions that inspire purchase behavior amongst your target audience. Research shows that color, shapes, icons and the like significantly impact a product's ability to attract consumers' attention at the point of sale, and ultimately influence which products they pick up off the shelf and purchase. Humans are a visual species. We are drawn to images and colors that comfort, inspire, motivate, entertain and please us. And most importantly, that reflect who we think we are or want to be. Remember when generic food brands came out and there was a whole aisle of food packaged in white with black letters that said nothing more than "Brownie mix, French cut green beans, baby oil?" Remember that this trend didn't last very long? We humans are visual people. We are drawn to images and colors that comfort us; inspire us, motivate us, entertain and please us, and most importantly, reflect who we think we are, or who we want to be. We aren't robots, or at least we try not to be. No matter what product or service you are selling, you need to package it and present all your communications in a way that is relevant to the personality and/or aspirations of your target customer. It might sound like overkill but it's not. According to Steven DaVerne, VP of Creative Strategy at GA Wright Marketing, and a former behavioral science therapist, the creative application of your marketing materials can have a significant emotional affect. "A simple layout can create intense feelings of displeasure, chaos; or pleasurable feelings of harmony, and joy," says DaVerne. "A good designer is one who knows how to combine elements of designs to produce an emotional effect, not just a pretty picture. Colors, icons, fonts all need to be carefully chosen to create the desired impression and ultimately, motivate consumers to take the desired actions." Continues DaVerne, "Messages that are clear, simple and appeal to the imagination will often tap the desired emotions immediately. Messages that appeal to our inherent personal value system will tend to be the most effective." The images you project are as much a part of your brand's promise as the actual words you use. Keep them honest, realistic, and deliverable. If this is true, then advertisements meant to drive sales need to create positive energy and leave the viewer or reader with a sense of emotional stability. DaVerne references insurance ads which appeal to our inherent values of comfort and security. "People seek pleasure and avoid pain," continues DaVerne, "therefore both graphic presentations and written words of your advertising and product marketing materials must convey the avoidance of something terrible happening and the possibility of achieving comfort, peace and stability." In many cases, the creative strategy is to create dismay, fear, an unsettling feeling. This might be done in ads trying to convince teenagers not to smoke. To create a negative affect or to get consumers to act to avoid a negative outcome, designers would likely chose scratchy, bold fonts, harsh linear graphics, dizzying colors and patterns, and so on. If the case is to project elegance, sophistication, and a desired self image of beauty and prestige, you'd most likely see something along the lines of Estee Lauder, Ralph Lauren, and Tiffany advertisements. In the business to business world, this translates into images of happy professionals looking healthy, balanced, stress free, relaxed, and energized. When considering creative applications for your advertisements--and in helping your customers with their marketing programs--consider the following: * Keep all images relevant and meaningful: If advertisements made a nursing home for ailing centers look like a five-star spa resort, you'd probably lose a lot of credibility among consumers shopping for care centers for their parents with a full understanding of what these places really look like. Remember, the images you project are as much a part of your brand's promise as the actual words you use. Keep them honest, realistic, and deliverable. * Says DaVerne, "Keep the message clear and use creative elements that support the message you want to communicate. The graphic elements should not dominate the message unless they are the message. For example, a water conservation ad running in the Denver market contained nothing more than an orange box on a white background and a very compelling call to action. The simplicity and use of a bold color command the attention and urgency desired by the designer. * Define the one thing that you want the audience to remember and build your graphic and verbal elements to meet that objective. For example, if you are promising your customers freedom from joint pain, images of age appropriate people engaged in healthy, active living might create a memorable impression that this is what your product has to offer. * If you want your consumers to perceive your brand as only offering the highest quality, state of the art equipment, use colors, fonts, layouts and images that are current and contemporary as these will position your company as current in the technology they are seeking to take advantage of. Using colors, fonts or images from 10 years ago will make you obsolete or out of touch. In summary, never underestimate the impact of how you present your products, and brand visually. In the case of marketing, "an image is worth a thousand words." Questions? Email me at email@example.com.