Business Marketing: Images vs Words

Randy McCabe

Successful marketing is all about finding the right way to communicate your message.

Words are often the simplest way to communicate a message and cannot be as easily misinterpreted as images.

However, images tend to grab people’s attention faster and they can sometimes convey a lot of information a lot more quickly (as the old saying goes ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.).

For the best results, it’s often worth using words and images together. However, there are cases where one medium may be better suited than the other. This post delves into the situations when it’s best to use words in marketing and situations when it’s best to use images, as well as offering examples of each.

Why market with images?

A study carried out by MIT found that the brain can identify images in as little as 13 milliseconds. Meanwhile, it takes about 4 seconds to read a single 20-word sentence.

Clearly, images are much faster at getting the message across. This is why images rule over words on social media - it’s easier to grab someone’s attention while scrolling by using an image in a post than it is simply relying on text.

Images are also great at communicating lots of information quickly that might otherwise take a long time to put into words. Complex processes can be easily explained using diagrams and animations. If a consumer is visiting your website, they may not have the time or patience to read a long text description - a diagram or animation could give them the information they need quickly and reduce your web page bounce rate.

Images can also be important for building trust. Few of us would think about buying a product online if a photograph isn’t provided. Staff photos, product demos and behind-the-scenes videos can similarly build trust by showing that you have nothing to hide.

Which companies can benefit the most from marketing with images?

If your product is primarily visual, using images in your marketing could be essential for showing people the quality of your work. For example, if you’re a cakemaker, a beauty artist, or an interior designer, you could find that you’re reliant on photos to showcase your work and gain trust.

Images can also be very important for companies wanting to project a sense of fun or youthfulness. Most B2C companies can benefit from using a lot of images. Consumers typically choose to purchase such products or services in their leisure time and they don’t want to have to work hard to get the information they need - by using lots of images, you can make information easy and fun to digest.

Ways to market with images

Photographs

Photographs can provide visual evidence to help build trust, whether you’re advertising a product on social media or introducing your team on your website. In other cases, they can be used to set up mock situations with a product to help customers visualize a product in use. This could include a model wearing clothes in a glamorous setting or a customer using a barbecue in his backyard surrounded by happy guests. Photos need to be high quality - it’s worth hiring a professional product photographer in many cases. Consider getting creative with 3D photos and drone photography to help your photos stand out.

Illustrations

Illustrations can help to show information that photos may not be able to successfully show. For example, an illustration could be used to show the inner mechanism of an air purifier or to easily convey metaphors such as darts hitting a target. Illustrations can be used on social media or on your website. It’s worth hiring a professional illustrator to create them.

Graphs and charts

Graphs and charts can help to present stats and outline processes visually in a simple way. They can be used on social media or your website to convey lots of information quickly. You may be able to use graph and chart building programs to build these yourself, although for complex and unique graphs and charts you may want to hire a graphic designer.

Live-action videos

Live-action videos can come in so many forms including adverts, behind-the-scenes videos, webinars, vlog posts, and product demos. They can be shared on social media (videos can get three times more engagements on Instagram than images) or displayed on your homepage. Videos can display a lot of information quickly, which is their biggest advantage. You’ll typically need to hire a video production company to make sure that they look professional

Animations

Animations can be used to create videos that may not be possible to set up using live-action. They could be useful for describing complex processes and mechanisms, or for bringing fun metaphors to life. Explainer videos found on website homepages and shared on social media typically incorporate animation. You’ll want to hire a professional animator to create these videos.

Emojis

Emojis are a little more controversial. Many B2C companies incorporate them into social media posts and email subject lines to grab people’s attention and convey extra information in a quick and simple way. Studies have found that emojis can improve the engagement of a Tweet by as much as 25%. Of course, there are contexts where emojis definitely aren’t appropriate, such as when talking about serious topics.

Why market with words?

You often can’t market a product with visuals alone. After grabbing people with an eye-catching image, words are often needed to provide detail and context. This is typically in the form of text, although words can also be communicated through audio.

Words are key to inbound marketing. People who are already interested in your product are more likely to invest time in finding the information they need and may not mind sifting through large amounts of texts if it gives them the answers they need. Marketing strategies like SEO are meanwhile reliant on words - a site with lots of images and minimal text may struggle to rank well on Google.

There are times when words can also be used to build trust. A picture of a product may not always tell you everything you need to know - a text description can clarify the details. Positive third-party reviews can meanwhile show that other people advocate using your product, not just you.

It’s worth noting that words are typically a lot cheaper and simpler to use in marketing. You can write a blog post or email without having to invest in fancy equipment or hire professionals.

Which companies can benefit the most from marketing with words?

Certain companies haven’t got much to visually offer. An accounting firm, a legal writing service, or a cloud computing company may find it easier to communicate via words - a photo or a video may not provide much substance.

If you’re a B2B company, using too many images could also affect your company’s sense of professionalism - words can sometimes be better for showing that you’re serious. It’s also worth noting that customers shopping for business products/services are often more willing to put in more research (they may even be paid to spend time researching). In other words, such customers may not mind reading a lot of text to get the answers they want.

Ways to market with words

Keywords

Keywords are essential for helping people to find a web page on search engines or even for helping people to stumble across a Tweet. Strategies such as SEO involve finding the right keywords and implementing them so that your content is easier to find. You can do your own keyword research using various online tools and you can attempt to add these keywords to your own copy, or you can hire an SEO company to do it for you (which is often more effective).

Hashtags

Hashtags are a useful way of labeling posts on Twitter and Instagram and can work much like keywords. If you want to let consumers know that you’re at a trade show or conference, you can use the event hashtag to easily attract people to your post who may be searching for your event. Hashtags don’t really have much use outside of social media.

Product descriptions

When buying a product on a website, most people expect a thorough product description. The same goes for describing services. Product descriptions are most commonly found on websites. A good product description should be detailed while being easy to scan - things like bullet points and headers can make the text more digestible. Production descriptions also typically incorporate a lot of keywords. You can write these descriptions yourself, or hire a copywriter.

Reviews/testimonials

Reviews and testimonials are written by clients. They are unbiased descriptions of your product or service that can help to boost credibility by showcasing what other people think of your business. Because you cannot write reviews and testimonials yourself, you must instead encourage customers to leave reviews by sending emails or asking in person. Reviews and testimonials can be found on social media, search engines, and websites.

Blog posts

Blog posts are typically used to give advice or useful information to consumers. They are more informational than promotional and serve mainly to boost credibility by sharing expert tips and to gain extra traffic. Blog posts can also be integral to SEO - they allow you to constantly update your website and add keywords, which can help to boost rankings. Blog posts are typically only found on websites. You can write them yourself, or hire a copywriter.

Emails/texts

Emails and text can be used to provide news of promotions, events, and company changes. They are typically very promotional and unlike other word-based marketing strategies listed above are a form of outbound marketing rather than inbound marketing (approaching customers rather than letting them approach you). The subject line can be very important to an email and must be short and snappy to get people to click. Texts don’t have subject lines - instead, the main body must stick within a tight character limit. Emails and texts can be sent to people in a mailing list or you can send out cold emails/texts to try to build new customers. You can create emails and texts yourself or hire someone to create them for you.

Audio

Words don’t have to be in written form. It’s possible to use podcasts or audio ads (as found on online radios and music streaming platforms) to connect to customers using speech. The delivery is as important as the content when creating an audio advert. While you can write the script and record such adverts yourself, most companies hire an advertising company to create these adverts.

Using the two together

There are so many instances where images and words are most effective when used together. A few examples are included below:

  • With the exception of search ads (which are text only), most online ads rely on a mixture of images and text to communicate their message clearly.
  • Visuals such as graphs and illustrations can be mixed with information and promotion text to create ‘infographics’ - these are very effective ways to convey large amounts of information quickly and in-depth and can be used on social media or your website.
  • When writing a long blog post, images can sometimes be necessary for breaking up the text and helping to make it more digestible.
  • Most memes are reliant on images combined with text. These can be a great tool for adding some humor to your social media posts.
  • The majority of videos are most effective when using a voiceover on top, helping to contextualize the video. Videos on social media and auto-play videos on websites may be automatically muted, so it’s worth also enabling captions.

When it comes to using strong visuals and engaging text together, hiring a digital marketing company such as Exo Agency can often be useful. When hiring such a company, you have access to a team of visual designers and copywriters who can work together to put both images and words into your marketing.

Ultimately, you still get to decide the types of strategies you’d like to implement. Feel free to use some of the information above for inspiration when creating future marketing campaigns.

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Full-stack Digital Marketer, Ex-Googler located in the heart of downtown Seattle. Featured on DesignRush, Shane Barker & Conversion Fanatics.

Seattle, WA
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