The Low Down On Visual Literacy


What is visual literacy? Think images. We’re surrounded by them online. Instagram. Snapchat. Infographics. OH MY!

If you’re studying consumer behavior like any good marketer (HECK, business person!) should be, you’ve started to notice the shift.

First it was text. Then blogs. Then, in rapid pace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat … and emojis are EVERYWHERE!

visual literacy

Images Are Hugely Effective

We’re now communicating through pictures. Images are communicative.

They’re also immediate.

We process pictures 60,000 times faster than text, and our visual vocabulary is growing at an incredible pace. [Tweet this!]

(*It should be noted that some people have discrepancies with the above stat. If you’d like more information on this, please see the comment below by Dean and follow his link for more research.)

Visual Literacy Challenges

As we communicate with fewer and fewer words, how can brands keep up? While you might think SEO (search engine optimization) is key, it’s also changing.

The internet has historically been set up to find things with words, but is now being recalibrated to search for words AND images.

So how do you become relevant with images?

Key questions:

  1. Do my photos speak visually?
  2. What are my photos “saying”?
  3. Am I visually listening to the photos of my community/audience/industry/competitors?
  4. What are people “saying” with their photos?

And this doesn’t just pertain to what you’re creating. Think about the photos you’re curating as well.

Are those memes really representing your brand? Or are they perpetuating crap?

Things we can miss or lose with images:

  • Context
  • Sentiment
  • Nuance of tone/meaning

Data Mining With Photos & Images

The great thing about photos and images is that people get very specific.

It’s no longer about the shoe store, but the specific pair of shoes you’re coveting from the shoe store … right down to the color, style, and feeling they entice from you.

Take mega brands Target and Nordstrom, for instance. They’re taking social cues from sites like Facebook, Instagram and Vine and physically changing their store layouts and windows based on what the consumer is telling them.

That’s visual literacy.

“Listening” to the consumer photos has enabled them to align their brand with what the masses want RIGHT NOW. It’s the Oreo of fashion brands. It’s real-time marketing.

How should you mine data from photos?

  • Consider the consumer mindset 
  • Watch the generational gap; millennials expect brands to be more interactive
  • Be authentic with it; don’t just grab user photos to throw up in your next ad (Urban Outfitters is a great example of how to do this)
  • Consider an influencer marketing campaign
  • Create a system for feedback; allow consumers to talk with you and guide your efforts

text is not dead

Text Is Not Dead

People still want text. While I believe photos are becoming more and more important to marketers, I don’t think we’re going to ever throw out text with the bathwater.

Your best bet?

Combining text and images. But don’t get too post happy with those memes (gag!).

What’s Your Take?

Do you consider yourself or your brand to have/understand visual literacy? Let me know in the comment section below!

See you in the social sphere!

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Brooke B. Sellas

Founder & Chief Digital Strategist at B Squared Media, LLC
In-the-trenches digital marketer & owner at @HelloBSquared, blossoming blogger and writer for {grow} & @AgoraPulse. Purveyor of psychographics. Biz & Marketing Mantra: Think Conversation, Not Campaign.™ Click here to subscribe to my mailing list

Posted In Branding, business, Content Marketing, Online Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Social Strategy

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  1. Visuals are 2014′s hot topic and you haven’t disappointed in yet another unique perspective on a popular theme. Thank you for sharing this uniqueness with your readers.
    I had to check out ‘emojis’, always learning something new from you. I haven’t found the way to install them on my iphone and my mum is a big user on her Android! They’re such a powerful – and quick indeed! – way to communicate meaning and feelings.
    Great post Brooke. Thanks again and looking forward to more inspiration and knowledge from you.
    Veronica Solorzano Athanasiou recently posted..What I learned about Twitter in ONE year.My Profile

    • It’s definitely a topic worth exploring and talking about, Veronica! You’re welcome – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and my POV.

      Hopefully you figured out how to add the emojis to your phone! I use them far too often … haha.

      Thanks, as always, for being such a wonderful supporter of our blog! It’s much appreciated. :)

    • Thanks for sharing your opinion, Dean. I too have heard this fact both in speeches from Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram at SMWNYC this past February as well as in text (as linked). In any case, it makes sense that we process pictures faster than text – and whether that’s 60,000 times faster or 6,000 times faster it’s hugely important for brands to understand that in our noisy, fast-paced online world it’s important to utilize images, as well as “listen” to them for visual literacy.

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  3. I think this dilemma has transpired so much that the issue of using text vs. Infographic had been repeatedly debated. I myself find convenience (since I am a visual learner) whenever I see infographic that speaks relevance and its illustrations gives you the idea of how text is all about. But when we talk of the basics, still pictures can make a lot of speculations since its too broad, but words speaks clarity and definition.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us, David! I, too, like infographics. But, you’re right. When it comes to the basics I think text and words can sometimes clarify more complex thoughts, definitions and meanings. Text won’ die, but I do feel we need to get better at understanding, using and “listening” with images.

  4. Visual literacy is a hot topic everywhere. Infographic as its best example draws so much attention and are highly used these days. A simple infographic can give a complete information to its viewers. A picture paints a thousand words but then a text still signifies clarity.

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