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The Power of Visual Influence

Communication in our society is increasingly visual – driven, in part, by the rapid rise of connected devices such as smartphones and tablets. More than half of consumers today are equipped with smartphones — and thus with increasingly high-resolution cameras, and readily available access to social network apps. The result? Sharing photos and videos with the world has never been easier.

We now take pictures of things we need to remember (e.g., details about a show from a poster) instead of writing them down. When seeking a friend’s opinion about a purchase, we share an image of the item in-store, instead of having a conversation to describe it. And today’s equivalent of “reading the instructions” may be watching a video on YouTube.

One of the newest words in Merriam Webster’s dictionary is selfie – the term for an impromptu self-portrait usually taken with a phone camera, and elevated to new levels during this year’s Academy Awards. How often did we take our own photo before today’s mobile devices came along? Now, the video for the pop song “#selfie” has garnered over 145 million views on YouTube (and counting). All of this points to the increasingly visual way we express ourselves and experience the world.

Advertisers understand that we have become increasingly visual creatures; today we see a host of ads that use visual storytelling to inspire and generate action TV ads have gotten shorter, and some contain little to no voiceover. Some companies go as far as streaming video – such as Domino’s Pizza, which lets you watch online as your pizza is being made.

Social media plays a huge role in this visual revolution; in fact, it is the pivot point where visual stories become influential. Platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and Vine are all image or video-centric; and women — especially moms with young children (under 6) – are keyed into them. According to GfK Roper Reports® US research, more than half (54%) of Moms with kids under 6 have edited or shared personal photos and/or videos using their smartphones in the past month alone.

Social media adds additional points of influence and amplifies the message. About a third of US women (32%) and half of Moms with younger children (51%) use social networks for inspiration on things they want to do in their lives. Three quarters of female social media users have liked and/or commented on a post or photo on social media in the past month, and four in ten have shared articles or videos.

Liking and sharing articles or videos are great examples of influencing others without saying a word. For example, one Mom shares on Facebook a photo of a cute kids’ art project she originally found on Pinterest. Another Mom in her ‘friends’ list sees it, gets enthused to do the project with her children, and then shares her kids’ version on Instagram. Her followers there, many of whom happen to be other Moms with little kids, are then inspired by the idea, and share it with their “network of influence.”

This is a picture-perfect example of 21st-century influence, which is incredibly seamless, from one social network to another. Consumers today influence each other without even realizing it; they can motivate people to action simply by having a “like” or “share” show up in their news feed.

Why is visual communication particularly natural for Moms with young children? Using picture book apps, watching educational videos, or playing games on a tablet are all visually stimulating mother/child activities. Moms with younger children are also consistently strapped for time –which makes short and visual messages are more compelling and practical for them. And, of course, Moms tend to enjoy sharing new life moments to proudly display their children’s milestones on social media.

Future Moms — today’s Gen Z women (ages 18-23) – are even more likely to get inspired by images they see on social media. This upcoming generation of Moms is true digital-natives who have high engagement with technology and social media sites such as Pinterest and Instagram. Close to half (49%) of Gen Z women have visited Instagram (vs. 17% of total women), and 4 in 10 have visited Pinterest (42% vs.28% of total women) in the past month.

Visual influence offers an exciting way to inspire, motivate and speak with your customers. In this increasingly visual world, a good question to ask is, “How is your ‘selfie’ today?” How well does your brand play in the visual space? Are you maximizing your chances with the visual media? Remember that the message doesn’t have to come from you directly. Fans of your brand will act as brand ambassadors to help spread positive word of mouth about your products and services. Consumers must relate to your brand in a visual way –and then work hard to spread the good word about what you do.

Today, that is the ultimate in “having a good image.”

Jola Burnett is a Consultant a GfK’s Consumer Trends, a division of the Market Opportunities and Innovation team. She can be reached at jola.burnett@gfk.com.

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