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MCLELLAN: The eye of the beholder


I think human beings have always been driven by visuals. Long before we could communicate verbally or through the written word, we’ve used visual cues to tell a story, to convey an emotion or to get a sense of the environment around us.

What we see has a profound effect on what we do, how we feel and who we are. Psychologist Albert Mehrabian demonstrated that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. Research proved that we process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.

The human brain deciphers image elements simultaneously, while language is decoded in a linear, sequential manner taking more time to process. We are genetically wired to respond faster and differently to visuals than to text.

Good storytellers know that even if they’re working in words, they have to paint a picture in their listener’s mind to create that connection. As marketers, we’re telling stories every day and no matter what the medium, we should be using visuals as a tool to enhance our story.

All too often, both online and in traditional media, I see wasted opportunities when it comes to visuals. Rather than choosing and placing visuals that communicate, the agency or company actually diminishes its ad’s effectiveness.

If you want to really take full advantage of the power of strong visuals, be sure to keep these rules of thumb in mind. These all apply whether you’re talking website design, print ads or even TV spots.

Bigger is better: We’ve all seen the “collage” effect of trying to use multiple visuals in a single space. Usually this indicates that either the client or the designer is trying to pack too many messages into a single space. Single, large visuals deliver a significant impact.

Front and center: If an image is peripheral to the eyes, then it is equally peripheral to the brain. You want your image to be centered whenever possible, because that means both eyes will view it and send twice as powerful a message to the brain.

Make a move: Movement communicates at a very subconscious level. On the Web and in video, visual movement can actually help move the viewer from one emotion to another or from one point of view to a new one. Be mindful of your pace, however. Flipping from one visual to another too quickly is jarring, and if you’re too slow, it’s distracting. In a 30-second spot, three to four scenes is about right.

Face it: We are fascinated by faces, and those faces have the ability to make us laugh, bring us to tears or touch our heart. If people play a key role in your selling proposition, be very mindful of the faces you select.

Emotions drive sales: Every buying decision is based on emotions. Visuals, whether they’re just an amazing expression on an interesting face or something more symbolic or metaphorical, can spike our emotions and create a connection that inspires action. Understanding which emotions you need to trigger to generate interest in your product or service will help you select visuals that evoke that response.

Color cues: We respond to colors very differently. A simple change, like switching a model’s blue shirt for an orange one, may trigger a whole different set of emotions from the viewer.

Remember that the visuals you include in your ads and other marketing tools are just as important as your headlines and calls to action. In fact, our own evolution suggests they might be even more important!

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