Visual Influence in 2016

Monday 15 February, 2016

“Essentially [gifs are] a whole new method of communication. If people are talking in this content and using it to replace words, strategically that means you can create a branded language.

“And you can one way or another get billions of people to communicate with one another through your content. We’re serving in places that you can’t buy ads. This is uncharted territory.”

Powerful words from chief operating officer of Giphy, Adam Leibsohn, who makes a compelling argument for making pictures the baseline for social media engagement at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York last month. Weber Shandwick together with Fast Company convened top marketing, content and creative leaders to explore “How Can Brands Survive the Era of Engagement?”

Leibsohn’s right, we are dealing with a brand new language here. This is truly an exciting question for everyone within brand communications right now. What we’ve been talking about over the past few months – a shift and change in modern communications – is now a reality.

Social media norms like gifs, cinemagraphs on Facebook, Vines, emojis and ‘stickers’ are emerging as innovative devices for brands to express themselves to the consumer market in fresh ways.

Let’s explore emojis – as many brands are currently in a process of playing catch-up. They are now a real part of the marketing lexicon. House of Frasers has famously divided public opinion with its recent assault of emojis, the Gran Prix winner at Cannes featured emojis, the pizza emoji can now be used to order pizza, flipped its presence to promote Emoji Science, and a car manufacturer even went to the extremes of issuing a press release entirely in emojis.

Brands are starting to get to grips with using short form content packages to provide exponentially more engaging content than passive, static media – ensuring their content is engaging, fluid and memorable.

Across Scotland, there is a huge appetite among clients to understand the media flux at play. Vitally, they want to know the best way to transition effectively from traditional methods to digital ways of communicating.

At its core, visual influence is about seeing through the eyes of those you want to reach – understanding their world-view and the visual language they speak and engage with. Firstly, it always comes down to a great idea that earns not just the attention of people, but algorithms too.

No longer is it about republishing or repackaging. It’s about thinking digitally and creating content for very specific platforms, each with a unique set of environments like Snapchat or Instagram. At a fundamental level, the audiences of both these platforms speak a very different visual language to the other; one with its doodle-friendly, time sensitive content and the other with its filtered snapshots of reality.

In addition to a heavy reliance on filters or carefully curated images, Instagram captions are now the new blogging, and Instagram itself is inspiring other projects such as Dronestagram – a picture-sharing site for aerial photos taken from drones.

The joy, and challenge, of this digital age we live in is that new platforms are emerging all the time. A fine example of this is the visual news organisation Pictoline. Within the space of a just a few months, it has attracted 300,000 followers on Facebook and 66,000 on Twitter.

As we’ve already highlighted, some of the world’s biggest brands have already discovered that agencies and clients no longer have to be the originators of this content. With an unfathomable amount of quality YouTubers, Viners and Instagrammers available on-tap, the internet presents a myriad of opportunities to leverage big followings and outstanding visual skills.

We have countless examples at Weber Shandwick of how we have driven and guided engagements in this new age of marketing for our clients. Although things are moving at a ceaselessly rapid pace, we have incredibly smart thinkers who can view the world not just through the lens of PR but also digital entertainment. Fundamentally, we think social first.

Here are two final thoughts regarding this new visual language. Firstly, in November 2014, Mark Zuckerberg announced that within five years Facebook would shift its focus towards video content. By June 2015, the company announced they were delivering over four billion videos every day.

Secondly, many dismissed Snapchat as trivial upon its release – an app for teenage users to send messages and photos that automatically disappear. Now, with an estimated market value of $111 billion, Snapchat has proven itself as the go-to platform for millennials.

In 2016, the opportunities have already started to become a reality with brands and agencies embracing a new visual language; ready to experiment, adapt and engage in a new digital landscape.

Originally posted on Weber Shandwick’s EMEA blog.