Power of pictures: The eyes have it

Infinity pool greece
Stop you in your tracks photographs
– you know the ones: the infinity pool perched on the edge of a cliff in Greece; the romantic plantation-style inn with rocking chairs waiting on the porch; or the signature golf hole with greens as smooth as velvet.

These are the pictures you used to tear out of a magazine and save in a Places to Visit file. Now, chances are, you pin to a wish-list board on Pinterest, loaded with your personal vacation fantasies. Although some photo destinations may remain out of reach, no doubt others will influence actual bookings for trips.  A survey by eMarketer indicates that 32% of customers have made a purchase after seeing an image on a social image-sharing website, and 26% were able to click through from the image to make their purchases.

Images, particularly quality photographs, are a magnetic force in content marketing, and drive social media activity. It is vital for businesses to show, not tell, as visual content sites are fueling demand for inspiring photography and sensational images. A marketer’s overriding mantra that “content is king” has met its match with the new maxim “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

A study conducted in 2012 by ROI Research found that users engaged on social media sites enjoy pictures the most and 42% of respondents are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures.

Images are a form of shorthand for communicating with consumers. Online audiences feel increasingly overwhelmed by the volume of information on social media these days, so it helps that photos are visually processed almost instantly, even faster than reading a post or a tweet.

Make sure you develop a tailored image strategy within your content marketing plan. Yes, stock images are useful and tweeting Instagram pictures can be part of your strategy – there is a legitimate place for behind-the-scenes updates communicated with the immediacy of this visual communication channel – but these sources will only take you so far. Part of your plan should include a realistic budget for professional photo shoots. Top quality professional photography adds authority and legitimacy to a brand. Studies have shown that over 45% of people say a website’s design is the number one criterion for discerning the credibility of a company, and much of the strength of web design hinges on populating a site with strong image content.

Based on experience, I would urge you to match the skill set of the photographer with the subject of the shoot. Some professionals excel at managing the demands of architectural photography, and can magically transform a dull, concrete facade into a building that exudes warmth and elegance. These guys know every angle and can add visual square footage to interior spaces, bouncing light off every surface to make a room positively glow. Other photographers are experts at shooting lifestyle images with models, making intangible emotions tangible and validating the aspirational nature of a brand.  Certain photographers even specialize within a very narrow subject niche, such as golf course panoramas or food photography.

Don’t just hire a great photographer, hire the right photographer. Make sure to allocate your marketing budget accordingly, and be confident that quality photography is an excellent investment in social media success.

Consumer as Chief Marketing Officer

WOM

Word of mouth (WOM) has always influenced consumer decision-making. Receiving the personal advice, recommendations, and suggestions of friends, family, and acquaintances before making a purchase is both reassuring and validating.

Need a new camera? Ask the brother-in-law that’s a shutter bug.  A new car? Dad always has sound advice about automobiles.  Great restaurant? A foodie friend is the go-to expert.

Emerging media has expanded word of mouth influence to include the objective and subjective opinions of ANYONE choosing to share their experiences electronically – hence the term, eWOM.  Reading multiple five-star reviews, contributed by strangers across the globe, is now as likely to influence that camera purchase as a brother-in-law’s recommendation. If poor ratings in review sites such as Yelp or Urbanspoon contradict a friend’s restaurant suggestion, reservations will likely be made elsewhere.

Social networking has completely transformed how consumers interact with a brand.  What people have to say about a brand is now as important as whatever the brand has to say about itself. Consumers, en masse, are eager to share the role of Chief Marketing Officer. Of course, this challenges corporate traditions. The comfort zone of a top-down, tightly controlled commercial communication model is now outdated; businesses need to adopt open, equal, interactive dialogues within online brand communities.

A new research study quantifies the influence of word of mouth marketing (both WOM and eWOM combined):

  • 10 – 54% of the marketing impact for a brand is delivered through word of mouth, suggesting this is a key element of the consumer decision-making journey.
  • Word of mouth can drive nearly as much organic search as traditional marketing activities on their own, when marketing activities are also present.
  • A 10% increase in word of mouth resulted in sales lift of 0.2% – 1.5%.

Both WOM and eWOM, play a significant role in the consumer decision journey, acting as an amplifier of all marketing activities. Marketers need to account for the pathways through which word of mouth plays an intermediary step in the journey between marketing exposure and financial results. Analyzing the overall impact on marketing will help determine optimal budget allocations.

The speed of diffusion. reach, persistence and interactivity of eWOM is both intimidating and challenging to manage operationally. Companies have less control over WOM and eWOM strategies, as the way communication spreads among consumers is more random than in advertising. Authentic, responsive and transparent communication with consumers is vital. Creating a strong brand community through regular communications inspires loyalty and motivates satisfied customers to defend a brand against negative eWOM. The tone and language used in communications must be personal and relatable emulating a real online conversation. Responding to unsatisfied customers demonstrates responsiveness and limits the potential for further dissemination of negative reviews as a form of consumer revenge.

The following corporate responses from the Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco on Trip Advisor and Nike Support on Facebook, demonstrate responsiveness to eWOM in a brand-appropriate voice:

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There is no room for smoke and mirrors in today’s socially net-worked world. Corporations can connect directly, in near real-time, with customers whether locally, nationally or internationally, building and enhancing customer relationships.

In 2013 and beyond, word-of-mouth marketing is not just “nice to have,” but is a game-changing element of today’s marketing mix.