A Visual Asset is Worth 1000 Words

Jul 7 18:55 2021 Amy White Print This Article

If you recall, a visual asset is any graphic, chart, or visual display of information within a piece of content that helps elaborate the point you are trying to make.

I feel that the effective use of these smaller bits of visual information will long outlast ‘infographics’ (which have been on the way out for some time). People love charts and visual representations — they are timeless,Guest Posting much more so than the gross-looking, 2000px long info garbage that the blogosphere has become accustomed to.

Today I’d like to look at why visual assets work, as well as examine some potential use cases.

Let’s begin with the #1 reason why images rule the web: the swipe factor.

The Swipe Factor

Images have a way of repeatedly showing up in the most random locations online. They are easy to reference and even easier to share.

While the idea of memetics and memes — defined as “an idea, style or action which spreads, often as mimicry, from person to person via the Internet, as with imitating the concept” — can apply to any medium, they are by and large dominated by pictures.

Besides the odd YouTube video, images are without a doubt the pieces of content that are most likely to be passed around the web.

Why bring this up?

While the odds of a company-created visual spreading like your typical internet meme is somewhere between “zero” and “never going happen,” the swipe factor of well-created visuals is still quite relevant, especially for content marketing purposes

A recent example in the world of startups comes from User Onboarding, with a page that consists of a little over 100 words that we're able to generate ~5000 shares.

How? It was all thanks to a single image that made the rounds on both social networks and blog posts:

The concept of selling features over benefits is nothing new, but that isn’t the draw of a successful visual asset — the most important thing is that you creatively capture the concept in a visual.

Think of it as the “See Fig. A” when reading about a complex topic — the visual is often the “Aha!” moment needed to fully understand what you are learning about.

The example above also takes advantage of utilizing another ‘built-in’ audience: Mario fans!

It is surprising to see Mario’s fire-flower referenced in product marketing, but those familiar immediately get the reference, and it makes a somewhat “boring” topic (to the population at large) funny and easy to approach.

Remember this above all else: great visual assets do more than just put words to images, they must offer creativity, clarity, or new insights on a popular topic.

This largely constitutes the “why,” now let's look at how visual assets grant your content guy/gal the ability to teach customers in a whole new way.

Better Understanding

As they say, never use two words where one will do.

And pictures are worth a thousand, right?

Great visuals have the ability to help visualize concepts that would be much more difficult to put into words.

I know Brian Balfour has read a few of my previous posts, so maybe I added a tiny bit of inspiration here, but his recent articles have done an amazing job at taking muddy topics on growth and exploring them with excellent visuals.

Even in the debate of what ‘growth’ truly entails, Brian’s recent writing (and corresponding visuals) have really resonated with many folks working at startups:

The smart thing about Brian’s images is that they attract the right sort of people.

If we want people to “swipe” our images in order to get ourselves a mention, we have to make sure that the visuals we are creating are helping the right person understand the concept at hand.

In pursuing more e-commerce customers, we’ve taken the extra step in the examples included in our blog posts—such as this one on the Customer Service Tone—to create visuals the online store owners might benefit from.

Only an e-commerce shop could look at this and say, “Hmm, nice example. Our ‘Thank You’ page could definitely use some work…” Since we want more e-commerce customers (they are generally a great fit for Help Scout), this image did its job quite well.

I can see from Open Site Explorer that we grabbed a few links from e-commerce blogs that discussed this image. In a perfect world, your “visual asset” will always target your ideal audience and teach, explain, or comment on a subject/topic that is important to them.

Don’t be tricked into chasing pure ‘reach’ — perhaps you’ll find popular topics (lifehack-y, general business, etc.) get you more shares, but are they attracting the right sort of people?

Intercom does a great job of staying on target, check out their post on Email 101 for a couple of nice examples.

Contextual Social Sharing

Building off of the memetic nature of images, you likely aren’t surprised to find that images perform better on almost every social platform. Even Twitter, which was initially a very text-heavy platform, has seen increased performance in tweets with images. I know this because Buffer has tweeted out the following image (and corresponding data) about a dozen times!

I’d posit that we will see a decrease in their effectiveness (images were new when the above was published), but I have no doubt that images will remain an important part of most platforms.

This allows for ‘contextual social sharing’ with your images — either by sharing the images directly to make a concise visual statement, or to attach them to a piece of content for better promotion.

If you are confused about the latter, check out this example from Buffer, who does this extremely well:

Nothing like adding 1300+ retweets to an article by adding a relevant image. (I will note that this is not an original image by Buffer: I would advise against using other people’s images to promote your own content without asking first.)

We don’t have the gazillion followers that Buffer has, but I have noticed that through our (very modest) testing on Twitter, contextual sharing (a status update based around the image) generally performs better than simply sharing the article via text:

Last but not least, I love this Intercom example of taking an image and making a concise, but an intelligent statement. They were rewarded with a notable amount of retweets and comments:

I’ve focused a lot on Twitter since that is the platform I prefer, but let me be clear — images work far better on ‘made for photo’ platforms like Facebook. If Facebook is a strong medium for you, custom images will do incredibly well.

Here’s a small test by me for Sparring Mind, where I borrowed an image from @DouglasKarr and shared it with my audience. It has definitely given me the validation I need to pursue a few custom images of my own.

I imagine you’ll see even more success if platforms like Pinterest add a lot to your bottom line (e-commerce in women’s fashion, I could totally see it).

Shopping it Around

When a comedian comes up with a great joke, they don’t tell it at a single venue and retire it forever.

The first telling often simply acts as a litmus test, and if it performs well, it becomes a regular in their routines and is used multiple times.

And good thing, because otherwise, we’d all miss out on some classics!

I’m sick of following my dreams, man. I’m just going to ask them where they’re goin’, and hook up with them later.

—Mitch Hedberg

Ideas have the same luxury, but online writing often does not.

Marketing folks are worried about “duplicate content penalties,” and writers are often chastised for reusing content.

While the dishonest copy + paste should be discouraged, don’t fall victim to this sentiment and deny yourself the advantage of remixing, reusing, and republishing your best ideas.

Images have a huge advantage here — nobody cares about seeing them republished, and there is no duplication penalty to speak of.

In that way, visual assets can be shopped around easily. And the more people that see them, the more likely they are to reuse them themselves (grabbing you a mention in the process).

I’ve even taken advantage of some of our older full-length infographics, cropping out certain sections to include within guest posts. This typically helps my posts stand out and gives extra life to the original graphic.

I’ve clipped out this section from our What is Bad Customer Service Costing Your Business? multiple times to use in guest articles.

It’s a small segment of data that’s much easier to use when supplementing one of my off-site arguments (note: here’s another inherent advantage of visual assets over infographics — they are far easier to insert into articles!)

Remember though that “reusing” something doesn’t necessarily mean taking the same visual and putting it in multiple blog posts.

It can also mean using the same data and shopping around in different formats.

Wistia is a company that is very vocal about their support, so I love seeing how they take support data and turn it into blog posts, presentations, and even webinar slides:

This was a great “visual asset” grabbed from a webinar of theirs — the only advice I would offer is to make this freely (and easily) available if it is not currently (I only found this image via the webinar, hence the quality).

Also, notice how this image helps tell the company story.

Stories and behind-the-scenes looks are often the easiest business content to shop around — everybody loves getting the inside scoop.

With smart use of images, you now have easily shareable pieces of content that can help other people tell your story, just like I’m doing right now by sharing how Wistia apparently managed to scale their awesome support with self-service! (That’s the context for this image; this should be clearer if it is to be used as a standalone image and not a webinar slide).

Do you need a “chart guy?”

A small running joke with our team is how I’m always asking for a “chart guy” to assist me full time with blog posts — our designer Jared, who does an amazing job and already has enough things on his plate, can’t always heed my ridiculous “this would make a sweet image!” demands, try as he might.

It can be tough to add this extra effort into your content, so if your designer is stacked or you aren’t big enough for a “chart guy” :), remember the following:

  • Image creation resources are acceptable. Custom images will always come out on top, but by using chart creation software (hell, even PowerPoint) and graphic creators like PhotoADKing, content people should be able to shoulder some of the workloads here.
  • Great images can be simple. It’s okay to get a little ghetto while you’re getting your feet wet. The important thing here is in conveying useful and/or entertaining information; the design can be very simple.

Well, that was a whole lot of words to describe the use of images, so let’s call it a day — I hope this has been helpful!


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About Article Author

Amy White
Amy White

Hi, I'm Amy White, a professional visual art maker, freelance graphic designer, and blogger.

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