How to determine what content marketing should be visual

One of the topics I was asked about recently by Vocus was about the influence of visual content. I wanted to add some color to my original remarks, which you can find here.

Visual content is the fancypants new term for what we used to call rich media, and it’s in fact a subset of rich media. Visual content is anything that is visual – but not text – in nature, from infographics to YouTube videos to Pinterest pins. One of the key questions marketers are asking is what content should be made visual.

It’s important to understand that not everything has to be visual. Not everything should be visual. Some content can’t be made visual, at least not without distorting it beyond recognition. Some content is better suited to audio, to video, or to other formats.

Here’s a simple test you can use to determine whether content is ideally suited for visual marketing. First, stand at your whiteboard. Next, attempt to draw out the content in question, even if your art skills are horrendous – other people don’t have to be in the room.

Me working on framing out an upcoming talk

If you can draw it with a minimum of words, you’ve got static visual content that’s right for infographics and illustrations.

If you can draw it but you need to tell a story as you draw it, or erase and draw in stages, you’ve got content that’s better suited for video.

If you can tell the story with excitement but you just can’t draw it, you’ve likely got audio content.

If you just end up writing lots of words on the whiteboard, you’ve got text content better suited for a white paper, eBook, or blog post.

Use this simple test to determine what kind of content you’ve got and whether it’s right for visual marketing or not.

Disclosure: Vocus is a client of my employer, SHIFT Communications.

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6 principles of influence in content marketing

Ask any Internet marketing expert what makes a digital marketing campaign more likely to be successful, and you’re liable to hear a common refrain: valuable content. Content is king. Create relevant content for people that they want.

While all these answers are true, they’re incomplete. They don’t provide you with a more comprehensive view of content marketing from the perspective of getting your audience to do what you want them to do, which is the very definition of influence and the measure of your influence over your audience.

In 1999, Dr. Robert Cialdini postulated 6 principles of influence and persuasion that can be leveraged to make influence and persuasion techniques more effective. Let’s take a look at these and how they might be able to improve the influence of your content marketing. The 6 principles are:

  • Reciprocity. People tend to return a favor and honor social debts.
  • Consistency. People will tend to honor a commitment and be consistent with previous behaviors.
  • Social proof. People tend to follow the herd.
  • Authority. People tend to obey authority figures.
  • Likeness. People tend to be influenced by those they are like and those they like.
  • Scarcity. People tend to act faster under the perception of scarcity.


How would each of these principles be used in content marketing?

Reciprocity. Offer your audience something of value. This may be content, or it may be a material good or service. Whatever it is, Cialdini’s version of reciprocity does not necessarily enforce a quid pro quo. Give, and then ask after you’ve gained influence with them. Of all the techniques, digital marketers tend to make use of this the most, because it’s the simplest to understand and execute on.

Consistency. People tend to behave consistently, aligned with previous behaviors. Cialdini cites the example of going around the neighborhood with a petition for a cause and then going around again a week later soliciting donations for the cause. Donors nearly doubled with the use of the petition because people wished to be consistent with their previous signature of the petition. Think about how you can use behavioral consistencies – subscribing to an email, following someone on a social network, taking a poll or survey, etc. – to create a behavior and then use a followup marketing campaign to elicit the response you seek.

Social proof. Properly executed, social media can radically change your content marketing. Every time someone shares, comments, engages, or likes your content, they’re implicitly endorsing it, creating social proof that your content marketing has value. Encourage and incentivize your audience to share as much as possible.

Authority. Presumably people consume your content because you have some degree of knowledge and authority, enough credibility for people to want to read what you have to say. Provide people with the tools they need to become authorities in their own social circles and your content marketing will be unstoppable. For example, Peter Shankman’s Help a Reporter allowed PR and marketing professionals to have free access to journalism inquiries that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. Not only was Shankman an authority on PR, but he empowered each of his subscribers to become authorities in their respective companies, creating press and earned media opportunities seemingly out of thin air.

Likeness. How well do you know your audience? For good or ill, we are easily persuaded by people who are like us, or are people we like. Narrowly, social media certainly provides plenty of ways to identify people just like you, such as Facebook’s Graph API. More broadly, think about the imagery and language in your content marketing and whether it’s aligned to your audience. If your marketing data indicates that your audience is largely Hispanic, having content and imagery focused on Swedish personas will simply not resonate.

Scarcity. Whatever you have to offer, there’s a way to make it scarce. It could be a time limited special offer, or a limited quantity. It could be your time and knowledge in a consulting capacity about a subject matter you have expertise in. Find a way to bring some scarcity to what you have to offer.

Is Dr. Cialdini’s checklist the definitive answer to making your content marketing more powerful? No. Is it part of the answer? Absolutely. Try it out with your own content marketing, integrate his principles into what you’re doing, and see if you can create some similar results.

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How to create a big marketing idea

In yesterday’s post, you and I looked at how to tell if a big marketing idea made any sense by deconstructing it into actionable items. Today, let’s do the reverse and look at making a big marketing idea. Logically, if we judge an idea’s worth by the manual it comes with, in terms of operationalization, then in order to make an idea worthwhile, we should start with what we already know how to do.


Look at your marketing toolkit. Look at all of the tools in it, all of the frameworks you know, all of the ideas you trust and believe in. What do you know? What can you do? Of the tools, tactics, and frameworks you have in your toolkit, what do each of them have as inputs and outputs?

Once you know what tools you have in your arsenal and what they can do, you can start to gather them together. Look for common inputs and common outputs. For example, social media has content as an input and website visitors as an output. Does anything else share those inputs or outputs? SEO certainly does – SEO takes content as an input and website visitors as an output. Thus, creating a strategy where there’s significant overlap between social media and SEO is a logical conclusion to reach.

You can take any process and put the ideas together to form a bigger idea. For example, I write blog posts on a regular basis. If a blog post does especially well, I flag it to be part of something bigger, maybe turn it into a webinar. If that webinar does well, then I take the webinar and turn it into an eBook. If the eBook does well, I turn it into a public speaking presentation. Suddenly a series of individual tactics is sewn together into a coherent strategy, something that can be turned into a “Big Idea” – in this case, something I call “content upcycling“. Now it’s a bigger idea.

The great advantage of creating bigger strategies and ideas like this out of tactics and operations is that by default, it “comes with the manual” because you already know how to execute on every step of the strategy. You automatically know it’s valid because you’ve sewn it together from existing valid, working parts. If you want it to be a “secret sauce”, you don’t have to disclose every portion of it, but you can share enough of the details so that other people can get at least some of the results you achieve from your particular recipe.

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