Most of us have heard it said that ‘A picture is worth 1,000 words’ and this truism is not confined just to pictures. It is often the image that truly defines the message, without the needs for words - think Nike swoosh or McDonalds golden arches. A carefully chosen image can reinforce a message or convey feelings or emotions that words sometimes cannot. Images draw people into a story, improve aesthetics of a layout and bring attention to a message’s ‘call to action’.
The key to using images effectively is to understand what makes an image impactful. Then, images should be chosen with careful consideration to purpose: How & where it will be reproduced, rights and royalties, budget, size, optimisation and other factors in order to ensure that the use of images is strategic, cost efficient and successful There is more to the choice of an image than you might at first suppose. Indeed choosing an image that is most effective with your message and intended audience has a little to do with psychology and the way the mind interprets or relates to an image. Given a basic understanding of this psychology enables communicators to choose images that not only look good, but feel good and make sense with the message being delivered.
An Image’s Power
The ability to construct meaning from visual images in advertising and other communications is sometimes referred to as “visual literacy” and the practice of using images to strategically assist messaging in communications is referred to as “visual communications.”
Images make it possible for us to:
Sometimes it’s just easier to explain something in pictures than it is in words—like a colour or how to assemble a flat pack wardrobe. Additionally, as communication continues to become faster paced and global, people expect to gain information and knowledge quickly in a format they can easily understand. Too much text can overwhelm, confuse or bore the mind. Images help to break up text and illustrate a point or a product faster, and in less space, than can be explained in text. Images use understanding to reinforce a message; if an image conflicts with the understanding offered to the audience in text, a disconnect occurs. “Any image that people can’t make sense of confuses the message,” explain professional photographer and designer, Annette Hartman.
Remember that an image is a universal language. Images should hit on an emotion you wish to convey, focus on a product you sell, demonstrate directions, show the subject of your text or illustrate a service that you offer. They reinforce your message, either subliminally or overtly.
Research has suggested that 72 hours after seeing a message presented with images, 65% of people can recall the message, compared to only 10% recall in people who have seen the message presented with text alone. Perhaps it’s not entirely important to your business or organisation that someone recall points made in a brochure or in an article, but from a marketing standpoint this tactic can be key. Help audiences remember your brand, Web site, product or message by choosing images that connect the dots between the written or spoken word and the message you are trying to convey.
Especially online, it would be difficult to sell a product to a consumer without showcasing photos of the product. Photos set expectations and allow consumers to feel more informed about the purchases they are making by letting them experience or interact with a product in a small but important way prior to the point of sale. Images also have the ability to spark our imagination in ways that text sometimes can’t. For instance, a photo of a happy child better conveys the experience of that child than text ever could. In seeing the experiences of others, the mind is better able to envision itself in these same experiences. Visualizations from these experiences can increase the emotional impact of text or prompt a strong desire to become the subject of the advert with the belief that purchasing a product or service is all that a person needs to do in order to achieve that experience.
These three psychological factors - understanding, recall, experience - work together in the minds of audiences to make sense of the messages they encounter. For a business or organisation these factors can mean the difference between a browser, a buyer, a bystander or a brand champion.