From online reviews to Facebook posts to personal blogs, the social media movement gave voice to millions, seamlessly allowing users to articulate and share thoughts, opinions and insights.
However, as image-focused platforms continue to gain traction — including Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat — we’ve seen a profound embrace of visual imagery. In fact, it’s given rise to a new generation of connective, digital storytellers who use pictures, videos and images rather than written narratives to convey their point of view.
Profound Embrace of Visual Storytelling
I’ve coined them "visual influencers" because of this transcendent shift from first-person narrative posts to descriptive imagery. These influencers have found a new way to compose detailed, compelling and highly authentic content solely through the art of visuals. Furthermore, despite rarely sharing a single word — many actually have no blog or written platform — these influencers have significant, loyal followings on their visual social channels.
Art of Imagery Elevates Everyday Moments
Even though these influencers have lessened their dependence on written words, we still see thoughtful, authentic and influential storytelling. Much like Charlie Chaplin never needed to speak in order to convey complex emotions or vibrant storylines, visual influencers use imagery to record the world around them frame-by-frame. They're capturing everyday moments with images that convey a story more powerfully than words ever could.
Smartphones Power Today’s Visual Movement
As we move deeper into this visual movement, we can see that our ever-present smartphones have provided a significant boost. New Influence Central research into digital trends reveals that 75 percent of women say they always/most of the time/sometimes view videos on their phone, 70 percent say they use their phone most often to take photos, and 51 percent say they always connect to social media via a smartphone.
Having a phone constantly on hand — and using it to both share and view images — powers the growth of visual communications and influence, regardless of whether consumers find themselves at home or on the go.
Visual Imagery and the Impact on the Consumer Path to Purchase
As visual influencers continue to deepen their overall impact, we also see an increasing influence on the consumer purchasing journey. I’ve included below four trends that illuminate how consumers’ growing reliance on images and visuals has redefined their path to purchase:
- Digital imagery aids in the consumer discovery process: Visual channels continue to be very discovery oriented, and Instagram and Pinterest have become the new go-to platforms as consumers begin research on new products. Consumers increasingly gravitate toward short video snippets and look for styled pictures and images that shed new light on previously undiscovered product features.
- Images bring clarity to a sea of product choices: Consumers intuitively know that visuals aid in the decision-making process, bringing a sense of clarity to the dizzying array of product options they face each time they go online or walk in-store. From detailed product photos to images and videos capturing how a new product can fit into daily life, visuals play a key role in ensuring consumers make the right product choice for themselves and their families.
- Digitally savvy millennials embrace visuals: Nowhere do we see the impact of visual influencers as much as we do with millennial consumers. Millennials represent the first generation to grow up steeped in technology and social media, and have proven fluent in a variety of digital platforms. They're increasingly focusing on visual channels that allow them to share videos and images with their peers. Millennials post images that focus on their experiences — e.g., photos of their favorite dish from the new bistro they discovered, videos of themselves enjoying their latest consumer find. Ultimately, these images allow them to share their experiences with their communities, as well as to help with decision making along their purchasing journey.
- Smartphones bring visuals to point of purchase: Whether consumers shop online or in-store, we know they use photos, product images and videos to help them better understand key product features and weigh their product options. However, as most of today’s consumers continue to be tethered to their smartphones, consumers can still tap into online content provided by their favorite visual influencer — even while shopping in-store. Consumers continue to turn to their smartphones for insights while shopping offline, which can become the tipping point if they’re on the fence about a purchase or struggling to decide between two similar products.
Even though the rise of the visual influencer began with image-oriented channels such as Pinterest and Instagram gaining traction, these technology platforms will not prove key to its sustained growth.
As we’ve seen throughout the evolution and embrace of social media, an ebb and flow exists with social platforms, but ultimately influencers look for opportunities to create context around their visuals, share their storytelling, and look for ways to connect with their communities. We now see the rise of visual influencers as a deepening shift, one that will continue to further redefine the consumer purchasing journey — now and into the future.