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Visual Resonance: the ability to evoke or suggest personal images, memories, and emotions.

Visual Resonance in Social Media

A picture is worth a thousand words. You’ve heard this saying before, of course. If you’re in the social media marketing world, you’ve also likely considered how you make that one picture or image say a thousand different things to a thousand different people. This elusive desire is tapping into your ability to create images that evoke or suggest personal images, memories and emotions: in other words, your ability to inspire visual resonance. Stefan Mumaw, Director of Creative Strategy at Hint recently presented at a Social Media Club of Kansas City breakfast to help break down this concept of digital resonance and how, as marketers, we can strive to achieve this in our communication with consumers.

As social media has evolved, the consumer expectation of those who participate has also changed. More and more, consumers are seeing brands as people, expecting them to have empathy, to react to situations in the same way as people do. The challenge is that often, brands use social media to talk about things; the things they sell, the things that matter to them, not to the consumer. Brands aren’t people and they have to stop trying to act like them. According to Mumaw, the direction brands have taken, the just putting people around products so there seems to be a connection, doesn’t work. There is no humanity in that. Instead, brands must recognize what moves people, not as consumers, but as people who have emotions and feelings. While we work for brands that have walls, we communicate to people. This challenge of creating visual content that resonates isn’t tied to the skill of a designer or photographer, all it takes is the desire to want to create visual images that resonate. Everyone can recognize what images evoke emotion; everyone can create a story based simply on one image. That’s what marketers must do with their visual content: tell a story.

To do this, Mumaw laid out 6 pillars of visual resonance.

Emotional – As much as we try to insert emotions into images for people, this can’t be done. The same image can evoke different emotions in different people based on their experiences. When showing this image to the audience, Mumaw asked what people felt.

woman laying on the ground in the rain.Some people felt sad, others relieved, others peaceful, others tired. With no caption and no context, people are left to feel what they feel, wherever that emotion comes from.

Mumaw referenced the Huffy bikes Pinterest page when he tied this visual resonance pillar to a brand. Huffy, he said, didn’t just go for bike features and riding tips, it grabs at emotions, what it’s like to be a kid riding a bike for the first time or the freedom that riding a bike brings.Instagram photos with artsy sayings

Experiential – Mumaw’s second pillar of visual resonance is Experiential. This involves putting people in the place you want them to be, getting people to really feel like they are in it. There’s a level of empathy that exists within experiential, said Mumaw. It is like watching someone twist their ankle. Everyone knows what that feels like.

His brand reference for experiential was Oreo and their Daily Twist campaign. Each of us who has eaten an Oreo knows the excitement that comes with twisting the Oreo and getting all the cream on one side. Oreo took it a step further. Each day the Oreo told a story, it put people in the place of enjoying an Oreo.

Entertaining – As marketers, our role is both managing a brand and consuming a brand. In the latter, we share things that are entertaining to us, but often, in the former, Mumaw said we blame our brands for “ not let me share entertaining stuff”. He noted this is a cop out and challenged us to think of the different ways we can entertain. One isn’t necessarily through graphics, but through type, because type is an image. We think type is about words, but every type, every letter is art; it’s a form, and we can use it. Yet he also reminded us to look at photography as a driver of entertainment

When looking for a brand that creates visual resonance with entertainment, look to Nike’s PHOTOiD. The program allows fans to take their favorite photos and translate them into a shoe. Entertaining for sure, but also something they want to share. As Mumaw said, NIKEiD looked at photography as a driver of entertainment. Information isn’t shared unless it is pertinent, but entertainment is shared all the time.

Novel – The fourth pillar of visual resonance is a hard one because we are always trying to think of something entirely different. The catch is, that people don’t react to entirely different. They do react to something novel, though. Take pictures of a couple during an engagement shoot. You see them often, but do you see the man and woman in each others’ attire instead of their own? It catches your eye.

Men and women switching clothes in pictures. In the most heralded social media case in a few years, Oreo did just that with their Dunk in the Dark image during the Super Bowl. The response had nothing to do with the quality of the image; it had everything to do with the timing of the image.

Authentic– You can’t go far without hearing the word Authentic these days. There are lots of thoughts around what beauty means in authenticity. To each of us though, our perspective of what beauty should be is different. As creators of visual images for brands, we don’t necessarily have to set up scenes, we can be there to capture reality, document things. Mumaw even challenged those who have the power of Photoshop to not always wield the power of Photoshop. Sometimes untouched and unaltered images show real beauty and authenticity. He also once again reminded the social marketers in the room that brands are not people. They have human characteristics, he said, but they are not human. We need to recognize that and realize there are certain things brands should and shouldn’t do in certain moments. Authenticity means knowing who you are and then participating in the correct opportunities.

Story – Most of us think we can’t tell story in an image, yet an image is a wonderful opportunity. Universally understood by all of us, it gives us one thing that other forms don’t give us: exploration. Curiosity is one of the most powerful human emotions, our job as marketers is to make people wonder, “What’s next?” By asking this question we are already constructing a story.

Mumaw’s example of a brand that does this extremely well is Starbucks. For Starbucks, it’s not really about the coffee.

Starbucks artsy Instagram cover photo. They associate their coffee with what you do when you are having the coffee. What you do when you’re holding it. What you do when you have it. They can sell you an $8 cup of coffee because of how you feel when you associate with it. It becomes your about your story, not about their product.

These are the six characteristics that create visual resonance within us. Our responsibility is to create content that we would share, not hide behind excuses of boring brands or strict guidelines. We need to use emotion to move our fans and followers, and find out what they want. In reality is there is no B2B or B2C, there is only P2P and it’s our job to remember that.

*All images/graphics used in this post came from slides Stefan Mumaw shared at his July 9, 2015 presentation at Social Media Club of Kansas City’s monthly breakfast.

Why do I work at AWG? “I value the opportunity to work with family businesses. My dad owned his own business for 35 years, so it is what I know and cherish. Plus, I love food, so thinking about it everyday is a huge plus.” -Kate