The Evolution of Engagement: Why Brands Need to Leverage Visuals

Opinion: Gone are the days of simple likes, thumbs up and double-taps

Sometimes words are not enough to fully express how a consumer feels
Iefym Turkin/iStock

The way brands communicate with consumers is constantly evolving and, thanks to a boom in social and messaging applications, digital engagement has not only seen an uptick over the past few years, but it has also diversified beyond simple likes of the past to more expressive options.

Gone are the days of simple likes, thumbs up and double-taps. Now, our social channels and phone keyboards are flooded with Bitmojis, Memojis, emojis and more, allowing consumers to visually and graphically express themselves.

But the adoption of these various social engagements hasn’t been siloed to consumers. Brands have just as quickly adopted these same tools to because of their ability to more emphatically connect with consumers.

Whether it’s designing event-specific sticker packs to boost engagement and fanfare or leveraging features that enable consumers to weigh in on hot topics, brands have a vast trove of visually appealing tools to catalyze consumer interaction and optimize their experience.

But what’s driving consumer appetite for animated engagement, and why should brands care? In short, it’s the fact that imagery is more quickly consumed than text. Considering brands only have a few seconds to capture the attention of a consumer, visual engagements resonate more quickly.

For brands looking to explore the benefits of leveraging the power of imagery—be it videos, photos, emojis or stickers—on their social and messaging apps, here are some reasons why these tools have been so fruitful and impactful in redesigning brand-to-consumer visual engagement:

When words aren’t enough: Sometimes words are not enough to fully express how a consumer feels about a brand’s tweet, Facebook status or latest online product offering. Instead of trying to find the right words, a simple ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, :o) or <3 accurately and succinctly captures a paragraph of written prose. What’s more, these emojis offer brands unparalleled insight into their consumers’ emotion and allows them to respond in a way that accurately reflects their sentiment. The use of characters, GIFs and animated images also creates a feeling of intimacy between a brand and a consumer when informal conversations via emojis occur. Like that of a club or an inside joke, they humanize brands.

Imagery creates a feeling of community: Which shoe would you purchase? Which summer drink would you sip on? How ready are you for wine? A brand’s ability to poll its consumers not only offers brands invaluable insight into their customers preferences—i.e., my customers prefer red wine, as more followers engage with red wine emojis than white—but also creates a feeling of community among their followers. On social and messaging apps, that feeling of community is heightened through groups and fan pages, delineating similarities and building camaraderie among like-minded individuals.

Visual engagements allow for more connections: You can’t make more time, but you can control how you spend it. For brands, this means continuing to find ways to create seamless touchpoints with your consumer audience. Instead of bogging down your target demographic with text-heavy emails or lengthy Facebook posts that would likely be deleted or swiped right over, brands can embolden their messaging with the power of a GIF, meme or sticker to quickly and more effectively alert a consumer to a new clothing collaboration, celebrity partnership or social good initiative. What’s more, visual engagements align with current consumer browsing styles—they can continue to scroll without missing a beat or needing to stop and read a post.

Visuals work across channels: If a consumer is interacting with a customer-service chat bot online and they’re unhappy with the conversation or feel as though they’re not getting the results they need, their natural reaction might be to type a sad, exasperated or even angry face. Brands can enhance their chat bots with artificial-intelligence-powered technology to recognize when a consumer is dissatisfied with a service and up-level the requests to a more capable contact. What this example points to is how ingrained visual expressions are in our day-to-day lives and how visual expressions often speak louder than words. Furthermore, giving the consumer the option to express themselves with visuals can also deter the typical “social rant” we so often see when brands fail to meet the expectations of their consumers.

Leveraging visuals such as GIFs, emojis and stickers provide the immediacy that today’s tech-savvy and results-driven consumers crave and expect, but research continues to show us that the attention span of today’s tech-savvy and results-driven consumers is becoming more and more limited. When seconds count, will you be posting a soliloquy to your social channels, or opting for your consumers’ favorite meme?

Debbi Dougherty is head of business-to-business marketing at global messaging app Rakuten Viber.