Today’s marketers are juggling more channels than ever, from Instagram and YouTube to email and organic search. We’re living in a golden age of content marketing — but just as each platform boasts a unique interface and user base, each also presents its own challenges to marketers who know the value of sharing high-quality visual content.
According to DemandGen, 91 percent of consumers prefer visual content to traditional, text-based content. And marketers are responding to this demand: 80 percent of social-media marketers have made visual content a part of their marketing strategy.
Meanwhile, the Content Marketing Institute’s 2019 B2C report found that:
- 68 percent of those surveyed had used social media stories (an overwhelmingly visual form) in the last 12 months
- 52 percent had shared video snippets
- 20 percent had deployed films
- 8 percent had used virtual reality, augmented reality, and/or other immersive content
Yet every channel has different optimal dimensions for each kind of visual content you might upload or share. What’s more, the demographic makeup of the users on each is different, meaning that, from platform to platform, you should ideally vary everything from messaging to tone to format.
This can start adding up to a lot of time and effort spent on every piece of visual content you produce. And as such, optimization can be daunting. For those marketers on a budget, it might seem downright impossible.
Luckily, it’s not only possible to optimize for every platform — it’s well worth your time.
Ensuring the high-quality display of all your content, wherever it lives, can give a big boost to your engagement and conversions. That’s because today’s audiences have more access to quality visual content than ever — meaning that if what you’re sharing isn’t up to par (say, a square image that gets cut off when posted to Twitter), they’re very likely to skip it entirely and move on to the next post.
Let’s take a look at some practical considerations when it comes to cross-platform optimization, factors to keep in mind, and easy ways to improve your visual content without exceeding your marketing budget.
Is Total Optimization Possible?
Gone are the days when you could boost traffic to your site using an infographic made on DIY software with stock icons and photos. Today’s consumers have a lower tolerance than ever for low-quality visual content.
So why invest a lot of time and money into creating a fabulous motion graphic if you’re not going to optimize it for high-quality display on every channel? If you’re posting a horizontal video in your Instagram Story, for example, you’re not only wasting your time — you’re also potentially making your company look sloppy.
It’s not only possible to optimize for every platform — it’s well worth your time.
If you’ve got a great piece of visual content that you want to share across multiple channels, do you have to remake it from scratch for everyone?
The answer, luckily, is no. In fact, if for every asset you create, you start planning for multiple channels from the get-go, it’ll be relatively easy to create versions that work for each. We’ll see more examples of this below, but first, let’s talk about the factors you need to consider when deciding how to optimize for each and every platform.
Mastering Dimensions & File Formats
We’ll begin with the most obvious considerations for many marketers: the fact that for both static and animated/video content, each platform has different optimal dimensions.
I won’t spend much time outlining the specifics of each here. Rather, I’ll direct you to Sprout Social’s always-up-to-date social-media image size and video specifications guides. These dimensions change all the time, so I visit these pages on a regular basis whenever I’m developing visual marketing content.
Practical considerations that you’ll want to pay attention to in addition to dimensions when designing and saving out your files include:
- Where and how it will appear on the site
- Maximum file size
- Permitted file formats
- Aspect ratios
- Differences between mobile and desktop display
- Video quality: resolution and frames per second (fps)
- Maximum video length
How can you create so many different versions of the same piece of content without blowing your marketing budget? I’d recommend a strategy that involves designing for the smallest unit of the design first. This makes your visual content easier to rework and repurpose later.
What does that look like? In the case of an infographic, you can divide up the subsections — as well as individual graphs, illustrations, and icon sets — into discrete, standard-sized pieces. This will essentially result in making them a series of stacked square or rectangular blocks that can be sliced up later and posted on a variety of social channels. (We’ll see how this works for a motion graphic later on in this article.)
To ensure that your content can be sized up and down as necessary, make sure to have a version of your artwork in a vector format such as an AI (Adobe Illustrator), EPS, or PDF file. This ensures that, if you need to size up a file, you won’t lose quality or risk producing a pixelated image.
Speaking Your Audience’s Language
Optimization isn’t just about ensuring your visual content looks great everywhere it’s posted — it’s about making changes based on what audience you’ll find on each platform.
You don’t have to create an entirely different asset to achieve different messaging or tone on each channel where your content appears. For example, imagine you’ve made a great homepage video highlighting your products and your company. Optimizing for different channels might be as simple as pulling a fun, lighthearted snippet that focuses on company culture for Snapchat’s younger audiences vs. highlighting data visualizations on what makes your company different for more hard-nosed Twitter audiences. These can be presented in the form of short-form animated MP4s/GIFs or still images — whatever works best for the content at hand.
Also, consider length when posting a video on various channels. An Interactive Advertising Bureau Report found that while millennials (more likely to be found on Instagram) prefer 10-second ad spots, Generation X (more likely to be found on Facebook) opts for the relatively traditional 30-second branded video.
Again, careful editing of the same motion graphic or video can help you appeal to both groups. In this case, if you design the 30-second version first, creating a shorter, 10-second iteration will be much easier.
Today’s consumers have a lower tolerance than ever for low-quality visual content.
Certainly, demographic information about the users of a platform will be key. But also ask about those users’ motivations. The same person might be on both Twitter and Instagram, but they’re probably more likely to go to the former for news and information, and to the latter when they’re looking for entertainment and inspiration.
Make sure you have a brand-specific audience profile — both actual and aspirational — for every channel so you can create and post content that will really appeal to users. These profiles will serve as essential guidance as you optimize your visual content.
Videos That Convert with the Sound Off
Multiple publishers have found that 85 percent of the videos they post to Facebook are watched without sound. Yet 76 percent of video ads needed sound to be understood, according to data collected by Facebook in 2015.
That means some brands are investing a significant amount of time and money into posting ad and marketing content that is not optimized to produce the maximum returns.
Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are commonly viewed in contexts in which people can’t easily listen to the audio: at work or on mobile devices, for example. And when you’re producing marketing content for a trade show, consider how loud an exhibition hall might be before you produce a video that relies too much on its voiceover.
The solution that many brands have chosen is to automatically include subtitles on-screen in the videos they publish. This tweet from Business Insider combines compelling visuals with the minimum necessary text to understand a message that’s instantly relatable for a broad cross-section of people — that is, people with blue eyes:
But there’s another option that might be even more effective. Creating motion graphics and videos that don’t need voiceovers to be understood might be the most powerful way to communicate on any channel.
The tweet shown below, which promotes the WIRED25 summit, is a great example. It’s an energetic, inspiring look at the variety of speakers and experiences the summit offers. You don’t need to read or listen to understand. On-screen text is kept to an absolute minimum, only used to tell us when and where the conference is:
At conferences, you can’t expect passersby will be able to hear a voiceover, or willing to stop long enough to read on-screen text. Instead, you’ll need to focus purely on the visual elements, so that you can create something that’s visually engaging at every moment — and any moment someone could potentially be walking by.
Creating a Visual Workbench
If yours is like most businesses, you have a few topics or data points that your marketing touches upon again and again. Creating a new visual asset from scratch every time you want to express those messages can take a lot of time — and it can get expensive.
For these cases, I’d recommend building a visual workbench — a set of useful assets, all in one place, that you can easily reuse, revise, and repurpose for a variety of applications. It may include:
- An icon for each of your services
- Illustrated characters, scenes, or products
- Data visualizations
It could exist as a group of files or as a single file, perhaps in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Just make sure it’s saved in a centralized location where your entire team can access it.
When you have access to a workbench of essential materials, you can more quickly and easily create visual content that’s optimized for a broad range of platforms.
Implementing a Multichannel Approach
As we’ve already seen, planning for a multichannel approach from the beginning of every visual communication design project will ultimately save you a lot of time and money — and bring total optimization within your reach. Let’s see how that works for other types of visual content.
Let’s imagine, for example, that you’d like to create a motion graphic that explains how you make a particular product. You might post a 90-second-long motion graphic to your YouTube channel, but that’s 30 seconds too long for Instagram (and far longer than would probably be considered best practice for the platform). So select some sections that can stand alone, then extract them as MP4s or GIFs.
How, exactly, can you do this? If you don’t have a designer on hand, it can be done in a program like Adobe Premiere or even iMovie with the help of a few YouTube tutorials.
If you’re working with a visual communication agency, make sure that such social-media teasers — optimized in terms of dimensions and size for each channel — are a part of your project package from the start. They’ll add relatively little to the overall cost, and offer a significant boost to your return on investment.
One example of how this was done is the series of 6 motion graphic GIFs that our team at Killer Visual Strategies produced to promote a partnership between 3D printing company Carbon and sports equipment maker Riddell. This collaboration produced the first-ever 3D-printed football helmet liner. Each liner custom-made based on a scan of an individual player’s head.
Carbon and Riddell wanted to show how the liner-production process worked in a way that was easily shareable across multiple channels. Killer suggested we produce a series of short-form animated MP4s/GIFs, each showing one step in the liner-production process. If necessary, they could later be combined into a single, continuous motion graphic that would show that process from beginning to end.
Designing the social-optimized pieces first made it easy for us to save out multiple versions of each GIF for display on the campaign landing page and in cross-channel promotional materials. Take a look at a few of these short-form videos:
Visual content marketing today can’t begin with text. Whereas in the past you might have started with a script or a piece of copy, then built the campaign around it, now you need to think about the visuals — and where they will ultimately live — first. Doing so won’t just save you time and money. It’ll boost engagement, increase shares, and ultimately ensure that you get the highest return on your investment.
Check out the Killer Visual Strategies blog for more visual content marketing strategies and insights on how organizations can deploy visual communication solutions.