So long “word of mouth.” Hello “word of eye.”

November 3, 2017

By Lulu Raghavan 

Successful marketers around the world acknowledge the incredible power of word of mouth. As consumers, we know that business associates, colleagues, friends, and family have a massive influence on the products and services we buy and the companies we choose to do business with. Social media has furthered this influence by giving everyone a platform to express their opinion—and an audience keen to hear it. But there’s a new force emerging that could potentially influence people’s feelings about brands to an even greater extent.

For brands looking to engage consumers in today’s multiscreen, media-rich environment, the focus should be on getting consumers to experience their brand through visual design instead of through descriptions.

In a study on consumer predictions for 2017 by Kantar IMRB, the rise of visual language and the fall of verbal was noted as an important trend: Forty-four percent of respondents reported being more likely to engage with brands that post pictures across any media. The study noted, “With the increasing influx of content, our brains’ sorting and grasping mechanisms have rewired. Marketers will need to get to the point quicker than ever before when they communicate, and place more emphasis on visual expressions.” Photos, illustrations, infographics, and videos no longer play just a supporting role. They are the new heroes of communication with consumers—and the quality of a brand’s visuals could well determine its future success.

Out with verbal, in with visual

“Word of eye.” It may seem like an odd concept, but understanding it is crucial. I first heard the phrase several years ago while attending a round table on hospitality branding at Cornell University. BrandTwist’s Julie Cottineau coined the term to help her clients understand the fundamental role images play in capturing consumers’ attention—especially in our instantly shareable world of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat.

While word of mouth continues to play an important role in marketing and branding, word of eye is today’s key differentiating factor. The phrase beautifully captures an imperative for brand managers: to focus more on their brand’s visual presentation or risk being overlooked by consumers in favor of more appealing competitors.

Marketers in industries like fast-moving consumer goods and hospitality already recognize the power of visuals. Take Mother Dairy, for example. A redesign of its packaging using stronger visual branding led to a 23 percent increase in sales. Or consider The Park Hotels, which redesigned its website to showcase visually stunning properties through high-end photography. This led premium customers to have a much better connection with the brand—and increased sales for the hotel chain.

Expanding the focus on visual branding

It’s important to note that word of eye applies regardless of industry, from oil and gas to retail, telecommunications to automotive. And it’s not just B2C companies that can benefit: service and B2B brands stand to reap rewards as well.

For B2B brands specifically, every touchpoint matters. Offerings by many B2B companies may seem hard to grasp for consumers. As a result, the way potential customers “feel” about the brand can be the determining factor in swinging favor one way or another. Much of this feel is drawn from the brand’s representation across its website, collateral materials, and trade show booths, among many other touchpoints. Consistent, strong visual branding can therefore be a critical differentiator.

Take BFL, for example. A small hydro company based in Bangalore, BFL serves the global market, but needed to expand awareness of its offer. It invested in professional aerial photography to showcase its stunning hydro power plants around the world. The result: Potential customers immediately gained a better sense of BFL’s design capabilities without BFL having to explain a thing.

Boeing and General Electric have employed similar strategies, using powerful imagery on Pinterest and other social media channels to showcase their high-tech innovations in a simple, clear format. They also provide useful tips about their research and development initiatives and how their products are pushing boundaries in science and technology.

Driving word of eye

So how can brands up their visual game?

Brand managers should start by considering the core of their brand’s offering. Is it a physical product? Where does it sell? Is it similar to a competitor’s brand or does it stand out? No matter how niche your offering, your product’s appearance can make the difference between a consumer taking a second look or glossing over.

Next, consider your packaging. Does it do justice to the product inside? Is it visually appealing? Does it draw consumers in? Be sure that all information is presented clearly and succinctly to help consumers choose your brand.

Then, think about your marketing and advertising. Does your brand rely on copy-heavy explanations? Is it effectively using the power of images and video? Are its visuals high quality and unique to the brand? Remember that being digitally savvy is no longer an option for today’s brands—consumers simply expect it. So make sure your visual marketing uses a combination of video and imagery (and perhaps even other emerging technologies like augmented reality or virtual reality) to draw customers in.

Finally, consider your social media strategy. Do your communications use the best possible visuals? Do these images and videos clearly communicate your brand’s core message?

The opportunity is clear: By looking at a brand’s myriad touchpoints with a discerning eye, brand managers can up the ante on their brand’s visual representations. In doing so, they ensure their brand captures the full benefit of word of eye.


This piece was first published as “‘Word of Mouth’ to ‘Word of Eye’” in BrandEquity Economic Times (3 October 2017). Republished with permission.

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