In my last post, I walked through visual content strategy and why it needs to be part of your larger content strategy. Now, let’s take a look at visual content strategy in action. Visual content can help a user fall in love with a product and take the big step to purchase. But, only if you use the right approach to visual content in the right stages.

Love—And Shopping—Happen In Stages

Recent work for an online retailer got me thinking about the buying lifecycle and visual content. First, the buying lifecycle is a lot like dating. It has stages or phases. Just as you wouldn’t say the same thing to someone you just met as to someone you had dated for six months, so you shouldn’t say the same thing to a potential customer as you do to a longtime loyal customer.

For example, users need to find your products, perhaps in a chance meeting while looking for information about their problem or need. Then, they need to get acquainted casually with the products. If users like what they see, then they get more serious and start to decide which product is right for them. That involves lots of researching and comparing. And, when users are ready to commit, they buy your product—and hope you’ll be ready to support them if they have a question or problem later. Different businesses have different buying lifecycles, but you get the idea.

Second, just as you shouldn’t say the same thing in each stage of the buying lifecycle, you shouldn’t show the same thing, either. Repeating the same product image over and over again, for example, simply doesn’t make sense. Let’s look at a few examples.

Meeting – The Discovery Phase

How do you look your best and get that first conversation started? Search results are one place to start. You also can attract potential new users by letting social do the talking for you, Cyrano-style. Take advantage of any chance meeting and use it to your advantage. Now, let’s break DISCOVERY down into SEARCH and SOCIAL.

Becoming Searched for Early

Today, users search in every phase of the buying lifecycle. So, early on, they could be searching for a way to solve their problem and not even know they are looking for their “true love,” your product. You need engaging, helpful visual content to support that early, first-chance meeting. For example, this teaching tool from Dr.Comfort provides the how’s and why’s to guide users in understanding their own foot health needs.

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Just as you wouldn’t ask someone you just met to marry you, don’t push your product on someone who is simply looking for possible ways to meet their needs or solve their problems. Now, let’s turn to social.

Becoming Socially Connected

People create profiles on dating sites all the time. Social networks can act as a matchmaker for users and your product, too.Pinterest is great visual way to meet new users. And there’s that serendipitous quality that can add the thrill of an unexpected encounter.  In this example, from REI, not only do the products use a consistent, attractive product image style, the products also are grouped in meaningful ways. By curating specific storefronts and guides on Pinterest, REI not only piques users’ interest but also helps with the next step.

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Pinterest visual content example

You can see easily how this approach is much more thoughtful than crowding Pinterest with a bunch of inconsistently styled and disorganized images.

Getting to Know You – The Research Phase

In this phase, the user wants to get to know you and your products better. Visual content is critical here, too. Let’s look at a few examples.

Put Your Best Foot Forward–Storefronts

You can steer your new user gently to the things that make you more attractive. It’s like putting your best foot forward on that first date. You don’t show up in sweat pants. Instead, you make an effort to look good and then talk about the things that make you special. In these examples from Zappos, Kohl’s, REI, and Patagonia, each uses tools like inspirational imagery, video and product photos to drool over to build storefonts and curated collections that appeal to their target audience.

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Curated store front examples with visual content 

All About You–The Close-Up

Uh oh, are you not ready for your close-up? Is your About Us section as attractive as it can be? Many About Us sections fall flat and could leave the user ready to move on. Look below at a not-so-good example, then good examples from Tom’s and REI. See which ones you feel drawn to. Having a visually robust About Us section, with videos, original photography, timelines and informative graphics make your new user feel like they know you, plus make them want to stick around.

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About us page examples with and without visual content

Visual content helps tell the story about you as much as text.

A Match Made In Content Heaven

Just as a love affair has many other stages, so does the buying lifecycle. But, I think you get the idea that different phases of that lifecycle benefit from different approaches to visual content. If your visual content strategy doesn’t account for these different approaches, you risk not meeting the right customers or matching them with the wrong products or turning them off altogether. So, together, visual content strategy and the buying lifecycle will attract more of the right users, connect them with the right products, and much more. That’s a match made in content heaven.

Originally published on the now-archived Content Science blog in November 2012.

The Author

Lisa Clark is the award-winning Creative Director for Content Science, specializing in visual branding, visual identity, and visual content strategy. You can contact Lisa at Content Science.

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