Visual is the universal language that moves people. That’s because most people prefer seeing something rather than reading about it. One reason we make that choice is that it’s a lot quicker. Our visual acuity has been honed by millions of years of evolution. According to research from 3M, we process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.
The internet has adapted to our dominant sense, and images now dominate the modern web. We communicate with images online and via mobile with our friends, family, and coworkers. Businesses also understand that images grab consumer attention and engender more trust than text. In fact, we’re now seeing hotels such as the Marriott’s Moxy chain and restaurants such as Black Tap Burger that are designing their physical spaces and food to be Instragrammable.
While marketers conceptually understand this reality, many still struggle with creating meaningful visual experiences at scale. This isn’t for lack of data or focus on personalization. Brands have more data than ever before, and initiatives such as L’Oréal’s Makeup Genius app is a great example of innovating with personalization. According to Gartner, by 2020, 90 percent of brands will practice at least one form of marketing personalization, but content, not data, will be the bottleneck and primary cause of failure.
In fact, most of the personalization effort to date has been on data collection and enablement, but this isn’t translating into the universal language of visuals. This is fundamentally a technology problem. The internet and many digital channels have adapted to the visual era, but many legacy MarTech tools haven’t.
MarTech’s Historical Biases
It’s clear. The most effective marketing is both visual and personalized. If you’ve been checking out a pair of earrings on a retail site, an email with an image of those earrings will arouse more attention than a text message about them. But brands can go even a step farther. With changing inventories, pricing, and past purchase data, Consumer A should get a different visual experience than Consumer B. Such an approach is not only logical in an age when some 1 billion users cultivate their own Instagram feeds, it’s necessary.
So why hasn’t this happened yet?
The problem is that many marketing technologies weren’t built for a world where success hinges on generating unique visual experiences (content that includes personalized images, videos, GIFs, etc.) for every consumer at every moment. This technology problem presents marketers with a false choice between uniqueness and reach. Either create individualized experiences in a non-scalable way or create generic experiences that reach a broad audience (the same way traditional mass marketing has always worked).
Compounding the problem is the fact that data is scattered across the organization. Brands deal with layers of creatives, copywriters, and developers all working in silos that end in a production bottleneck that simply can’t generate personalized and relevant visual content at scale. In fact, a company could never hire enough designers needed to break through the production bottleneck to generate millions of personalized visual experiences.
It’s time for change.
Data + Creative: The Next Stage of Marketing Automation
In my role as CEO of Movable Ink, I’ve talked with countless marketing leaders at some of the world’s largest brands. The common theme that continues to emerge from these conversations is the increasing consumer demand for more personalized and unique visual experiences. Many of these brands have invested heavily in marketing technology to gather customer data but have struggled to activate this data to improve the customer experience.
We saw an opportunity to use automation to bring data and creative closer together. Automation is the key to solving the seemingly impossible problem of manually creating custom visuals for millions of consumers. And because the most effective visual experiences need to “follow” consumers as they interact and move around online, automation can be used to meet every consumer where they are at any moment. Being able to respond in the moment is a big improvement over trying to accurately predict the customer journey.
In fact, there’s a massive opportunity to enhance the traditional linear customer journey with more real-time interactions or “stories.” Journeys depend a lot on predicting the future, where stories are more about understanding the past and using every previous customer interaction to serve up the perfect content in real-time no matter where he or she engaged.
Many marketers struggle with siloed data across both technologies and people. Automation can help sync data teams with marketing teams and break down silos across the MarTech stack and complementary technology (e.g. marketing cloud, ESP, CMS, Ad Server, Loyalty, Data Analytics, CRM, personalization). Done the right way, automation can enable marketers to combine real-time data with stunning composite visuals to create unique experiences at the moment of engagement.
For marketers, the visual era provides a great opportunity and lots of runway for innovation. The need to personalize content at scale can seem overwhelming, but technology is providing unprecedented potential to combine data and creative in ways that speak to consumers in visually compelling ways that encourage engagement and loyalty. Technology is also breaking down barriers and enabling marketers to think about themselves less as channel-specific marketers (email, web, display) and more as 1:1 marketers with the single unified goal of providing customers with the most compelling and consistent brand experiences possible — no matter where and when consumers engage. There are exciting times ahead, and taking the opportunity to evaluate the readiness of your MarTech stack for the visual era is the first step in preparing for the next frontier of digital marketing.