Why Visuals Matter in B2B

I’ve talked before about the importance of finding content superheroes but I didn’t list the types of content they should produce. My point was that organizations should be looking at the right sources for content ideas — sales, research, IT, marketing, HR, legal and beyond.

How are you visually telling our stories?
How are you visually telling our stories?

This weekend I read through the latest book to make its way onto my shelf — The Power of Visual Storytelling — written by two true content superheroines: Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio.

After reading it, there are a few lessons from this book for B2B marketers to consider.

  • Visuals tell stories. It’s a cliche you’ve read many times now, but images help to clarify complex issues and processes. This can be done via a series of images or by a single infographic, but B2B companies, which deal with complexity and long sales leads, can better educate their stakeholders through simple images. Take a look at these 20 examples of B2B brands on Instagram and these five on Pinterest.
  • Images are an investment. Investing in good imagery is just that, an investment. Your overall strategy for images should be long term — with some real-time exceptions — so you can develop a plan to use them online, in presentations, with social media and beyond.
  • Make your images everyone’s images. Social tools continue to build off of the fact that we want to share images. Think of the transformation made by social media’s early platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn and the focus of new platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. As you build your content strategy online you need to be thinking also about how and where your audience will share them online.
  • Mange your images. Do you have an image librarian? Do you have a process for creating infographics? Is there a flow to keeping your images consistent looking and clean? I can think about several other questions to ask you, but you get the point.
  • Think carefully about your images. MarketingProfs said it best in this post, “Be a content brand, not a brand with content.” When you think about the story you are telling take the time to choose the right images as well as the right places you want to share them. What you need is to have an image plan for infographics, charts, graphics and photos.

There are three things that make this specific book from Ekaterina and Jessica valuable. First, the ongoing list of examples of companies and how they use visuals to tell stories and respond in real-time. The book is a treasure chest full of brands to follow and research. Second, the list of resources to consider for creating graphics is wonderful and does not overwhelm the reader. Third, the chapter on developing a road map is crucial as it focuses on ways to build your program and measure your success.

If you enjoyed this post you may also want to read the following:

Need a Strategy? Start by Playing Games

Are you ready for a real-time B2B world?

Curious George Goes to the Office

Use Storytelling to Draw in Customers

Can B2B Brands Inspire?

When you think of five brands that inspire you which names come to mind? Think of a few right now. I’ll wait.

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My kids provide lots of visual inspiration to me for these posts.

Now, how many of you thought of a least two companies that are B2B brands? When we think of brands that inspire us we may opt to only think of personal or B2C brands because they are the most popular or because we see/use them every day. That’s not to say that B2B brands can’t and don’t inspire people.

Let’s rephrase the question. When you think of B2B brands that inspire you — the ones we look to for ideas or want to partner with for business — which names come to mind?

One of the action items we should be doing as communicators is to make our brands more inspirational. At the end of the day, we want our stakeholders to really want to do business with us; to recommend our products or services; to help us tell our story. If we are just selling or focusing on our story we can’t expect others to be inspired?

When we think of brands and business that inspire us as customers, partners or vendors we should instill qualities such as trustworthiness, authenticity and reliability. Even if B2B brands won’t consistently make the annual lists of “brand rankings”, the stakeholders in our companies actually do want to be passionate about us, and we should try to make this happen.

There are dozens of ideas where B2B brands can focus their resources to inspire audiences, but here are my thoughts on three areas where you can focus your efforts around brand inspiration:

Visual Inspiration: With the growth of digital and online campaigns marketers are now challenged more than ever to focus on visual elements. Having good, consistent images can be a powerful component for a brand. As HubSpot points out in this post, “B2B products don’t tend to be inherently visual“, but this shouldn’t be the case. What I like about the focus on visual content is that photos, graphics and even charts can provide a key way to differentiate your company, but images can be a powerful way to connect you with an audience. What I think becomes daunting for B2B companies is knowing where to start. I like to think when it comes to visuals your website can be a hub, generating lots of visuals that can be shared across numerous platforms, such as Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. With so many options don’t get trapped into thinking you need to develop an enormous datamine of visuals. If you have an established set of guidelines and rules for your brand you will help bring your visuals into focus. If you’re looking for B2B visual ideas read the HubSpot post. You can also check out these 20 B2B Instagram feeds.

Thought Leadership: When it comes to thought leadership I like using the cliche, “Birds of a feather flock together” — people that want to build awareness around an idea should be sharing and talking with and about people who are already considered leaders on the topic. For instance, if you want to be known for your smart thinking about urban planning you should associate your company — management, ideas, blog posts, social media and research — with thought leaders and concepts already in that space. If you already are a thought leader in your own space you should be thinking of ways to expand into other segments or become a beacon for new ideas from new thought leaders (e.g., partnership with think tanks or university programs). But thought leadership requires more than just being associated with others. You need to be different and consistently telling your story. If your B2B brand isn’t taking advantage of platforms such as LinkedIn for your thought leaders, a blog or Twitter you should take some time this week to think about what you need to do to change that. That’s a good segue to my last topic. I’m also a fan of research. Research can provide not only interesting insights for the business and sales teams, but also gives marketers and opportunity to further differentiate  our companies from the competition. Given the number of channels to now promote original research, the opportunities to build interest and create sales demand from research should be a regular part of your program to raise awareness. And don’t forget to incorporate images into your thought leadership campaign; there’s a reason infographics have become popular — they tell a story, they’re shareable and they convey thought leadership around an idea (check out ideas over at Visual.ly). If you can own an idea, a concept or have something truly special to say about an initiative you will inspire stakeholders to follow you.

Social Media: B2B brands looking for ways to inspire should look no further than the abundance of opportunities social media brings to the table. Yes, it can be daunting, but staying focused (and making time) on who you are trying to inspire (e.g. potential employees, targeted customers, thought leaders) can help you narrow your choices. Here’s some B2B Twitter and B2B Facebook inspiration. One place to start would be with a blog. While there are many challenges to a blog the benefits for B2B blogging are numerous. What I like most about a blog is that it can help integrate your visual strategy with your thought leadership strategy, and then allow you to push the content out through various channels — from email to social media. My only warning is don’t try to do too much. It’s very easy to start chasing social media tactics and lose your way. If you have a small team stay focused on a handful of social platforms and do them very well. The key, as many global B2B firms now do well, is to integrate all that you do — from social to traditional media.

One, Two, Three

What I like about focusing on visuals, thought leadership and social media is that you can use these tools around not just a corporate brand, but also for highly targeted campaigns. If you have 100 CFOs you are targeting focus your efforts on what would inspire them. If you have a concept or string of concepts that you want to amplify you can can use the ideas above to build inspiration. All three ideas I’ve mentioned also are very real things to see and measure when it comes to trying to inspire others.

If you’re looking for more B2B inspiration I suggest you check out the examples of B2B companies from Forrester’s B2B Groundswell Awards. And if you want a B2B trend to learn more about then read about gamification from Interbrand. We hope this posts inspires you to at least think a little differently about your B2B brand and what you can do to build passion around what you are doing. If you have any B2B brands that inspire you please tell us who they are and why in the comments.

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read the following:

Craft work — what’s your B2B expertise?

Do B2B companies need social media?

What is social media success in B2B… and some examples

Who are your content superheroes?

Social media management

Do most online communities fail?