Visual creation is—well—creative. And people often think of such artistic visions and processes as happening outside the bounds of rules and systems. Some call the creative process a “magical phenomenon,” inexplicable and almost otherworldly.

And that’s true, to an extent—visual creativity is about producing novelty in a world of familiarity, and there’s no formula for doing this perfectly every time.

But the truth is, we need systems in the visual creative process (and marketing’s activities as a whole) now more than ever. That’s because in today’s omnipresent digital world, brands need to be able to scale effective visuals at an unprecedented level if they want to grab people’s attention. When you have rules and constraints, you’re able to deliver novel content that is both appropriate and furthers your brand.

Percolate product manager Nate Stewart will explore this in depth at session: visuals + vision on June 18 in New York’s New Museum. The event, co-hosted with Getty Images, is a meditation on visual and technological trends. And for marketers attending, it will explain how technology enables visual content to truly resonate with today’s consumers.

Why You Need Visuals

It isn’t controversial to say that visuals can help you command a brand presence; that’s been clear ever since the first illustration was included in a printed ad. It makes sense on a biological level; almost 50% of our brains are involved in visual processing (Human Anatomy & Physiology 7th Edition, Pearson International Edition).

Even better, we now have a great technology to put our visuals in front of people: the internet. Almost two-fifths of the whole world is on the internet, according to Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends report. Promoted tweets and the like have made it easier than ever to display a given asset to potential customers.

And visual content helps your brand get noticed online, interested parties have found. Images lead to 35% more retweets, and Google says Youtube ad campaigns lifted brand awareness by an average of 17% for category leaders. On the flip side, researchers have found that when we visit a web page, we usually read just about a fifth of the text.

The problem here, though, is that everyone has access to this technology—so your visual content is facing stiff competition from all the other content on the internet. We’re long past the point where someone can view everything on the internet even if they were on it 24 hours a day; too much is happening on a per-second basis. Meeker’s Internet Trends report from 2014 found that we upload 1.8 billion photos to social a day:

What Your Visuals Need From You

At Percolate, we define a brand as the total sum of all interactions with customers and the broader community. Naturally, those interactions include the images you deploy to help get your message “out there.” In order for your visuals to steer those interactions in a positive direction—like getting people to be aware of your brand and interested in its products—they need to contribute on at least two dimensions: distinctiveness and relevance.

Distinctiveness

For consumers to interact positively with your brand, they need to first perceive it as an entity they can interact with at all. When you use distinctive brand assets regularly, you create brand consistency; and you give customers something they can be loyal to. They let people recognize advertising as being from a familiar brand and facilitate people noticing the brand.

So when it comes to visuals, that means thinking about how images and videos add up to one cohesive look and feel. The consistent use of unique colors, logos, taglines, characters are all things that deliver that experience.

In a world where anyone can publish your brand online (and thus, where anyone can advance or hinder your brand message), it’s crucial to follow rules for brand consistency before you distribute visual content. It used to be you could run a TV commercial or put up a billboard to get your images out there, and people would consume the images just as you’d designed them (graffiti aside). But the lifecycle of your content has been extended and you have less control over how you position it. Distinctive brand assets and brand consistency help your fans on social media advocate for you, because they know how to position you.

Additionally, if you are rushing to get things out in today’s mobile world, it’s hard to make sure all those brand assets do meet your guidelines for what an image should be.

So ask yourself: what processes and technology do you have in place to make sure a piece of visual content contributes to a single, distinct brand? And what do you have in place to make sure you’re enforcing that every time an asset goes live?

Relevance

You need consistent brand assets to have a brand identity. At the same time, however, you need to tailor the content you publish to be as relevant as possible.

The “Higgs boson” of marketing is the right message at the right place at the right time; we think that this convergence is possible, and marketers have compiled internal evidence to believe it exists, but it’s always been hard to identify just how to maximize relevancy on a regular basis.

Tech has complicated this in a big way by upending our conception of “place.” You have to optimize for:

  • Channel: What systems do you have in place to make sure your visuals are optimized for the crops and resolution requirements on different social platforms? How about non-digital images, like billboards?
  • Device: According to Mary Meeker, vertical viewing (thanks to the growth of mobile) comprised 29% of video view time in 2014, compared to 5% in 2010. How are you systematically optimizing content for these different screens?
  • Regions and culture: The right message can be really wrong in different cultures. When Proctor & Gamble first started selling Pampers in Japan in the 60s, the brand used an image of a stork delivering a baby on the packaging. While the packaging was effective in the U.S., sales slumped in Japan until the company discovered Japanese parents were confused by the stork.

Tech has also upended our conception of “timing.” The right time to publish visual content could be right now; Google has divided time into “micro-moments” when brands make an impact on buying behavior (and remember Oreo’s Super Bowl black-out tweet?) In our always-on world, you’re on the chopping block for being seen at the right time regularly. What do you have in place to both maximize relevance and solidify your brand identity with distinctive assets in a mere manner of minutes?

Because the truth is, you can’t do it all without the help of rules, systems, and tech. Creative is hard work—so make time for it. Use rules to make mundane decisions easy (and technology to enforce those rules); doing so will expedite the entire visual process.

Nate will explain more about how technology can do that at session: visuals + vision; all are welcome to RSVP.