Visual communications: Try to sound different, not louder

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Twitter finished what MTV started in the 1980s by reducing our attention spans from minutes to microseconds. If you think capturing buyer attention is difficult, try keeping their attention. This elusiveness contributes to a downward spiral in marketer behavior. The less we feel we're being heard, the more noise we make until, ultimately, we find ourselves talking only to each other. This was the situation Eloqua found itself in last year. Our industry had become crowded with companies that were prolific content creators. We knew we needed to adapt to the emerging Marketing 2.0 movement, which is based on the premise that businesses should double as publishers. But given the volume of noise in our market, we didn't want to contribute to the cacophony. Rather than market more loudly, we elected to sound different. We embarked on a new b-to-b marketing strategy employing visual communications—high-design, high-concept content such as infographics, playbooks, animated videos and e-books. But for visual communications to work for us, a cultural shift was required. It demanded a willingness to set content free, relaxing the urge to require the prospect to fill out a form in order to access content. And it meant trusting our instincts as well as data. In “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” (Back Bay Books, 2007), author Malcolm Gladwell writes about “rapid cognition ... the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye.” In many ways, Gladwell captures precisely what visual communications is all about. It's a model for advancing someone's understanding in, well, a blink. It's this calculus—the maximum value with the minimum time commitment—that drives the viral spread of infographics, one of the centerpieces of Eloqua's content marketing program. Infographics are essential for widening your audience. They are instantly consumable, effortlessly sharable and endlessly debatable. Over the past several months, Eloqua has published four infographics. Each is connected by a common theme: change. Why is change such a vital message? Because we sell to marketers, and marketers are daunted by the rate of change happening around us. These infographics provide viewers with a model not only for embracing change but also for using it for their advantage. To date, these visuals earned us several awards, dozens of articles and speaking engagements, hundreds of blog posts and inbound links, thousands of tweets and tens of thousands of downloads—and commanded the attention of influential personalities. But expanding your audience is only half the battle. What also matters is what you do with these new visitors once you attract them. We've found that people who discover Eloqua through our top-of-funnel content view more pages, complete more forms and view more demos than the average visitor. Moreover, when they connect with us on social channels, they become ambassadors. In fact we have found that socially engaged clients are 450% more likely to be brand advocates than are baseline customers. Revenue growth isn't simply a byproduct of the size of your marketing automation database. It's also the result of conversion. Creative, visual content converts prospects into customers, period. Over the past two quarters, Eloqua has published four “Grande Guides”—stylish e-books that promise subject matter expertise in about the time it takes readers to finish their morning coffee. (Reinforcing the brand promise is the “torn, tattered and coffee-splattered” cover design.) Each guide is essentially one part of a white paper. But given a buyer's diminished attention span, we decided to publish a series of small e-books rather than one massive tome. The guides, which exist behind a form but are also available for free on the content sharing site SlideShare (, have played a vital role in helping collect more information on prospects—tens of thousands of prospects have augmented their profiles in our database in order to receive a “Grande Guide.” And they've also influenced deals. In fact, over the past two quarters, customers totaling $2.5 million in annual contract value have downloaded a “Grande Guide” before buying our software, and another $3.2 million are currently in an active buying process. Of course, the substance must at least equal the style. Marketing remains a meritocracy. But look at your latest piece of marketing content and ask yourself: Can I understand this in a “blink”? Does it compel me to read it? If the answer is no, start thinking about design. Joe Chernov is VP-content marketing with marketing automation company Eloqua ( He can be reached at [email protected]
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