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Visual marketing provides an edge for today's retailers

Volume 28/Number 3; July 21/28, 2014

By Amanda Haskin

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 3.21.46 PMWeb images are the cultural icons of today’s society. We have reached a technologically visual era of human history, where a successful Instagram page is gold, selfies constantly remind the world of what you look like, and a perfectly positioned, well-lit photo sells more effectively than the actual product.

In fact, photos are becoming a language unto themselves. For today’s seekers of instant gratification with minimal attention spans, text is no longer going to cut it; you’re going to have to paint them a picture. In fact, if you’re reading this article and not looking at photos of grumpy-faced felines on Facebook, or craft ideas on Pinterest that you’ll never actually accomplish, congratulations; you’re better than the rest of us.

“Pictures are a million times better than any copy we can write; I don’t care how good of a writer you are,” said Jeff Macco, CEO of Macco’s Floor Covering Center in Green Bay, Wis. “We even bought iPhones for all of our stores and said, ‘Shoot pictures, shoot as many pictures as you can.’”

According to Optimind Technology, articles with images get 94% more views than those that are only text. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was well aware of this when he bought Instagram for $1 billion without even first consulting with his board. Sure enough, Instagram has hit 200 million users this year. Pinterest is estimated at around 40 million, and even the smaller, more industry-specific site Houzz comes in at 15 million.

Because a larger percentage of consumers are now shopping, or at least doing their research, online, a product’s presence on the Internet is imperative. And, of course, it has to look better than it has ever looked before. According to that same study, 67% of online consumers say image quality is very important when choosing a product.

Macco understands the importance of images so much that his company is redesigning its website to look like a Pinterest page. When asked what inspired this concept, he responded, “I pay a lot of attention to my wife. My wife is a very typical customer. Our demographic is mostly women aged 25 to 54, and I hear them talk about ‘Pinterest this’ and ‘Pinterest that.’ So we start paying attention and said, ‘Well, if that’s important to them, that has to be important to us.’”

The images that promote a product have to do two major things. First, they have to stop the consumer from clicking onto the next page, and second, they have to create a sense of envy that makes the consumer want to live in that image.

“It is a very visual world we live in; poor images can actually do you more harm by making your products look bad,” said Wisconsin-based photographer Dale Hall. “High-quality images will show your flooring as the highlight of any room.”

The best way to assure your photos will attract customers is to hire a specific architectural photographer like Hall. An architectural photographer will know how to capture product in the best light with the best composition, and create the most overall appealing image.

“Consumers are now inundated with beautiful room scenes,” said Sam O’Krent, owner of O’Krent’s Abbey Floor Center in San Antonio. “The days of do-it-yourself photos are gone; they won’t get customers through our door.”

Just remember that hiring a good photographer should not be an empty expense. “The job of a commercial photographer is to make you money,” Hall said. “The more money you make from my photography the better the chance you will hire me for more shots.”

Quality, well-executed visual marketing is a sure-fire way to generate revenue and ends up being a good investment for your business. For example, McKay Flooring, a family-run business in the United Kingdom, has oak flooring made from reclaimed Scotch whisky barrels. Photos showing the original vintage branding from the whisky barrels embossed on flooring boards were posted on the store’s blog. Long story short, it went viral.

“It was picked up by most of the top interior design blogs in the USA and Europe,” owner Richard McKay said. “From that blog post, we have just supplied Google with our whisky flooring for a project in their offices in Irvine, Calif.”

It is also important to think outside of the box. McKay Flooring made a splash in social media by starting its own Instagram contest. The group reached out to its followers and encouraged them to post creative and innovative photos of their favorite wood floors, using the hashtags #mywoodfloor and #mckayflooring. The prize was a 100 euro Amazon voucher and the nine runner-ups had their photos displayed in the McKay Flooring showroom.

“This was inspired by our marketing guy, Seamus Murphy, who spends a lot of time on Instagram and leveraged his own community and our followers to get involved,” McKay explained. “There are millions of pictures of flooring across the Internet, but we thought we would try to use some Instagram filters to make our own products look cooler. Getting others to photograph their own floors with the various filters and angles was great fun and really caught the imagination of our community and beyond.”