Words are dying. With everyone spending so much more time absorbing information via smart phones, tablets, or computers, digital marketing focuses more than ever on images. Capturing initial attention and providing essential, emotionally relevant information quickly are two good reasons for this shift. As Mike Hill at Moonshine has pointed out,
Visual and audio technologies liberate us to absorb more information, faster and better, than reading words.
The reason for this is hardwired into us – reading and writing are not skills we’re born with, unlike seeing and hearing.
That visual imagery results in more effective communication and retention of information appears to be confirmed by neuroscience. In explaining the “pictorial superiority effect, or PSE,” John Medina in Brain Rules (video available!) urges us to scrap our text-based PowerPoint slides in favor of image-based presentations.
So what is a copywriter like me to do? Should I give up on producing the right words to improve communication? Instead of books (including e-books) and news articles, are we reduced to movies and video streaming? What’s the story here? Bear in mind that oral transmission of stories is much older than the written word.
To probe for answers, I consulted a variety of websites and social media. Where else? Some of what I found is obvious. Images published on Instagram™ or Pinterest™, for example, would communicate nothing with any precision without the benefit of captions and hashtags. Without captions, a viewer would be lost is a jungle of inanimate objects or unidentified smiling faces. And without words, as in meta-tags or alt-titles, their images would not be searchable.
[Images by Curalate]
Except for a handful of really stuffy law offices, corporate and institutional websites bristle with images and videos like quills on a porcupine. (Some videos that play automatically are about as welcome as a porcupine’s quills!) But such images nearly always call attention to explanatory text, and videos use dialogue or voiceover scripts in addition to (hopefully!) compelling videography.
But if words are limited to captions, brief explanations, or even scripts, why hire a professional writer? Because, unless you’re both clever and skilled, you need help to punch your message across. You need someone who can incorporate keywords properly without resorting to keyword stuffing (a practice that will hurt your site). You need someone who can write concisely and forcefully. You need someone who can put a creative spin on otherwise dull messages. A talented content writer can even help with strategy. Even designers need to use words: Forget Coding: Writing Is Design’s “Unicorn Skill.”
A final word(!): Those who have not yet caught up with the shift to image-based digital marketing will probably slide into a pit. Nevertheless, that is not the whole story. Much more than appropriately attention-grabbing use of imagery, even with captions, needs to be considered. Questions of the purpose of your communications open up other vast areas for reflection—a matter that will be addressed in a subsequent post.