SMB Marketing: The Image Opportunity

Back in the day, the primary vehicle for small businesses marketing was the yellow pages. It made perfect sense: yellow pages directories were the primary tools for consumers looking for a plumber or a local sporting goods store, and they drove business leads efficiently.

And then consumers found a better tool: the Internet and its magic-performing search engines. Type in the product or service you need — in other words, help Google understand your needs, give its algorithms a little context — and relevant business listings appear in less than a second. According to eMarketer younger people are now five times more likely to use a search engine than the old, thick print directory. Marketers have had no choice by to follow their customers online.

Of course those potential customers are using the Internet for more than just hunting down a phone number with the help of a search engine. Is there an opportunity, then, to meet likely customers even when they’re not searching?

One of the most frequent things they’re doing online is looking at pictures. By some estimates the 3 trillion-plus online images make up 40% of the pixels on the Internet. Everyday Facebook users alone add 300 million more, and Pinterest, the third most popular social network (and fastest site ever to go from zero to 10 million users), is built solely on images. Yet more evidence to support the research that says 70% of everything we do inside social media involves a photo. Big media sites report a similar trend, with some of the largest online publishers logging 60% of their total page views inside photo galleries.

The next trick for marketers is to bring the magic of SEM — an acute understanding of context — to the imagesphere, so that businesses can pluck from the trillions of images the handful that are attracting the attention of potential customers.

At Luminate, my employer, our mission is to make those 3 trillion images interactive, to enable a user to just mouse into an image and be presented with apps that deliver content and services relevant to that particular image. In order to make those apps work — say sports stats on athlete photos, apparel information on red carpet photos, or Wikipedia profiles on the people or places inside almost any photo — we need first to unpack the context of each image. That context, it turns out, is very interesting to certain marketers. The two side-by-side images above show how a retailer like Macy’s runs ads on Luminate apps when an image contains at least two apparel items that look like similar to products in its catalog. The app (and advertising) isn’t presented unless a user rolls over the invitation to “Get the Look,” so the opportunity combines visual context with a level of user intent.

Businesses of all sizes are focused on mobile strategies and social strategies — as they should be. But given the enormous consumer interest in photo content, an image strategy has become equally important. Forget about those often-talked-about thousand words, a picture may be worth much more to a business that learns how to connect its brand with the context inside it.

(This piece was originally published as a guest post on Shawn Graham’s site, which is dedicated to “marketing and strategy for badass small businesses.”)

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