Visual storytelling is crucial to catching the attention of your customers and prospective customers. As visual content’s importance increases, innovative technological developments are creating new opportunities for marketers to engage audiences with photos and videos.
Ben Plomion is the Chief Marketing Officer for GumGum, a computer vision platform for marketers. GumGum’s in-image advertising technology scans billions of images within a website and determines when is the right time, right creative and right placement to deliver ads on top of those images on behalf of their clients. Last year the team launched GumGum VI, which stands for GumGum Visual Intelligence, to expand the scope of the company and provide value to images on social media.
Ben will share his thoughts on in-image advertising, image recognition technology and visual content trends at our upcoming event, Visual Storytelling and the Future of Photos, hosted with Startup Socials NYC on November 2 at our office in NYC. Ben joins Kaptur Magazine founder Paul Melcher and photographer and digital asset management expert Peter Krogh on our panel of experts.
Q & A on the Future of Photos with Ben Plomion
What is your take on the visual web and how it’s changed over the last 5-10 years?
Ben: We have to define the visual web first. By definition, the web has always been visual. But we want to define the visual web as an evolution of the Internet where images and videos have become the primary communication medium and text has become secondary.
Number one, there are more than 3 billion images posted on social media every day. Number two, we just ran a research study and we found that 42% of millennials we interviewed logged onto their Instagram account more than 5 times a day. Number three, as human beings we process images 20k times faster than text.
The visual web is really a chance for marketers to communicate a value proposition in a very short period of time in a way that is going to stick with the consumer. We also ran another study, and this time we asked millennials, “How do you use social media?” In particular, whether they’re paying attention to text on social media. And the answer was not all millennials pay attention to hashtags and text on social media. They try to focus on the images. Only 49% of the users we interviewed stated that they were “somewhat” paying attention to hashtags and text on social media. If you rely on text only as a marketer you’re missing the picture. You are missing this opportunity to relay a value proposition to the market in a very short period of time, and that’s really something that we have to focus on as a company.
How have the prevalence of UGC and changes in visual storytelling affected advertisers and marketers?
Ben: Images have always been around in marketing because as human beings, it’s a lot easier to process an image, but what has really changed is the rise of the mobile phone and, as a result, the rise of social media and the ability to take pictures on the fly. That has some profound implications on the way we market a brand or images.
This being said, I think we’re going in two very different directions. One is very elitist and the other one is very populist. I’m going to start with the first one — when brands invest a lot of money in producing incredibly customized images to tell a story. For example, G.E. (General Electric) hired a Pulitzer nominated Prize winning photographer Vincent Laforet to turn ordinary objects into a work of art. So that’s one direction that some brands are pursuing. The other direction is actually the exact opposite — there’s this realization that increasingly consumers are looking for authentic images. So if you go to CalvinKlein.com or another popular fashion website, you’re going to see a combination of very high-end, bespoke images and some UGC because UGC, as a consumer, gives you a very intimate look into customers’ experiences. Increasingly across the board, we’re seeing brands using UGC because they’re looking for a sort of authentic genuine story and to establish that direct connection with consumers.
What are the biggest challenges that marketers and advertisers face on the visual web?
Ben: The visual web isn’t for everyone. There are a few brands whose business is not a good fit with visual storytelling. I was talking to the head of growth marketing for GrubHub in New York a few months ago. It is very difficult to make images of food look good. It’s incredibly difficult, especially when you look at images being posted about Seamless or GrubHub services on social media. This marketer told me they’d much rather invest in producing high quality content himself, rather than on a Youtube channel or using UGC images on Instagram of people taking pictures of the food from GrubHub.
Overall, for those clients where the visual web is the right fit, the biggest challenge they have is around technology, and I think there’s two sides to it. Number one, how do you make sure you understand what’s being said about you by users on social media and not in the traditional sense of what’s written but what’s being shown. How do you know that those consumers who have an interest in your brand are using your brand in a particular context? For example, we worked with a company a while ago and we used GumGum’s VI to understand how their salad dressing was being used in the context of the consumers and what we found actually the dressing designed for salad was being used for chicken wings. It’s a kind of example that shows you that sometimes looking at social media and really understanding how you are pictured on a daily basis by consumers can give you some additional insight that maybe don’t have at this moment of time. But you can only do this if you have a visual listening technology or a technology that will enable you to find images on social media related to your brand, even though there’s no text or hashtags associated with that image. The majority of listening tools today on social media rely on text or hashtag analysis. The reality is, we’ve found usually close to eighty percent of images published on social media related to a brand do not have any hashtags or text that allows a marketer to classify the image as related to their own brand. You have to rely on things like image recognition to recognize those images and tell that story to the marketer.
Secondly, the other issue that we have been facing on the B2B side, is that it’s very difficult to get attention from key buyers and the old days of putting together a PDF and hiring a technical writer are behind us, quite frankly. No one really wants to see another white paper unless it’s incredibly specialized and incredibly valuable to a buyer. How do we turn basically a boring PDF into an exciting experience? This is where you have multiple vendors in the space that can help you bring that content to life using interactive content marketing programs and things of that nature. For example, we hired one of our vendors called Ceros to basically turn a boring document that we had into an amazing piece of work and create an experience called the Marketers Matching Card Game. In a very fun way, it allows a marketer to access a page online and match cards together to win the game. So one, how do you make sure you use the right technology to understand how images are being shared and used to talk about your brand, and two, how do you use the right technology to turn a boring piece of collateral into an amazing online experience?
What role does image recognition play in visual storytelling and the future of photos?
Ben: We ran a study last year where we interviewed more than two hundred brands in the US and we asked them about the visual web overall and image recognition.
88% of marketers think that sight is the most common form of communication to the consumer. In the same study, 84% of marketers said a further advancement in image recognition was needed to unlock the full potential of the visual web.
Basically, this told us there’s an understanding that sight is the most popular form of marketing, the most meaningful form of marketing, and yet to reach the full potential of the images being shared on a visual website or social media, image recognition is needed.
We do believe that the majority of images being put on social media do not have any identifier for marketers to find them and this is where image recognition comes into play. Image recognition is a tough thing to do. Doing simple things such as using your phone and taking a picture of something and detecting that this is a dog and not a cat is pretty straightforward but when it comes to more than that — what type of cat is this, what breed of cat is this — this is where we come in and basically use image recognition to give you rich insight about the images that relate to your brand. We’re just scratching the surface, but I think image recognition today is where programmatic marketing was five years ago. Many companies like us and Microsoft and Google, just to name a few, are investing an awful lot of money and resources into image recognition because to us, that’s really the key to unlocking the visual web.