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How to Be Visual (Even When You’re not an Artist)

Authors: Melanie Davis Melanie Davis
Posted Under: Digital Marketing
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badge-guest-post-FLATTERThe master said it best: visuals are now the most important element of content marketing.

This can be a little terrifying if, like me, you’re what I would politely call “artistically challenged.”

I’m not being modest. In middle school, I only got one “B.” It was in art, and the teacher was being generous. Here is what I turned in for my final project:
How to Be Visual
(It’s supposed to be a bird.)

The good news: Even someone who made that can create effective visual marketing. Without a graphic designer. And if I can, so can you.

Here are a few tips for overcoming your poor fine motor skills and getting visual.

Make Use of Stock and Creative Commons

Even your mostly written communications like blog posts need a visual boost. That featured image is going to determine if people click on your post—so make it good.

The easiest way to have a consistent source of good images is to subscribe to a stock photos site.

(Editor’s Note: We use for our visual marketing needs.)

However, if that’s not in the budget, you have options.

Getty Images now allows you to embed part of its huge collection of images—for free! Keep in mind that you can’t use the photos for commercial purposes, so using these images to sell a product or promote or endorse anything is out.

Another source of good photos is images with a Creative Commons license. These licenses make it easy for photographers to share their photos while protecting their copyright, so fine people like you and me can use them for their projects. You can find these images by doing an advanced Google Images search, by using an image search site like Compfight, or doing a search on the Creative Commons site itself.

Similar to the embeddable Getty Images, you’ll want to ensure that you’re using the photo in exactly the way it’s licensed for. Some licenses give you the right to reproduce and adapt the image for any purpose, some only allow you to reproduce the image, and others don’t allow you to use the image for commercial purposes.

You’ll also want to use a photo credit (who created the image and where you found it). Compfight makes it easy by giving you a photo credit you can copy and paste into your post.

Experiment with New Tools

One of the best things about living in the future is that there are so many tools that make creating in a visual way easy. I mean, 10 years ago camera phones looked like this:
How to Be Visual 2
Now we can shoot videos, edit them and share them with the world, all from the palm of our hand.

And that’s just videos. How old school. Now, we have Instagram and Vine and about a million other cool toys. You can make flipbooks, moving photos, magazines, something called a Gifsticle—all great, new, visual mediums for your marketing content.

I’ll download these apps, experiment, and if I don’t like them, I just delete them. If I do like them, on the other hand, I’ve found an easy way to communicate visually without having to bug a graphic designer.

Build on What You’re Good At

If just thinking about working with those highly visual forms made you all clammy, start with something familiar.

For example, take Slideshare. It’s a pretty visual form of content, but I’m familiar with PowerPoint, so I have the basic knowledge of how to put the content together. Do I need to step up my visual game compared to what I’d do for an in-person presentation? Yes, but the process and functionality are familiar, so I was less apprehensive, even as a non-artist.

You can get started with a visual form that feels most comfortable to you. If you’re always taking videos on your phone, think about how you can use video in your marketing content. If you’re a selfie addict, go find some brands that are rocking Instagram and see if there are any content techniques that you can emulate.

Don’t Be Afraid to Stick Figure

Sometimes, you need to visualize a specific idea, product, or process, and a stock photo’s just not going to cut it.

Here’s what you’re going to do: You’re going to draw it.

Yes, I know… you’re not an artist. You tried to draw a house once, and it came out looking like a particularly disheveled tornado.

But what your drawing looks like isn’t as important as what it communicates, and as a marketer, you’ve got the communication thing down pat. Simple visuals that get the message across can be just as powerful as a beautiful, professional illustration.

If you’re still scared, Dan Roam has written several great books that teach us non-artists how to be visual communicators. But don’t be scared. Remember me, that lady who made the bird monstrosity? Once, back when I was working as a copywriter, I drew this stick figure art to communicate a concept to a client.

How to Be Visual 3

The client liked the drawing so much that we ended up using it as the visual for the final email campaign. Not because what I created was great art, or even decent art. I mean, look at that alligator. That is not to scale. But it got the message across, perhaps better than a more professional drawing would, and that’s your goal when creating visual content.

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