The power and business value of visual communication

The power and business value of visual communication

The advantages of visual communication and how enterprise orgs can lean on visuals to better capture their audience’s attention.

The power and business value of visual communication

The advantages of visual communication and how enterprise orgs can lean on visuals to better capture their audience’s attention.

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Written by
Sara Gates
Sara Gates
Sara Gates
Sara Gates

Original brand campaigns can leave a lasting impression.

Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” billboards. Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke’” personalized bottles. IBM’s “Cognitive Studio” activation at SXSW. Netflix’s “Women Inmates: Why The Male Model Doesn’t Work” interactive spon-con in The New York Times. 

What do they have in common? All are smart, stunning brand campaigns businesses have devised to attract and connect with their target audiences. And all are examples of how visual communication can be extremely powerful . 

What is visual communication?

Print ads, billboards, catalogs, television commercials — brands have used these mediums to visually communicate with consumers for hundreds of years. Today, businesses deploy a wide range of media to reach an enormous audience (think Super Bowl ads) or a single individual (thanks to digital personalization). There’s a laundry list of visual communication options available to modern marketers and designers, including:

  • Photography
  • Illustration
  • Microsites
  • Video
  • Infographics
  • Charts and graphs
  • Gifs
  • Emoji
  • Animation and motion graphics
  • Presentations and slide decks
  • AI-generated everything (for better or worse)

Each medium has its merits, but brands that stand out tend to find a way to rise above the noise of modern life and capture their audience’s attention. 

“I’ve always admired brands like Apple and Nike, but IBM’s historical significance truly stands out to me,” says Rese Wynn, Senior Brand Designer, here, at Webflow. “In the ‘90s, they pioneered the idea that enterprise brands don’t have to be dull. They crafted a unique visual language that spoke to their technical audience in a well-designed and engaging manner — prioritizing quality and good design. In my opinion, they laid the groundwork for the power of visuals in a company.”

The psychological benefits of visual communication

Pictures aren’t worth a thousand words because they’re aesthetically pleasing. They’re valuable because our brains are hard-wired for visual content. We’ve been absorbing and processing visual forms of communication since the days of Neandrathals and cave paintings — long before the written word came along. 

On an evolutionary basis, we’re much more adept at processing images over words, according to the Picture Superiority Effect.

Consider how the simplest visual cues, like colors or shapes, evoke instant responses. A red octagon prompts you to hit the brakes. A certain shade of robin’s-egg blue makes you think of Tiffany and Co’s fine jewelry. Even the direction and weight of a humble line can convey different concepts — with horizontal lines suggesting calmness while vertical lines convey strength. 

Our evolutionary disposition to visual communication means that brands can benefit from the power of visuals: capturing attention, improving retention, and enhancing clarity. 

Visual communication captures attention

“First impressions count, especially in business,” says Rese. “And visuals are the most impactful and easily understood tool.” 

Most people process images and visuals much faster than the written word — often with a simple glance. That means brands can make a meaningful experience out of a microsecond. 

“Across the marketing org at Webflow, we talk about ‘visually stunning’ work regularly,” says Pat Szot, Webflow's Senior Brand Designer who specializes in video. “Using these two words to evaluate work is a litmus test for an asset. We ask ourselves, ‘Is this so beautiful that it will stun the viewer, cause a pause, encourage a moment of rest to let the eyes wander?’ When we pair it with ‘resonant content’, then we’re really set up for success when putting a message out into the world.” 

With good designs, brands have a chance to capture and capitalize on momentary attention. 

“I just ran into one of Zapier’s new ads on YouTube the other day and, decidedly, did not ‘skip ad’,” says Pat. “They’ve been launching some seriously stunning and fun work executing on their 2022 brand change. Their ability to visualize what ‘automation feels like’ is amazing.” 

Visual communication improves retention

When people study items as pictures versus only as words, they tend to retain and recall information better. One of the theories behind why this happens is that visual stimuli embed into our memory in two ways: as an image, and as a verbal code for what we’ve seen. Those two pathways, psychologists think, provide a “stickier” experience in our memory. 

“People are naturally visual,” says Pat. “So if businesses ignore the visual layer when presenting ideas, it does the work a disservice.”

By incorporating visuals into brand communications — internal, external, short or long-form — enterprises can count on making an impression that lasts.

Visual communication enhances clarity

Finally, research has shown that visual explanations help most of us understand complex messages more clearly — and approximately 65% of people identify as visual learners. 

“Because enterprises specifically address groups and audiences, we have to present our ideas intentionally,” Pat says. “Taking the time to craft the visual aspect of communication helps ensure that our ideas are interpreted as needed.”

This is why many brands and publications have refined the art of the infographic over the last several years. Infographics allow brands to tell a story and communicate more complex information through a combination of text, typography, charts, illustrations, or other visuals.

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How enterprise orgs can create more meaningful and visual communicative experiences

Of course, not all corporate forms of visual communication are created equal. We all remember the ubiquitous stock photography of the 2000s. 

So our resident design experts, Rese and Pat, have a few recommendations for enterprise teams looking to create more impactful and visually communicative experiences — and a few examples of how visuals come to life here at Webflow.

Maintain visual consistency with brand guidelines

“Visual consistency is key,” says Rese. “Whether you’re selling to consumers or businesses, the visual message should be cohesive.”

Guidelines can help large teams stay on the same page and deliver cohesive visual experiences. As an added bonus, they help everyone work faster. 

“As a designer, reinventing the wheel is a painful and slow process,” says Pat. “Guidelines are huge timesavers in these cases because they help clear the way of decisions about the brand and asset that I don’t have to make.” 

Pair creative experiments with data-driven testing

However, following brand guidelines doesn’t mean eliminating all creative experimentation. Like any department within a business, designers need the space to innovate. 

“We’ve been getting into a rhythm of testing designs in the market,” says Pat. “We work closely with our performance and digital strategy teams to test different styles of design with data. When we have conversations about what’s been successful and what’s resonated with our market, we make adjustments accordingly.”

With this data-backed approach, the team can evolve their look and feel while staying tethered to the core of the brand. “We can experiment and try expressing new ideas in different ways,” Pat says. “As designs perform well, they get integrated in guidelines, and we move on to test different design variables. It’s been a great way to try new methods of interpreting the brand or the guidelines, while always feeling grounded in the core Webflow identity.”

Root your visuals in your company differentiator

“Start your visual design with an observation about the business,” says Pat. “Ask, what makes your business different or special? From there, iterate on ways to showcase that difference to the market.”

Here at Webflow, the creative team knows that the invested community is a huge part of what sets our business apart. “Sharing ideas, processes, and builds with users has been a core part of our identity,” says Pat. “Over the years, we’ve doubled down and then tripled down on how we showcase that aspect of the business. Today, it feeds a really creative cycle of work.”

For example, at Webflow Conf, our annual user conference, our team produces video testimonials from community members. Those interviews are conducted all at once, but are published, repurposed, and shared throughout the year. “But the point is, we started with the observation about the community,” says Pat. “And from that, we’ve built out a process that really works for our business.”

Find opportunities to introduce visuals in unexpected places

“Enterprises show up at industry events, conferences, and trade shows,” says Pat. “That’s a great opportunity to incorporate video into event presentations, booth displays, and virtual conferences because it can help attract attendees, increase engagement, and leave a longer-lasting impression.” 

Pat advises that organizations look to unexpected places to go beyond the written word, especially when clarity is paramount. “Recently, we’ve been polishing up our developer support channels for folks who build third-party apps to connect into Webflow,” he says. “We’re using video on our Documentation and FAQ pages to help explain specifications for developers — it’s a great way to eliminate friction.”

Get designers, writers, and marketers working in sync ASAP

Too often, designers and writers are running a relay — handing off copy without considering design — when they should be in a three-legged race.

“Designers are integral to a business’s public image,” says Rese. “They touch, read, and see everything, and recognizing their holistic understanding of the business is crucial for effective discussions. Designers do more than create appealing visuals — they shape how your business is perceived by the public. It’s essential for designers to be involved from beginning to end.”

Recently, Rese led the creative team that worked on our 2024 State of the Website ebook. Initially, the process followed a traditional approach of the marketing team providing copy, and the creative team creating layouts. But quickly, the team realized that method wasn’t ideal.

“We changed our approach by actively involving our creative content partners, instead of just taking their copy and running with it,” Rese said. “Together, we identified areas to highlight and addressed lengthy copy issues. Their collaboration helped us develop visuals that not only looked appealing, but also provided context and emphasis to the presented statistics and data.”

Stay inspired 

From everyday interactions to headline-worthy brand campaigns, the opportunities enterprises have to visually communicate with their audience are endless. And that can get quite overwhelming very quickly.

Stay inspired by seeing what the talented folks in the wider Webflow community are creating. Check out our more of our blog, follow us on Instagram, or subscribe to Webflow Inspo to get the latest in design, marketing, development, and more — delivered to your inbox every week. 

Last Updated
March 5, 2024