It’s no secret that the visual design of marketing content has tremendous power. You may have heard the oft-quoted stat that 90% of the information transmitted in the human brain is visual, and while the numerical claim has come under criticism, it’s no understatement to say that visual information is hugely influential. Just think about the last viral anything you shared with your friends—I’m betting it was a video or a GIF.

Here’s the last thing I shared:

Fortunately for mobile marketers and content creators, mobile technology is uniquely positioned to take advantage of compelling visuals. Apple, for example, has developed retina displays that pack so many pixels in an inch, you can’t see them with the naked eye. The increasingly crisp images we can get on our phones means that consumers expect top-notch visuals. What’s more, UI animations have become incredibly smooth—on my first touchscreen phone, I actually had to wait a fraction of a second from selecting an app to seeing it open (can you imagine!). Today, user interfaces are so seamless, interactive graphics are easy to enjoy on any device.

Visual Content Best Practices

So how, exactly, can marketers make the best use of this opportunity? Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Thales Teixeira has focused his research on capturing customer attention. His studies have used everything from infrared eye-tracking technology to facial recognition processes to determine how viewers engage with and react to video advertisements. His findings form a five-pronged approach to holding customer attention visually.

The following best practices not only capture attention, they also encourage sharing, meaning that happy customers become brand advocates, letting you get further mileage out of your efforts.

1. Keep your brand name and logo as discreet as possible

Using infrared eye-tracking technology, studies found that viewers automatically pull back from too-prominent branding. While studying viewer reactions to videos, researchers observed that people consistently stopped watching video ads when the brand logo entered the screen. Longer exposures, bigger logos, and logos in the center of the screen also led to reduced view times.

Instead, Teixeira suggests using “brand pulsing,” including brand images throughout an ad in an non-obtrusive way. When planning your visual content, consider keeping your logo or brand name to the sidelines, and capping the number of times it’s used on a page or in a message. The best marketing messages focus on what’s in it for the customer anyway, don’t you think?

Domino’s News Feed message highlights the pizza—that’s what people love about them! You have to get to the very end to find a mention of their own brand name.


2. Create Positive Emotions

It’s probably not a surprise to learn that “surprise and joy effectively concentrate attention and retain viewers.” The best recipe? Create a sense of surprise, then follow up quickly with joy. Since each message only has a small window of time to make an impression—distractions abound in our always-on, information-rich world—generating positive emotional feelings from the first moment you have a viewer’s gaze is critical.

3. Create an emotional roller coaster

Facial recognition research has shown that viewers are most likely to continue watching a digital video ad if they experience emotional ups and downs. This is due to our incredible ability to adapt. I, for example, was over the moon with my new coat a month ago, but am slightly less excited about it now. This adaptability applies on a moment-to-moment basis, too.

To account for this kind of adaptation, marketers can find ways to build a bit of a roller coaster: create joy, then take it away, and then create that emotion again.

The Chive encouraged users to come back with this surprising and funny message:

The Chive Push Notification

Plus you have to click to see what you should “probably” do!

4. Avoid Shocking Your Customers

According to Teixeira, there are two types of humor: pure and shocking. While surprising viewers is great for grabbing attention, Teixeira finds that shocking them actually discourages sharing. While “pure” humor triggers viewing and sharing, “shocking” humor only promotes viewing, meaning these wide-eyed users likely won’t forward or share your message with a friend.

5. Provide a Self-Interest Angle to Promote Sharing

If you’ve recently shared an awesome video or told your friend about a sale, chances are you did it, at least in part, for the feel-good moment when they turned around and thanked you for letting them know.

Teixeira has us all figured out: “Consciously or not, the sender intends to gain ‘social capital’ in the process [of sharing content].” Help your customers help themselves with content and messages they’ll be dying to share, and you’ll have already turned them into brand ambassadors.

Retail app Saucey incentivizes sharing by giving shoppers a $5 credit for each friend who places an order with them. Everyone likes a reward.

Saucey Reward Offer

Apply These Best Practices to Every Customer Interaction

Engaging customers over the long haul means building a relationship with them, so that they continually return to your brand. You can’t get there if you don’t first have their attention, and you can’t keep them coming back if you don’t continually delight them.

Every piece of content or campaign touchpoint that your customers see is a step along that path to creating or keeping a loyal customer, and an opportunity to capture their attention.