6 easy ways to create vibrant visual content
Add interest and impact even if you’re not a designer
Content without visuals can be boring, uninviting and, quite frankly, ineffective. But unless you’re a trained graphic designer you’re not likely to use complex software such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator to create visual content.
Heck, the very idea of visual design might be intimidating to you!
Luckily there are countless low-cost, easy-to-use visual content tools meant for non-designers. And some of these are actually kind of fun! I’m going to tell you about six applications that I use, including one or two that you might not immediately associate with visual content design.
Visual content is essentially human
While you might be a fantastic writer (and I hope you are) your words alone aren’t enough to succeed in content marketing. Sorry! That’s because most of the people in your audience are visual learners. 65% of them, in fact, according to Social Science Research Network. Present your ideas in text or audio alone, and nearly two-thirds of your target market will tune out because your message isn’t visual.
It seems we’re built to absorb visual content. Our brains process visual information an astounding 60,000 times faster than text (3M Corporation). And with today’s average customer attention span at just over 8 seconds (Statistic Brain) every microsecond counts when you’re trying to get a point across.
Visual content gets better results
It’s easy to “see” how visual content makes written material more interesting, understandable and consumable. Just think about what draws you in and keeps you reading a post, web page or e-book.
But visual content also increases engagement. According to an article in MIT Sloan Management Review:
- Blog and social posts with visuals receive 94% more page visits and engagements than those without.
- They also garner twice as many comments.
- And two-thirds of consumers consider clear, detailed images to carry more weight than product information or customer ratings.
Interest, impact, engagement: That’s a powerful argument for visuals. So, what is visual content, and how might you use it?
Visual content types and usage
Visual content falls into six different categories:
Images are by far the most common visual content. And with the proliferation of smart phone cameras virtually everyone can create original images with ease. There’s also a wealth of free or near-free stock image libraries available online. Images can be photographs, graphs and charts, or drawings.
Videos are incredibly powerful visual content that’s readily consumed. Easy tools to create them have sprouted up everywhere.
Info-graphics require a bit more effort to build. But they can communicate process, concepts and other complex information rapidly, making them one of the most effective types of visual content.
Memes are strong images combined with a bit of text to create a humorous or memorable visual content statement.
Presentations are visual depictions of a story in a series of slides. Like info-graphics, they’re a great way to communicate complex information in bite-size, sequential chunks. And because they’re primarily visual rather than text-based, they’re both attractive and easy to consume – as long as you avoid long lists of text bullets!
Screenshots communicate anything that’s happening on a PC or mobile screen. They’re an obvious choice for describing software, web pages, apps and other online activity.
Visual content: standalone or integrated
Because it’s so impactful, you can publish visual content as standalone items, which works well for meatier material such as presentations, info-graphics or videos.
Or you can incorporate visuals into written content – blog posts, social posts, e-books and the like – to add value, increase attraction and amplify your message.
Either way, visual content could be the key to unlock your message and connect it with the brains of your audience.
Six visual content tools I use
Now that you’re jazzed about using visual content in your marketing efforts, here are six easy tools to consider for your visual creation arsenal.
1. Microsoft PowerPoint
I’ve been creating PowerPoint presentations my entire career. Now it’s a natural extension of my thinking process and my go-to app whenever I need easy visual content in a hurry. Chances are you’ve got some of these same presentation layout skills.
Of course PowerPoint (or if you prefer, Apple Keynote) can be used to create complete presentations such as stories, value propositions, product explainers, process descriptions and the like. Entire presentations can be saved as PDF files or uploaded to social channels such as LinkedIn’s Slideshare to create visual content in its own right.
But PowerPoint is also very versatile. It’s an easy way to create more granular graphics that can augment other content. Consider these types of visual content from PowerPoint:
- Place text in a geometric shape with a background color and border
- Create custom call-to-action (CTA) buttons with the rounded rectangle shape and a text box
- Use SmartArt to convert text into graphical lists, concepts, processes, relationships and more
- Insert an existing PDF page and save it as another graphic type (.png, .jpg, etc.)
- Combine multiple elements, and group them as a unit. This technique could be used to place text on top of a photographic image to create a custom meme, for example.
- Create bar charts, pie charts, line graphs and other number-based images
- Use the object measuring capability to create an accurate scale drawing (I just designed my new house entirely in PowerPoint!)
For each of these techniques, just right-click the object you’ve created and choose “Save as picture.” Or, export an entire slide by using “Save as pictures.” Voila! You’ve got an instant standalone graphic file!
2. Microsoft Excel
You might not think of visual content when you think of spreadsheets. Yet Excel (or Numbers) has many easy ways to turn text and numerals into visuals. You can:
- Create graphs and charts from data including pie charts, bar charts, three-dimensional graphs and more
- Format information into tables with shading, column headers, highlighting and other types of emphasis
- Use SmartArt to convert text into graphical lists, concepts, processes, relationships, hierarchies and image collages
If you’ve got some spreadsheet skills, you’ve actually got some hidden visual content skills as well!
3. Apple Photos
Photos is a free app for both macOS and iOS mobile devices. Yes, it stores all your photos and organizes them into albums, projects and calendar years. But it also provides simple image editing that can help you create the perfect photo for your image content. You can:
- Crop, resize and rotate images
- Change formats (from .png to .jpg, for example)
- Reduce image resolution (to speed up page load and content downloads)
- Adjust exposure and tint
- Retouch a photo
- Import and export images
Something I do frequently with Photos is to import a stock photo, then export it right away with limits on its size (pixels) and resolution. This simple processing step gives me control over image type, width and file size regardless of where an image originated.
If you’re not on a Mac or iPhone, just about any image storage app will have similar editing abilities to help you great create visual content from photographs.
4. Adobe Spark
Spark is relatively new on the scene. While you might think of Adobe as a professional designer’s supplier, with Spark they’ve taken clear aim at non-designers. All of Spark’s visual content types – social graphics, web pages, and animated videos – use a guided design approach that takes the guesswork out of creating good-looking visuals.
Spark combines professional typography, access to free and low-cost images, themes (pre-designed layouts, colors, fonts) and more to enable you to create stunning visual content quickly and easily. And it includes links to tons of examples in a variety of categories for inspiration. (I created the banner image at the top of this post as another Spark example.)
If you’d rather design your own content or are feeling adventurous, you can change out the suggested images, styles and templates and go at it in a more freeform manner.
One smart feature of Spark is that it automatically creates the optimal size of visual content for various platforms: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, a blog post and more.
I haven’t tried Spark’s video creator yet, but if it’s anything like its social post and web page functions it will be fun! Clicking through all their layouts, colors, images and designs instantly shows you a new look for your visual and can make you feel really creative.
Spark is free and available both as a web app and a series of three iOS apps.
Canva is another guided design tool available as a web app or iOS app. It creates a wider spectrum of document types than Spark including presentations, social media graphics, info-graphics, ebook covers, flyers, charts and even wedding programs (but not videos).
Its chart collection is impressive: a full complement of Excel-type numerical charts, 3-, 4-, and 5-circle Venn diagrams, and even mind maps. These can help you create visual content that explains concepts and flow using graphics – very useful.
Canva includes millions of free or low-cost ($1) images and an extensive photo editing function that goes way beyond Apple Photos.
There’s a free version, or you can upgrade to Canva for Work for $12.95/month.
My last featured app is Grab, which is a free screen capture utility that comes with Mac OSX. If that’s your platform, you’ll find it in the Applications/Utilities folder.
There are certainly more extensive screen recording programs such as Camtasia or Adobe Captivate. But for pure simplicity and the ability to easily capture still screenshots, Grab is a winner.
With Grab, you’ll be able to create visual content showing anything that’s on your computer screen. You can grab:
- Any selected area on your screen
- A specific window
- The entire screen
- A timed screen, which is useful for showing a pull-down menu or other displays that only show up after you take a specific action
Grab saves your screenshots as .tif files. If your content creation program can’t embed .tif you can import the screenshot into another program such as Preview or Photos first, then export the image as a .jpg or .png file.
In this image-driven world, visual content can mean the difference between rapt attention and total apathy for the content you create. So if you’ve got something to say (and I hope you do) say it with visuals: images, videos, info-graphics, memes, presentations and screenshots.
With these six simple visual content tools, even graphically challenged content marketers (like me) no longer have any excuse to stay in the lonely land of text.
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