Use Visual Pollution to Benefit Your Small Business
I was standing in a Bangkok market, digesting all the noise around me, when I realized the monster graphic design has built.
As a small business owner – marketing and advertising yourself might brew up a mixture of feelings. You might feel ignorant or too confident. You might feel overwhelmed by the various mediums and channels to deliver your message, or you might feel you’re joining the dark side filling the world with more illusions.
For years I had a negative impression on advertising and marketing. Stand-up vignettes from two guys I admired, George Carlin and Bill Hicks had my perception skewed to think all advertising was based on manipulating and lulling you to sleep. Which yes is true. Advertising is full of mindless junk, designed to take your money. But, if you actually have a quality widget to sell, then you can use advertising to benefit your small business and preferred lifestyle.
We dwell in a noisy world, and our minds are polluted more everyday.
I assume you’re like me, and you frequently find yourself starting on a high-priority task with the best intentions. Then magically, a couple apps open and your brain starts to overheat. The calculated assignment you started was interrupted by an impulse to look at social media, which tosses you into a scrolling vortex of today’s massacre, Trump, sports, memes, more Trump and hashtag games. While in the midst of shuffling through screens of violence, stocks, entertainment and politics – you quickly close a handful of pop-up-ads as you’re getting notifications from your calendar to pay bills and schedule that meeting about a meeting. There’s no mystery why we’re all feeling more distracted and less productive everyday.
We are all distracted constantly.
We can start a deep conversation on who benefits from keeping the herd distracted, but let’s stay on track and think about how visual pollution isn’t a problem, but a challenge to overcome to benefit your business.
Since our minds are evolving into a chaotic Times Square, we need to understand what visual pollution is. Visual pollution is defined as: an aesthetic issue which refers to the effects of pollution that blocks, disturbs or impacts one's ability to enjoy a vista or view in the natural environment.
It’s easy to think about billboards blocking a mountain view, or beer posters littering a tropical beach. But these disruptions occur much closer to home. Every week you experience visual pollution when you walk down a local store aisle. Shelves lined with logos and colorful packaging are organized so kids can grab the goods at eye level, and you can reach for the luxury top shelves. This is product placement 101. If you need a good example of this, go venture down the soap and detergent aisle. Count how many different brands of detergent are for sale, and observe all the design work put into the bottle shape and label artwork. Then start looking at the price variations depending on what shelf the product is on, and which bottles look appealing to you.
Now, you might be thinking visual pollution is only in a commercial environment.
Nope. Visual pollution isn’t stopped by your front door, and it’s not a stranger entering your home. You invite the pollution in and probably have it scattered on night-stands, bookshelves, coffee-tables and bathroom mantles. But these elements of pollution, don’t only collect dust in your home, they travel with you and exist in an aura around you.
Your wallet is likely visual pollution, holding various cards, coupons and cash – all with their own unique design. Your current clothing probably has graphics or logos of the fashion company. Your inbox is full of junk mail, and since you’re reading this, I know you have a phone or computer hooked up to the internet of infinite pollution. Visual pollution isn’t something you can avoid, unless you’re heading into the woods, where eventually you would come across a plastic cup with a logo on it.
This problem of being immersed in visual pollution isn’t an excuse.
It’s easy to complain how it’s hard to get attention, because there’s so much out there. How can your Instagram feed stand out, when there’s 500 million accounts, with more than 80 million photos uploaded daily? How can your Facebook content get likes when there’s 4 billion content posts a day? How can your website get on the first page of Google for a nationwide search? How can you stand out online among the huge number of competitors, AND stay within your budget, AND get an absurd ROI, and conversion rate above 12 percent?
This reality that it’s a challenge to get noticed online is a reason why many small businesses fizzle out. Over the years, I’ve seen clients who no longer work in the business they did years ago. They either switched audiences multiple times, changed businesses or quit. This is why digital marketing skills that produce results are in high-demand.
Digital marketing is THE skillset to have if you’re self-employed.
Taking a vacation always leads to clarity and inspiration. My trip to Thailand provided me a physical perspective on how to approach graphic design for small businesses online.
Through my observations of marketing strategies in Thailand, I started to view the landscape as a Tumblr you could touch. If you’re unfamiliar with Tumblr, it’s a website formed with millions of blogs of random stuff. It’s the virtual classified ads you find in newspapers, only exponentially different since there’s worldwide contributors, no boundaries or filters to curate it. Basically, Tumblr is visual pollution on steroids, that ate steroids.
As with any classified page, where one ad is selling you lawn services and the other wants you to invest in silver, Bangkok follows the same rabbit-hole idea. One moment you’re standing in a market being sold scorpions on a skewer and the following moment you find yourself in a multi-level maze being harassed to buy luxury suits, fruit smoothies and gold jewelry.
For the most part, every Bangkok street and alley looks the same. Even most of the temples are very similar. Every restaurant fundamentally sells the same food at the same prices. Most massage parlors sell the same services, coffee shops sell the same brews, and all the night markets have vendors that either sell smoothies, booze, crafts, yoga clothing or fried food. The only difference between the vendors and small businesses, is that some owners engage you to get your attention, and others simply smile.
As a westerner, I found it odd no one was offering freebies to get foot traffic inside their selling space. And nobody was showing customers the benefits of their products, or providing people a reason to advertise on their behalf.
This situation where everyone is selling the same widgets and competing for the attention is here in America as well.
Everyone is bumping into each other on social media trying to show their content to as many people as they can. Everyone wants more followers, more shares and more engagement. Basically, everyone wants more and more attention, without providing better content!
The challenge here in the states is getting on people’s radar as they quickly scroll past your content and business. This is where a funnel comes into play, moving people from social media into your funnel via a content post, then having them visit your website to sign-up to your email list so you can disqualify who is truly interested and who is window shopping.
Think about your current business, and how many other people do the same thing as you? You know you have to deliver a better product and service to retain customers – but how can you get their attention in the first place, and then stay on their radar for more than a few minutes?
Quality content plus consistency will help you stand out among the visual pollution.
As I mentioned in the intro, during my travels through Thailand I started to think graphic design was a monster. A Frankenstein problem that was created via the creative hands and minds of talented designers trying to develop solutions for clients.
Late at night, I was questioning if graphic design was similar to being a marriage officiant who moonlights as a divorce lawyer. You’re getting paid to create a problem, and getting paid for the solution, which will circle back into the original problem again, while you continually generate profits.
As a designer, I am paid to illustrate content to stand out among the pollution. But eventually, some if not all of my work will likely fade into the garbage pile. But that’s okay. We need the pollution. We need the cornucopia of various quality of work, to allow for the superior and fresh work to continually stand out.
Standing out has no finish line.
In marketing, there’s no end. It’s a infinite loop with milestone after milestone. Unless you go viral, get rich and retire. Which is possible, but unlikely.
Think about how your current marketing visuals and content would look on a Pinterest page or Google Search grid. How would it look in a busy Twitter feed? Surrounded by dozens and dozens of other visuals in that moment, would your content stand out? In a matter of 2 seconds, would someone engage your visual, and actually be interested in clicking?
To engage individuals online, you have to provide something free. Whether it’s a free ebook, infographic, cartoon, blog post, animation or meme, you need to provide a deliverable that is useful and high-enough quality that a user would want to share it on their social media pages, so they can appear a certain way to their audience.
Use one of the five angles mentioned below, and create content on a consistent schedule and test what is working and what is flopping.
People want to share quality information on their social media, and people want others to think they are smart. Correct? Nobody who is active online really hopes people perceive them as being stupid, unless that’s their angle for a character they’re playing.
If you want to create educational content, creating infographics, maps, schematics, models and animations will teach your viewer something for free, and will encourage them to share the information with their followers.
Humor is powerful. Everyone is stressed and busy with obligations, but everyone has a moment to laugh. Cat videos aren’t dominating social media by accident.
There’s a stat that blurs into an urban legend that the average American adult only laughs a handful of times a day. Ignoring the accuracy of the data, all you have to do is people watch in a professional sober setting, and you’ll notice minimal adult laughter.
If you can craft a funny angle to your content, do it. Humor will hook the reader in, and you know people like to share comedy, satire and humor on social media.
Have you noticed there’s a couple of self-help books online? Have you noticed that one mountain stock photo with a quote from a self-made billionaire or religious persona?
Of course you have!
Inspiration is taking the driver's seat of visual pollution, and cluttering up every social media platform. Content promoting motivation, hustling, making progress and being a better person goes beyond the business coaching and wellness industries. Every profession has individuals who want to invest their time and money in personal growth, and are looking for alternative perspectives on various issues.
To use inspiration in your content, you need to balance out quotes from yourself, with leaders in your industry and with public figures and creative minds your audience would resonate with, and be encouraged and comfortable sharing.
If you’re interested in being provocative, shock is powerful. Shock is intended to make your viewer feel uncomfortable emotions and hopefully make them look at themselves for a moment.
The only downside is, not everyone is comfortable sharing something shocking. They might agree with your content, but not want to share it on their social media channels due to professional or personal concerns.
Shock works well for causes, and builds on blood, violence, gore and the ugly side of humanity. Animal welfare organizations show hidden camera content to educate people on the brutal and nefarious ways animals are exploited and killed. Domestic violence advocacy groups release content of an assault or portraits of the aftermath. Police behavior towards ethnic groups has been exposed due to videos from bystanders and terrorist organizations have been able to reach a global audience via shocking content.
Does shock have to always be violent? No. You can build shocking content showing how a group of people suffered physically, mentally or financially due to political or business choices. Remember the water crisis in Flint, Michigan in 2016? How many people were shocked that in an American town, people don’t have clean city water?
An effective way to illustrate shock is by showing people the reality of a preconceived notion. Take for example how many people don’t realize the amount of interest they will pay on a 30-year mortgage. By creating content that reveals the shocking true cost of buying a home, would be a way to build upon shock that will nauseate people without depending on blood and gore to make them uneasy and start questioning their choices.
This is a hard one, because to entertain you have to retain attention over a span of time. There’s no shortage of entertainment to tune into. Whatever genre of show, movie, podcast, book or music you enjoy, there’s likely an abundance at your fingertips.
If you’re looking to create content that will entertain and be shared on social media, you need to combine the four angles above. You must educate, use humor, inspire and shock. As with any form of entertainment, there’s a rhythm to the medium that takes the user on a journey through information, to tension to relief.
Take Action: Create a content schedule and track your work.
To stand out you need to create content on a regular basis and track what works and what doesn’t. You need to set aside personal notions towards certain content, and focus on what other people would want to consume and share.
By providing quality content on a consistent basis, will show your customers you are continually building your business, and if you don’t have customers yet, the more content you create the more people can see your work and learn about you. To get started, sit-down and start writing a list of problems your customers have. Then write the solution to each problem, and start brainstorming how you can write an article, create an infographic or animation to present the solution to your customer and encourage them to share your knowledge with their followers.