It’s frustrating to be a small business advertiser or nonprofit advocate today, especially if yours is a visually driven world. The return on your promotional tools just keeps getting smaller. Television is weakened by DVRs that let your audience record shows and fast forward through commercials. There has been a 25% drop in newspaper readership for ages 18-24 from 1999 to 2014. In fact, there isn’t a newspaper readership age group that hasn’t dropped at least 20% in that time frame. And the “banner blindness” audiences have developed in response to website banner or pop-up ads has been well documented for years. But Instagram may be your best visual marketing tool ever.
Visual marketing is how you can grab a potential customer’s attention, for example in a post on social media or a billboard in a city—with the goal of leading them to check out your company or products. Social media advertising is a relatively new tool, but the basics are the same — you are telling a visual story to your audience.
Instagram Users Today
Social media network Instagram has over 300 million active users. If there were ever a place to use visual marketing, it’s definitely here. Users share over 70 million photos and videos per day and over 2.5 billion posts daily.
Besides the opportunity to reach so many people, you also get to reach the diverse range of Instagram users. Men, women, old, young, black, white, Hispanic, higher education, high school, lower income, middle class... Know your audience. Don't make the mistake of thinking Instagram is just for teen-agers and college students. It's likely a large number of your potential customers can now be reached.
How Can Instagram Help You?
To help businesses reach its users, Instagram has recently started developing an advertising feature using some well-known companies such as Ben and Jerry’s and Lexus as guinea pigs. Right now any company that has an Instagram account can start uploading their pictures and anyone who follows them will be able to see the company’s posts in their newsfeed.
What Instagram is working on is being able to have you submit photos you want to use for advertising, how many times you want them to show up, and who your target audience is. Once they gather the information they will insert your photo in an appropriate user's newsfeed. Users will have the ability to like, comment, and click on your business name to look at more stuff you have posted and learn more about your company. Your photo will have ‘Sponsored’ in the corner so the user will know that it’s an ad.
Recently, Ben and Jerry’s took part in the research to promote a new flavor to the public. Ben and Jerry’s target audience were 18 – 35 year olds in the US. Instagram ran four photos of the ice cream over eight days and made sure that the ad only ran approximately three times. Each of the four photos showed up only one time in a user's feed.
These ads reached over 9.8 million users and there was a 17% increase in the amount of people who had become aware of the new flavor and associated it with the brand.
The Instagram business website offers inspiration by highlighting other businesses that do an amazing job promoting themselves. There are quick examples of organizations and businesses in different fields so you can see that having an Instagram isn’t just for food and clothing lines, but can also be used for nonprofits such as Charity: Water, amusement parks like Disneyland, and even something as simple as a bicycle shop like Mission Bicycle Company.
Instagram also offers recommendations on certain hashtags to watch out for on different styles of photography. The styles that are used as examples are different ways to take pictures that will grab a person’s attention while scrolling through their feed. Below are two examples of styles. On the left is #thingsorganizedneatly and the right is #notfakesymmetry.
Since the network has become increasingly popular with businesses, Instagram has started publishing a business blog. The blog and the Inspirations page are similar, but the inspirations page is more of ‘this is what a business can look like’ while the blog is ‘this is what you do to look like that.’ The blog offers tips on how to improve your visuals, examples of what businesses have already done, posts updates on what is going on at Instagram Headquarters, and features different businesses.
One business that has been featured is Lexus for creating an unusual advertisement using Instagram. Lexus took video and photos and combined it for a unique advertising experience. At an event put on by Instagram called ‘Instameet,’ Lexus took step by step pictures of a potential video advertisement and had over 200 Instagram users help create the ad. Each person picked a numbered sketch and when their number was called they would go up to the person taking the photo, give them their phone, and get it back after the picture was taken. Once the picture was taken the user would apply whatever effects Instagram offers that they wanted to the picture and post it with a certain hashtag. The same day Lexus collected all of the posts and put them one right after another to create a commercial of their new car. This was called #LexusInstafilm.
What Can You Do Now?
Create an account. It’s free and you don’t have to be a professional graphic designer or photographer to create a great photo. Download the app, snap a photo, apply one of the many effects offered through Instagram, and post it. The main thing to make sure you use hashtags that relate to what you are promoting or create your own hashtag by simply putting #andthenanythingyouwant.
Find your voice. You know your business or nonprofit best. You already have a connection with your community. You know what your values are. You know what your product is. You are literally the expert of your company. All you need to do now is figure out how to portray that in images. Find out what your voice is through images, but don’t change your current voice for images.
Stay up-to-date. Stay on top of the blog. Review businesses and nonprofits that are featured and what they have done. Take in all of the techniques that Instagram tries to teach. Do everything you can to stay current. Knowledge is power.
Instagram: Your Best Visual Marketing Tool
Instagram is a visual marketing and advertising tool that has yet to be discovered by a lot of businesses and nonprofits. If you don’t jump onboard then you may be left in the dust. By doing these three things you will be ahead of the game by the time Instagram does release their advertising feature to everyone. You will have already done what all of the other businesses will be scurrying around to do. Who knows? You may even be a featured business by then.
For some tips on photo taking check out The Five Worst Photography Mistakes.
Cameo Lamb is a senior at Norwich University majoring in communications. She lives in Graniteville, Vermont with her son Eli.