I have a little secret to tell you. It’s not something I like to admit, but it’s true. . . I’m old enough to remember the early days of the Internet.
Back, when web pages were awkward collections of images and animated icons abruptly plastered all over the page. Back when sites like these were the norm:
Since these early days, things have changed. A lot. Most web sites have become sparser, cleaner, and easier to navigate. Think Google.
User experience has become a thing. And, many sites are now tested and designed to optimize conversions.
Yet, despite this progress, one odd thing has transcended across the decades: the use of animated icons and imagery.
While most websites no longer feature pictures of pixilated palm trees waving in the wind, animated gifs, emjois, and icons have become the new big thing. Again.
Like a blast from the past, online communication has reverted back to the early days of the Internet – when it was all about using images and animated gifs to create a unique, differential experience that gave meaning to web visitors.
Why have we gone back to images to communicate? To explore this question, I’ve dug into the latest behavioral psychology and digital marketing research. Here’s what I’ve found:
Physiologically, our brains are best at processing visuals.
According to an article by CopyBlogger, 90% of the information received by the brain is visual. And, our brains process visual information 60 thousand times fast than textual information!
Additionally, research by MarketingProfs has found, it only takes us 1/10th of a second to understand a visual scene and 250 milliseconds to process a symbol and attach meaning to it. Yet, written content takes us much longer to process. We actually have read the text before we can cognitively decipher it’s meaning. So, it’s way quicker for us to see, process, and attribute meaning to an image.
Being able to quickly process an image and derive meaning from it is advantageous in our busy, multi-media-driven world. Today, people are exposed to so much “noise.” It’s hard to cut the clutter.
Just look at your email inbox. You probably have hundreds of unread messages in it. According to DMR Stats, the average person receives 121 emails per day! That’s a lot of reading to get through.
So, think about this – when you scan through email, what makes a message standout? Likely either a name you recognize, a reply you’ve been waiting for, or a message with an icon in the subject line. A message with an icon pops. It visually standouts out from all the other messages in your inbox.
If the icon is memorable or contextually relevant, it may resonate with you, and consequently motivate you to action. This Featured Test proved this idea, showing how simply including an icon in the subject line led to higher email open and click rates.
Emojis work because they’re different, they stand out from text, and they can be quickly processed. However, as emojis in subject lines become more commonplace, it’s likely their novelty will wear-off and their impact will lessen. To optimize them, the frequency at which they’re used should be controlled and applied only when they’re most needed.
Long gone are the days when people would pick-up a rotary phone and dial-up their Aunt Marge to talk. Today, communication is instantaneous. We don’t have to wait to schedule a time when Aunt Marge is back home from her job in the city. We just send her a text – anytime.
The efficiency and speed at which we can now communicate has fostered a new type of communication, one that’s based primarily on pictures and images instead of text. It’s like modern day hieroglyphics. Images, in the form of emojis, icons, and animated gifs, are being used because they quickly communicate and pack a lot more punch than a string of words. Pictures really are worth a thousand words.
Think of a text message you send to your partner. You can use words to say, “I love you.” Or, you can tell them you love them and add a bright, big red heart icon. The message seems much more significant and sincere with the heart image attached to it. It’s more likely to resonate with you.
Not only do images create deeper meaning for us, but modern technologies have also made it easier for us to include icons and emojis in communication.
Not sure exactly what to say on your friend’s post on Facebook, give them a thumb’s up.
Texting with your friend and want to tell them you’re happy you finally found the shirt you were looking for, but feel annoyed, it’s no longer on sale. Easy. You don’t need to write that out. Thanks to hundreds of pre-set icons housed within your phone, you can easily express your feelings with a simple tap on your screen.
The ability to quickly, accurately, and effectively express ourselves through imagery has created a whole new way of communication. Icons and emojis allow us to express subtle nuisances of emotion and contribute to the conversation – without ever actually saying anything. They do the speaking for us. And, they do it much more powerfully than with words because a single image provides a wealth of context and connotation. A single word simply doesn’t have this type of connection-forming power.
Need proof: it’s taken 924 words so far to get this point across. Now, if only there was an emoji for that. . .
So, What Can You Do With All This Info?
If you’re still with us, and you’re read all 900+ words of this article, you might be wondering what you’re supposed to do with this newfound insight into icons. Sure, you now know you can seal a meaningful kiss in your text to your Aunt Marge , but how can you use this information to become a better digital marketer?
Here’s some actionable insights and takeaways for you:
Choose your images wisely. Whether you’re selecting a thumbnail image for your new app, trying to find the right picture for your landing page, or trying to figure out the right emoji to increase email opens, remember this: testing and selecting the right image is absolutely crucial for conversions.
Be aware that images convey subtle meanings. From a behavioral psychological standpoint, we respond to images, based on our perception of what we think the image conveys. Our perceptions are influenced by minuet details and subtle differences. This image psychology study looking at perception of people found that small changes in facial expression and posture influenced whether a subject was seen as approachable, helpful, or attractive. The factors are no different when it comes to choosing an app image, or email icon. Small differences in the image can have a huge impact on our assessment and decision to respond or convert. Choose wisely. Or, better yet. Test.
Take into account you don’t have much time. Although we may not consciously realize it, this research shows we draw conclusions about an image in one-half of one-tenth of a second, or 40 milliseconds! That’s not a lot of time to grab to your audience. So, your image needs to powerfully resonate the moment viewers lay eyes on it.
Got all that?! Or, do you need an info graphic?
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