Visuals Are The Only True Global Language

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Here’s some food for thought when it comes to choosing the best visuals to represent your brand and reach your target audiences.

In today’s day and age, having the perfect image, video, illustration, vector or GIF can mean the difference between connecting with your audience or simply being bypassed. AW360 sat down with Dr. Rebecca Swift, Global Head of Creative Insights for Getty Images, to get a better understanding as to how visuals can help a small business or global brand capture attention among key demographics. To that end, she detailed Getty Images’ latest research effort known as Visual GPS, the four Forces she sees as significantly impacting consumer decisions and a series of actionable insights that can be employed to better grasp what matters most to your target consumer.

First off, what is Visual GPS? Is it a trends report?

No, it’s honestly much more than what you might think of when you consider trend reports. Visual GPS is a ready-to-use guide detailing what today’s consumers care about most—as well as why—so brands can choose visuals that will resonate with them. Leveraging our sales and search data, insights from our visual experts and the largest consumer survey of its kind completed in conjunction with YouGov, we believe Visual GPS is the next generation of visual research.

What is it intended to do?

Key for us was providing the kinds and quantity of insights about today’s consumers—across demographics and continents—that can help businesses better understand what drives consumer visual choice. We have been doing the work internally for our entire 25 years, but we have been asked more and more to share insights externally.

Visual GPS has therefore been set up as a resource—filled with data-fueled insights about what drives decision making and visual relevance across the generations, regions and their relationship with industry sectors. We’ve broken down what matters most to them along the lines of Realness, Wellness, Technology, and Sustainability.

Why do I need it?

Visuals are the world’s only global language. As brands compete for mindshare, attention, and sales, they need to use language to their advantage, which necessarily requires using the best visuals to reach those audiences. But how does one decide what the “best” visual is? If you’re savvy, you want a healthy dose of data and insights to back up what is almost always an expensive decision. And that’s what we’ve assembled. A smarter way to not only think about but select visual content, which elevates your visual storytelling capabilities by helping you better understand what will help you connect with your audience.

What are Forces? And just as importantly, why these four in particular?

Realness, Wellness, Technology, and Sustainability are four concepts we’re calling Forces because we’ve found that they hold a powerful influence on the way people behave, and ultimately, the way they make decisions. Essentially the forces are the influences behind visual trends. For instance, authenticity and realness have been a force in imagery for nearly 20 years but the way it is visualized has evolved in that time. Whereas Sustainability has been a visual trend twice in the last 15 years, coming into but we see it as a Force that is coming into focus and anticipate its strength moving forward.

As far as the why behind these four, they were collectively identified early on by the Getty Images’ Creative Insights team. The YouGov survey sought to quantify the importance of these Forces and add further context around visual representation.

If you had to call out a handful of either impressive or surprising findings, what would they be?

We found that diversity and values matter to the majority of consumers, regardless of generation (this tends to be attributed to millennials and Gen Z), presenting an opportunity for brands to reach across generational lines as two-thirds of consumers say it’s important to them that the companies they buy from celebrating diversity “of all kinds.” In terms of shared values, a third said they have boycotted a brand that went against their values in the past two years, and similarly, a third said that they started purchasing from a brand that supported a cause they believe in.

Here’s another gem: Sustainability is not only a young person’s concern again. I have seen a lot of research on millennials and their attitude towards environmental issues. Our findings demonstrate that sustainability matters to older generations, too, which presents another visual-forward opportunity for any brand looking to reach multiple generations.

We’ve also identified a “consumption conundrum,” whereby consumers recognize the importance of making sustainable choices but tend to prioritize convenience. To be specific, half of consumers say they only buy products from brands that try to be eco-friendly, but just as many also say that although they know they should care more about the environment, convenience is their priority. Again, we view this as an opportunity for brands to partner with consumers to help close the gap between attitudes and actions.

What’s next?

This is just the beginning. The data is deep and rich so we will continue to build upon the report we’ve launched, adding industry and regionally-specific insights based on new data sets, and zeroing in even further on these Forces to deliver fresh insights. We’re beginning the next phase now, testing visuals so we can further quantify consumer resonance which we all care so much about.

Dr. Rebecca Swift
Senior Director of Creative Insights
Getty Images

Rebecca joined the photography industry over 20 years ago and was one of the founding members of the creative research team at Getty Images, introducing visual research methodology to the industry.

Today, Rebecca leads the Creative Research and Planning team who sets the content strategy for Getty Images, through researching and analyzing trends in visual communication. This knowledge helps inform Creative Insights – an online destination from Getty Images that gives behind the lens access, authentic thought-provoking imagery and a curated glimpse of today’s visual trends.

Rebecca is also responsible for building image collections for iStock, the web’s original community for crowd-sourced royalty-free stock images, media and design elements, and a subsidiary of Getty Images.

Day-to-day Rebecca works with photographer communities that range from amateur hobbyists to renowned professionals, setting creative briefs, training photographers in legal issues and keywording, and arranging photoshoots. Rebecca also runs global research projects investigating the future of visual communications and has published many trend reports.

One area Rebecca is particularly passionate about is the evolving representation of people in visual communications. Rebecca is personally responsible for driving change in visual language depicting sportswomen and girls, which she has done by rewriting the visual standards of commercial imagery depicting this group and briefing Getty Images’ contributing photographers against these new visual standards. Rebecca also led a partnership with Jaguar Land Rover to produce imagery representing the realities of a modern-day STEM career for women. Most recently she has turned her attention to addressing authentic and diverse representations of people with disabilities in the media.

In addition, Rebecca acts as a visual brand consultant for global corporations. She works with companies spanning a wide range of industries, from the charity sector to the oil industry, and has presented her findings all over the world.

Rebecca lectures at conferences and seminars across the globe and guest lectures at universities across Britain. She has sat on the judging panel for most of Europe’s significant photography, design, and advertising awards.

Rebecca has Ph.D. in Photography. Her research expertise is in commercial creativity and the evolution of visual trends in advertising.

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