A photo speaks 1,000 words—and clearly, this applies to social media, too.
Social platforms have evolved over the years to keep the user's focus on images, video and animated graphics. With so much visual stimulation online and on social media today, brands are vying for consumers' attention. But with attention, comes competition.
You're definitely not the only one thinking about how to capture more attention on your visual content. But, how can you create content that stands out from the 95 million other Instagram posts shared every day?
Through science—specifically, the science of attention.
The Science of Visual Attention
Visual attention comes from brain activity, which means it can be studied and analyzed. So what exactly makes something visually interesting, and what makes something boring to look at?
For marketing, which content gets engagement, clicks, and conversions and which gets scrolled past and ignored? Cognitive demand and clarity hold the clues.
Visual content that has low cognitive demand and high clarity is content that stands out, grabs attention, and drives action from the viewer.
Cognitive demand refers to how hard it is for someone to understand a piece of visual content. A low cognitive demand score means that people can understand your content quickly (and that’s a really good thing!). A high score means users are spending too much time trying to figure out what’s going on in your content.
When visual content has a high cognitive demand the brain moves on or ignores and the viewer continues to scroll, not clicking the call to action, and not showing any of the interest and interaction that can help platforms show more of your content to this user.
Clarity is calculated based on how visible the key areas of your content are. Key areas are your ad copy, product, and call to action. A low clarity score means that key areas are difficult to find. A high clarity score means that people can quickly easily find the most important parts of your content.
Visual content with high clarity scores gets more attention, engagement, and clicks. Read on to find out how I determined this through my own social experiment.
The Attention Score, composed of metrics like cognitive demand and clarity scores, can tell you how well a piece of content will perform without the need for spending time, money, and resources on campaigns that don’t pan out.
It’s tempting to think that your aim is to have *the* most interesting content online, but that’s probably not the right way to think about it.
In a recent Future of Marketing post, TINT shared an important conclusion from Dentsu's Attention Economy report, "rather than aiming for full attention at any cost, the bigger win for marketers is to avoid full avoidance, where the audience looks – or walks – away."
To spark attention is the first step to moving into the next phase of the customer journey—decision making.
The Human Brain and Effects of Visual Attention on Decision Making - Experiment
When it comes to decision-making, attention isn’t so black and white—as researchers at Ohio State University discovered.
A study conducted by Microsoft, says that humans now have the attention span of a goldfish- meaning marketers only have 8 seconds to grab the visual attention of their prospect (human) so they can promptly make a decision. But, where does that leave companies using strong visuals in their branding? I ran an experiment on my personal social media to measure the effects of Attention Points within branded material to see how users make a decision when purchasing goods. To conduct the experiment, I used similar but subtly different images of wine bottles (pictured below) in a poll asking "Which bottle would you buy?" to my Instagram followers on a 24-hour Instagram story.
Out of the 70 viewers of my story, 38% said that the left wine bottle is something they would buy. Visibly the branding is much more simplistic with little copy on the product labeling. While 62% said they would buy the right bottle, clearly showing more text and a centered logo.
When I compared the two images above using TINT's Attention Score, a one-of-its-kind feature that scans content to visualize key attention points to optimize content for greater visibility, I noticed that the images ran different levels in Cognitive and Clarity scorings.
As we can see in the scanned images, the right image (which was chosen the most by my Instagram followers) displays a slightly higher concentration of Cognitive Demand and Clarity scoring, meaning the branded bottle is easy for a human brain to process in a matter of seconds and is the most visually appealing throughout the two bottles. Whereas the left image has a higher concentration of attention directly towards the middle of the bottle. Making it less likely to be noticed by the human eye when browsing wine selections in-store or online. We can conclude with this experiment that such a little change in branding can make all the difference in setting the tone for your marketing. Attention Score can significantly help predict how your image, or in this case, product branding will perform with prospective audiences.
Maximizing the Attention Potential of Your Visual Content
Based on the findings of my experiment, there are some important tips to keep in mind on how to get more eyes on your content.
Use Faces in Your Content
Pattern recognition is a huge part of the brain, helping us jump to answers based on past experiences. If you’ve seen what a snake looks like before, you don’t need to stare down a rattlesnake while you figure out how it’s making that noise. Your brain has already signaled the alarm to move away, quickly, thanks to pattern recognition.
People are evolved to look for faces and to look at what *those* faces are looking at. This human perception helped us know if somebody was heading our way, potentially a threat in the African savannah tens of thousands of years ago or working their way East—never to know we had even spotted them.
By using human faces, your content immediately draws the attention of your audience. In this example, a heat map (generated by tracking eye movement) shows us how users are most drawn to the face and center body of the person in the photograph—and not at all focused on what shoes she’s wearing or where she’s walking towards.
Keep Visual Content Clean
Brains take in a huge amount of data with a single social media scroll. There isn’t time for your content to have high cognitive demand because there’s just too much happening in your ad creative. Focus on your main message and either use copy, images, or both to showcase your point to get selective attention on your product and call to action.
If your content has too much going on, it’ll increase your cognitive demand and decrease your clarity score. People won’t be able to figure out what’s happening fast enough, and they’ll keep scrolling. Low cognitive demand content is clean, only showing what *needs* to be there. This increases the clarity score as users are easily able to figure out what’s going on, if they care about it, and if they want to learn more.
For example, in this heat map, TINT Attention Score found that users are able to shift from the product, the shoe, to the call to action, where their gaze stays for the longest period of time. See how clean this ad is? The time spent on the call to action is that moment of decision making—which tells us the message was clear enough for ideal customers to understand.
Focus on the Fovea of Your Image or Video
The fovea is the part of an image that is most in focus and draws spatial attention. It’s usually front and center, where our eyes are naturally drawn. When you take a portrait photo on a smartphone, you’re seeing the fovea, coupled with the blurred background. The fovea is where our eyes are naturally drawn to, which means products should be strategically placed there.
Espolón Tequila strategically places their tequila bottle in the fovea of the image below making it the highlight of the content’s visual field. See how eye-tracking software figures out that the stimulus of people’s attention is focused on this part of the image more than the more irrelevant stimuli in the background? Better yet, people are looking directly at the label of this tequila bottle. Even if a user doesn’t purchase this Espolón from the ad, they’re now familiar with the branding—giving Espolón a higher chance of converting in-store down the line.
Let’s also take a look at the second most viewed part of this photo—the women’s face in the background. Don’t overestimate the importance of faces in your content, as even a face in a blurred background is still intriguing to the human eye.
Where Should Visual Content Live?
Visual content has a lot of homes, and they’re not just online. Social media, paid ads, and websites are digital homes for your brand-created and user-generated content, but so are in-person screens.
Purdue University uses social media to share what "life at Purdue" is like. Notice how their mascot is in the fovea of this photo—and the cheerleaders are in the blurred background? Your eyes immediately look to their mascot (and over to the face of the cheerleader right after).
eCommerce brands add user-generated content galleries to their product pages to boost conversions.
Visual content can live digitally or in-person, but the science behind what creates decision-making stays the same—regardless of medium.
Visual Attention is a Science
Getting visual attention to your content is a science, backed by the present study and workings of the human brain. By using what we know to be true about how the brain has evolved to intake information, brands can curate visual content that works alongside those mechanisms.
Three important points to keep in mind:
- Use faces in your content
- Keep your ad creative minimal and clean
- Put your brand in the fovea of your image
These are the scientific mechanisms that can get your brand more attention. Coupled with A/B testing and proven content strategies—your visual content can garner more engagement and conversions on ads and campaigns.
Schedule a free TINT demo to see how our Attention Score technology will help you figure out if your content is visually appealing before you hit publish.