identifying consumer insights visually

Consumer Insights and Opportunity Identification

Consumer insights are an integral part of marketing and innovation. They direct communications and uncover need states for new products and services. Consumer insights are especially important when it comes to identifying new market opportunities—the nebulous, future-facing spaces that involve huge risks. Because at the end of the day, you can’t be entirely sure what will catch on with your consumers once the product/service hits the market.

What you can do is inform yourself as much as possible, capitalize on the consumer insights available, and identify opportunities for the solutions your customers need most. The problem with the current way marketers and researchers interact with consumers is that it hasn’t evolved to keep up with modern day culture. We still use plain-text surveys to interact with consumers. And while surveys are certainly a valid tool for information collection—especially quantitative research—there is a lot more we can learn from each consumer we interact with.

Let’s first take a look at the ways consumers—in other words, human beings, AKA people—interact with each other in real life.

The Rise of Image-Sharing

The evolution of social media has drastically changed how we interact with friends, family, and even strangers. Everyone is connected, with roughly 3.196 billion social media users worldwide, and everyone can be contacted in a multitude of ways.

As more and more people adopt social media, the rise in image and video sharing is a trend that can't be ignored. As visual creatures, humans like seeing what others are talking about—not just reading about it.

When internet speeds were inconsistent and bandwidths couldn’t handle much data, uploading and downloading images and videos was a time-consuming process. But thanks to continuous advancements in technology, it is now quicker to send a picture of your dog than it was to send a text in 2005.

The simplicity of image-sharing has even led to a strong preference for information with visuals. In fact, studies show that readers spend more time focusing on images in articles than they do on the text. And articles with pictures once every ~100 words receive twice as many shares on social media as articles with fewer pictures.

Photos are especially prevalent on social media. Here's a look at stats for several platforms:



twitter photos and videos

With 5,787 tweets sent out every second, Twitter is undeniably popular. It started as a short, text-based information sharing platform. But as the internet aged, so did Twitter. The platform adopted the popular photo-sharing capabilities, and visuals have seen upsurges ever since.

Now, tweets that include a GIF get 55% more engagement, tweets with a video attract 10x engagement, and tweets with images receive 150% more retweets.

twitter growthImage via Business of Apps

And as you can see from the graph above, Twitter is still experiencing growth, albeit slowed growth, and photos and videos seem to be the most popular content.



facebook photos newsfeed

Facebook is a huge platform with 2.23 billion people logging on every month, including 1.47 billion users who log on daily. And despite its recent struggle with user privacy, people keep posting, sharing, and scrolling. Long gone are the days of simple status updates, like, “Jane Doe is listening to Green Day.” Facebook is now known for article sharing and large photo albums of your friend’s vacation.

Still, Facebook posts that include images see 2.3X more engagement compared to those without images. And despite its decreasing popularity among younger demographics, Facebook remains a social media powerhouse dominated by visual sharing.



Instagram photos and hashtags

Instagram is nearly 100% visual, born out of the desire to share that perfect photo. Where Facebook is popular for uploading ALL your photos to an album, Instagram is popular for uploading your BEST photo. Instagram is also experiencing a rapid adoption rate, with active users on the rise.

instagram growthImage via Statista

In fact, 1 billion people use Instagram, 50% of whom log in daily. And beyond the photo-sharing function, Instagram recently announced the release of Stories—boosting growth efforts. Now, 400 million stories are posted each day.

People love Instagram because of its visual identity. Mindless scrolling is essential during that five-minute wait in line at Chipotle. It’s easily digestible content and everyone wants to show off their inner photographer.



snapchat visual stories

Like Instagram, Snapchat was born as a photo-sharing app—though its lines are blurred between social media platform and communication app. Either way, the amount of photo-sharing is unbelievable.

3 billion snaps are created each day, with 20,000 photos shared every second. If you were to look at all of the photos shared on Snapchat in the past hour, it would take you 10 years. These numbers would have been unimaginable just 15 years ago—and 15 years is a conservative timeframe. 

Snapchat revolutionized person-to-person communication, changing it from text-heavy to photo-based. With the help of cell-phones, it even popularized vertical photo/video content, something that most photographers despised until just a few years ago.



youtube video feed

YouTube is another massive social media platform. It currently has 1.9 billion active monthly users, with 114,000 years worth of video watched every day. On the other end, 400 hours of video are uploaded every minute. It's safe to say that people love watching videos, and there are plenty of content creators to serve up those videos. 

As you might know, YouTube’s content is almost 100% video, with the exception of the video title (yes, there is a video description and a photo upload feature, but let's be honest, the only thing anyone uses are the titles and videos themselves). Plus, 96% of teens use YouTube, meaning it’s a core tool in teens’ online behavior.

There’s no sign of this highly visual platform slowing down, enabling a mega-shift away from text-based communications.

Overall Visual Trends

Even within and between these social media apps we are seeing a shift toward visual preferences. As Twitter and Facebook's growth begins to slow, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube—the apps with visuals programmed into their DNA—are growing in popularity. This is especially true with teens, some of the heaviest users of social media and usually early indicators of an app's future performance.

If one thing is for sure, it's that we are relying more on images and videos in our communication styles than ever before. Images are becoming the main source for communicating information, while text is only secondary and supportive. Just look at Instagramhashtags are great for explaining what your photo is about, but the photo itself is what's captivating your followers. The hashtag adds clarification—and sometimes humor—to an image that illustrates the information you want to convey.

What Marketers and Innovators Can Learn

As marketers and innovators, we need to look at these trends and learn something for ourselves. People like communicating with visuals, and people like consuming visuals. And as new tools and technologies make photo/video-sharing even simpler, the trend will only continue.

See How Your Consumers  Share Insights Visually

So why are we still gathering insights through the same-old surveys that have been around for ages? We’re supposed to be the leaders of creativity, pushing boundaries and coming up with new ideas. Let’s start interacting with consumers the way they want to interact—through image-sharing techniques. This gives consumers the freedom to share what they want—in the way they want—making it easier to parse through data to identify new opportunities.

I can definitely see a future that still relies on classic, text-based surveys for gathering information from consumers. But I also envision a future that capitalizes on the already-established behaviors of photo-sharing, uncovering insights and future opportunities for brands at new angles and depth. 

Your consumers are already communicating through images with each other. When are you going to let them communicate through images with you? 

Tyler Thompson

Tyler Thompson is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.