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Five “Secret” Takeaways – How Leading Brands are Using Visual Media to Build Trust and Drive Sales

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation for businesses and customers alike. Across verticals, brands were forced to evaluate their digital strategies and the ways in which they connect with audiences and customers. To explore brands’ visual media challenges, changes, and opportunities, Cloudinary recently cohosted a virtual roundtable with six leading brands from the Brand Innovators community on the topic, Brand Visualization in a Post-Pandemic Environment.

Sometimes panels like this one are live streamed to an audience or recorded and shared. We opted to make this discussion a “closed door” event, which encouraged attendees to speak more freely. We hope they enjoyed the chance to connect with and learn from industry-leading peers. We certainly valued the opportunity to engage in an honest and open discussion about visual media approaches, future plans, and best tips and tricks for improving customer engagement and building lasting relationships.

While we need to keep the names of the brands private, here are five takeaways from the discussion, moderated by our Head of Global Communications & Customer Marketing Juli Greenwood:

In response to retail locations closing during COVID-19, brands launched or expanded B2C channels. Selling directly to consumers allows companies to build customer relationships and increase profitability, but it poses new challenges, too. Companies selling high-end and/or complex products or services–products or services traditionally sold in store–need to build intuitive, detailed digital experiences. It is hard to create a virtual sales floor that can rival a seasoned sales representative with decades of experience. But many consumers prefer the comfort and ease of shopping remote, even when buying big-ticket items. To create these experiences, brands are using advanced technology like CGI, 3D configurators, AR, and 360-degree product views, in addition to images and video.

Brands need more content than ever before. Many are working with multiple content creators to keep up with the demand for content assets, but managing these workflows can be challenging. Some of our panelists shared that processes were taking too long. So, they moved, or are in the process of moving, content production in-house and managing it in a DAM (Digital Asset Manager). In-housing content creation allows brands to create assets faster and at lower costs, preserve content quality, adapt more agile processes, and more easily repurpose assets across different platforms and channels. One popular intimate retailer, around since 1983, pointed out that taking control of their content was also creating fun new opportunities for the in-house teams.

During the pandemic, it became more important than ever for companies to show their “true selves” and to be transparent with shoppers, who were hungry for authenticity and genuine connections. Most brands changed their approach to messaging, focusing on “behind-the-scenes” content and communicating social missions. As a marketer from a leading D2C flower company put it, “Transactional growth will only get you so far. If you don’t build connections with customers, you might as well be selling widgets.” One way to create a more authentic brand is to leverage user-generated content (UGC). While customers welcome the unbiased reviews and product images and videos, brands must create processes for reviewing UGC at scale and ensuring it meets brand standards without compromising authenticity.

Sure, shoppable Instagram stories are nice, but some brand marketers believe they should be “nailing the basics before the sexy stuff.” A number of panelists felt improving marketing fundamentals would be more valuable long-term than adopting a one-off advanced technology or social media capability. A marketing director from a leading outdoor clothing brand noted, “The amount of work and time to change something on the homepage is crazy.” Nearly every panelist agreed with her. Panelists also lack access to data integration tools needed to paint a more complete picture of their audience, connect the dots across devices and platforms, and analyze content performance. A marketing executive from a global home appliance brand said that although his company has an impressive marketing technology stack, they need help using it to its potential. “It is like having a Corvette but not knowing how to drive it,” he said.

Marketing leads from international companies agreed that it is best to take a regional approach to creating content, and building trust. A panelist from a global insurance company shared how his company pivoted to create digital sales tools to empower global teams who were used to selling face-to-face. They adopted their approach to reflect customer behavior trends in each region. In Asia, for example, creating processes and content for communication with prospects via WeChat was essential. As Juli noted, a growing number of brands are using Cloudinary tools to create and optimize visual content for microbrowsers–the miniature previews of web pages inside private message discussion like Slack, WhatsApp, and WeChat. (Check out Cloudinary’s 2020 State of Visual Media Report for more on how you can optimize content to drive microbrowser engagement and sales.)

Cloudinary image and video management solutions can address many of the challenges and opportunities that came up on the call. We would love to tell you more about it. Drop us a line any time to chat. And thank you again to our panelists for taking the time to talk with us. We appreciate your candor and insights and commend the work you have done to advance digital transformation at your companies.

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