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Key Takeaways From Our 2021 State of Visual Media Report

Takeaways From Our 2021 State of Visual Media Report

We recently released our 2021 State of Visual Media report, which offers a view into how visual media content is produced, managed, viewed, and consumed. For this third annual report, we analyzed a massive amount of visual-related data, looking at billions of image and video assets across 670 enterprise customers and 10 vertical industries, to reveal key trends in visual engagement, particularly those accelerated by the pandemic. We also take a look at what’s needed to raise the bar on these visual-first experiences as we continue on in a world in which fast, flawless visual content will remain critically important to the user experience.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to moderate a session at our 2021 ImageCon conference in October (now available on-demand) during which we dug in on three key report takeaways: the need for next-gen image formats, the continued rise of video, and the big opportunity that exists within ‘dark social’ referral traffic.

Modern Web, Modern Formats

In March 2021 alone, we managed and delivered an average of 2.4 million image and video assets per Cloudinary customer. Brands are using a wide variety of image types, and we’re seeing that lighter file formats are beginning to become more popular as legacy ones fade out.

What brand doesn’t want to deliver the best end-user experience possible? That ideal experience is made possible by prioritizing mobile-first responsiveness. You want your page to load as quickly as possible, and larger images take longer to load. Enter new image formats! While JPG and PNG are still leading formats, lightweight formats are catching up super quickly. When brands use newer, lighter file formats, like WebP, images appear quickly, leading to significant reductions in battery usage.

“Very often, the LCP (Largest Contentful Paint) is going to be an image,” offered Jon Sneyers, Senior Image Researcher here at Cloudinary and co-creator of the new JPEG XL image codec. “To get a better page rank and user experience, you need your images to appear quickly. A more modern codex can make your images load even quicker.”

Leveraging modern image formats also enables more creative web design. For example, using newer programs makes it possible to have images on your website that are transparent, creating better color accuracy and contributing to that to improved user experience.

JPEG XL is an image format designed with the web in mind, with benefits like bandwidth reduction, backwards compatibility and high dynamic range. Many brands use automatic format selection on their websites, meaning the newest image type will be used automatically, so once it becomes an option for more browsers, this rich media will be implemented automatically.

Video should be rich and attention-grabbing.

No doubt video remains a critical medium for visual storytelling. From January 2019 and through the pandemic, video requests on our platform doubled from 6.8% to 12.79%, and video bandwidth grew by more than 140% in Q2 2020.. More industries and brands are using video frequently for marketing, such as live streaming, personalized ads, user-generated content (UGC), and social.

Brands must make videos accessible to all viewers, providing accurate captions and giving viewers the ability to control the content in terms of play, pause, ‘skip ahead’ and volume. When it comes to previews, make sure that the content in the video is reflected accurately and attention-grabbing.

In terms of UGC, it’s also important to keep content safe. Brands must moderate content and pay attention, as well as make sure it’s an easy upload process for the content creator.

Brands must also keep in mind how videos will look in the social media platform itself. Quality will be affected if the video format doesn’t align with the social media’s sizing and quality requirements; it’s necessary to choose the best video format for the viewers’ device and utilize the latest software.

Businesses can achieve results with video through engagement and personalization. With AI, brands can use videos to create content that specifically engages the user, as well as monitor media quickly and easily.

“Make sure to utilize APIs to connect your video technology to your tech stack and drive more efficiency,” offered Amit Erental, Senior Manager for Cloudinary’s Video Business Lines . “Use personalized and shoppable videos because they are very powerful. Today, you can create them automatically and scale all of your activity around video.”

Brands must prepare images and videos for microbrowsers.

Microbrowsers are tiny, headless browsers that pull bits and pieces of information from the link pages and assemble those rich previews into a message on a different channel. For example, when you paste a URL into Slack or Facebook messenger, the URL is transformed into a bigger, richer click target, assembled from content pulled from the link page.

“Microbrowsers are a golden opportunity for brands,” said Eric Portis, Web Platform Advocate at Cloudinary. “Microbrowsers give you your first and only chance to insert yourself in the most valuable and least trackable form of marketing: social sharing. You can crack a first impression and put your best foot forward.”

Users' first impressions aren’t often coming from homepages or search results; first impressions come from the previews that come from word-of-mouth, links swapped amongst family and friends.

How can brands optimize microbrowsers to achieve results?

  • Create content specifically for microbrowsers. Instead of letting the app pull content and create a random URL preview, send content to microbrowsers through open graph tags to ensure that your link preview uses rich media.
  • Be visual. Microbrowsers provide a huge opportunity to catch peoples’ attention and tell a story in one image, so be sure to pick an image that accurately represents your brand and engages the user.
  • Include video content. If a video is the right size, looped and muted, it will autoplay. Make the media eye-catching.
  • Test your microbrowser. It’s vital to test on real devices. See what these microbrowsers are doing when users send them in order to optimize the best possible first impression for your brand.

How brands reach and engage audiences is ever-changing, but one thing is certain: our appetite for visual media is as big as ever, with no slowdown in sight. Because of this, brands will require new tools and new thinking when it comes to building better, faster connections through modern and immersive storytelling.

For more information, read and download the full 2021 State of Visual Media report and watch our ImageCon Breakout Session - Cloudinary's 2021 State of Visual Media Report: A Review of the Trends Shaping Today's Visual-First World.

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