How brands can prove the ROI of images and videos

Images and videos are becoming more important for effective marketing and spend on them is going up, but marketers struggle to calculate their ROI. Here’s how they can do it.

Marketing spend on images and videos is on the rise, yet marketers and creatives are unclear how best to justify this increased investment and demonstrate effectiveness. It’s time to link up the story.

The importance of visual assets in creating thumb-stopping content is well understood by marketers and creatives. Engagement with marketing content increasingly occurs on social platforms and mobile devices, turning images and videos into crucial assets, especially as brands look to stand out and win consumers’ attention – and ultimately conversions, sales and loyalty.

Research carried out earlier this year by Marketing Week, Creative Review and Shutterstock found that nearly all marketers and creatives (94%) consider the importance of visual marketing assets as either significant or paramount, with nearly two thirds using the latter description. As a result, more than half are planning to increase their spend on images and videos during the current year.

The imminent arrival of 5G technology will likely drive the growth in on-the-go visual content consumption further, putting more pressure on marketing and creative teams to deliver effective visual assets.

“We are constantly being stretched creatively to adapt to new formats and new methods,” said Matt Royle-Evatt, head of creative studio at private healthcare business Bupa, speaking on a webinar earlier this month hosted by Marketing Week and Creative Review, and sponsored by Shutterstock.

Watch the webinar on demand here

He added: “We’re now having to produce what could be thousands of assets to support our channels. Production-rich content still has its place but on a shoot we think about both long- and short-form video, right through to content with a slight motion that could be used in an email.”

Always be tracking

Confidence to prove the return on investment (ROI) of visual content is sorely lacking among marketers and creatives. Nine out of 10 say it is challenging to attribute commercial performance to visual assets.

Just as the volume of visual assets is increasing, however, so too is the need to prove their effectiveness and build a business case to secure budgets. A mindset shift to ensure ROI is front of mind is a good starting point.

By weighting different components of a campaign, Marianne Bunton, director of enterprise product marketing at Shutterstock, said during the webinar she is able to justify the specific vendors she wants to work with, or the specific visual assets she invests in.

“The focus of our internal discussions is on making sure we understand how those investments impact the ROI – the conversion rate or the average order value for example – because they will.”

Bupa, meanwhile, uses a wide range of brand and commercial metrics to ensure all visual assets can be measured in terms of where the brand was previously tracking, how those assets are currently performing and how that will feed into future numbers. “It’s a conversation driven by finance but has been drilled into our creatives,” said Royle-Evatt.

Bunton agreed that an ‘always be tracking’ approach is necessary, even if no-one is asking for the results. “Make sure you have those benchmarks because they will come in handy when you do need to make that bigger business case.”

Diversify your metrics

Without established industry best practices in place for measuring the ROI of visual assets, many marketers and creatives rely on more readily available and incredibly detailed engagement metrics instead.

At present, over three-quarters (76%) of marketers and creatives use engagement metrics such as clicks, likes and shares as their key measure of success. Only 35% are trying to form a link between campaign and short-term revenue or ROI (within three months of the campaign) and only 24% look at long-term ROI beyond three months.

Download the report here

While engagement metrics are certainly important, they are just one part of the puzzle. Other factors and metrics necessarily come into play when building an ROI case.

“Hearing the voice of your current customers, as well as prospects, through NPS (net promoter score), retention and customer satisfaction scores all help towards understanding the meaningful impact of your visual assets,” said Bunton.

“It is so important to know how your campaigns are landing in the market and how customers are experiencing your service, because your brand promise has to deliver in order to retain the customers you’re spending time, effort and money to acquire in the first place,” she added.

Bupa spends a lot of time social listening. “It’s a useful component to see how people are talking about you when they’re not talking to you,” said Royle-Evatt.

As a healthcare business, brand sentiment is also critical. “As we put our visual assets into the market, our tracking research and surveys show if they are changing sentiment and delivering on emotive metrics such as trust,” he added.

Test to benchmark

At the same time, Bupa uses multivariate testing extensively to explore the granular-level performance of a visual asset in a channel.

To understand whether an asset is effective, Royle-Evatt strongly advises benchmarking the channel. “Given the volume of visual assets we are now creating, it’s no longer just enough to know what is effective, we have to know what is the most effective.”

A rigorous split-testing plan should help brands figure out if a visual asset is performing in line with, or above or below, the channel benchmark. In one test, Bupa changed imagery related to gender to see how personal or resonant the asset would be. The change made a discernible difference.

“[Proving effectiveness] really is a balancing act. We talk about channels that drive awareness, drive brand preferences, and conversion, and link the story all the way through all three of them.”

Thinking about and understanding channels in this way could also prevent marketers and creatives being swayed into efficiency over effectiveness. Without a clear benchmark, it can be all too tempting to switch off channels that appear ineffective when, in fact, a broader testing suite might highlight the opposite.

“It’s about finding the right measure for the right channels. You have to measure it for what it’s there to do for your brand,” said Royle-Evatt.

Do work you’re proud of

There are many challenges to demonstrating the ROI of visual assets but those who get it right make themselves more professionally effective and more personally successful.

At an industry level, the credibility of marketing is at stake if marketers and creatives cannot show how campaigns drive business success. “It’s really important you secure the budgets to continue your campaigns – especially during a downturn – and make your stakeholders understand the value of marketing as a whole,” said Bunton.

Another benefit of showing effectiveness is getting the creative work delivered. “With the support of proven ROI, marketers and creatives can avoid a ‘like/don’t like’ situation,” said Royle-Evatt.

On a personal level, Bunton noted: “I have found myself most invested in the campaigns I have to fight hardest for. Make it your own, build the business case and see it through – and you will personally learn so much and take it with you wherever you go.”

The knowledge gap between creating a visual asset and delivering effectiveness is one that marketers and creatives need to close. Without the budgets to support visual content creation, many could find themselves frustrated in their efforts to produce the campaigns they are proud to work on.


Visible results: Building the business case for ROI-driven visual marketing

Rio Kusi-Appouh

In this report Marketing Week, Creative Review and Shutterstock have joined forces to investigate marketers’ and creatives’ attitudes towards visual marketing assets such as images and videos, their role in effective marketing, and the efforts being made to demonstrate the return on investment they deliver. In doing so we have discovered that, in the absence […]


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