I’ve always respected AJ Kohn, who has been an active and sane voice within the world of online marketing/SEO throughout my career. However, I feel that I should write a response to this latest post: http://www.blindfiveyearold.com/you-wont-remember-that-infographic as he mentioned a few things that I wholeheartedly disagree with.
AJ’s main assumption is that the infographic is flawed because of its format. However I believe that a powerful concept executed well reinforces the site and brand, regardless of its format.
It’s not your content’s format, it’s your content’s content that counts.
Meet the Triangle of Memory
AJ introduced the concept of the triangle of memory, which he based on the project management triangle thus presenting three attributes to a piece of content, of which you can only have two at any given time.
According to AJ, our memory only allows us to remember content at a very basic level: site, author and topic. The triangle of memory states that we can either remember:
Site + Topic Author + Topic Author + Site (rarely)
At this point, AJ introduces the problem with infographics: This format will somehow take over two sides of the triangle, leaving site/brand out of the equation. As many of you can imagine, this is the point in which I felt the need to dig deeper…
Rebutting the Theory of the Triangle of Memory
Moving forward, I am going to assume AJ is correct with his reasoning that a content consumer will remember 2/3 of the triangle and rarely, all 3 attributes.
On his article, AJ gives us the following example showing how we would remember site and topic, but not the author in most cases:
‘that post on Moz about Hummingbird’
- Site = Moz
- Topic= Hummingbird
- Author = Unknown
What I don’t understand is how is the infographic format so unique that it “gobbles up one of those three memory attributes leaving you with only one left to use”. AJ’s assumption is that everyone will immediately refer to the piece of content as ‘that infographic about [topic]’ and nothing more, reducing our triangle to the following:
Surely, any piece of content could be just as easily defined by its format by some people, —e.g. ‘That video about Hummingbird’, ‘that blog post about Infographics’.
This leaves me wondering, has AJ produced any empirical studies around memory recall comparing infographics to blog posts or is this just based on his limited study of his existing clients recall?
When dealing with major publishers, they always take the time to understand the brand behind the infographic –often asking questions on the why/how of the content in order to provide some extra editorial insight on the story of the piece, its topic and the connection to the brand.
When high school teachers want to use the infographics we’ve produced, they’re very clear on which brand is behind the content when they reach out and ask our clients for permission to use them in school.
From the 800+ infographics we have produced and promoted here at NeoMam, there is certainly the odd occasion when blogs and smaller sites will feature the content without mentioning the brand. However in the vast majority of cases the sites are very clear in attributing the site / author.
In the cases where citation is lacking we reach out to them, asking for proper attribution, with positive results. Plus, we use this as an opportunity to start building a relationship with them: The fact they have featured branded content in the first place makes them far more open to being approached and audience accessed in future.
What Visual Content Is Not: Wasted Attention
In my experience, a content-consuming audience is far more intelligent than AJ Kohn is giving them credit for. They take time to consume visual content and really care about who has created it and why. The hypothesis that the infographic format is so overwhelming that it will completely destroy the average content user’s ability to define the author/site just doesn’t match with our experience.
Although I do agree with AJ about using attention wisely, visual content such as infographics are very powerful for attracting attention for lots of reasons —this is properly far easily explained by our infographic 13 Reasons Why Your Brain Craves Infographics. Either way, it is true that many brands are not making the most of the traffic they are driving to their site.
However, I disagree that the infographic format is the cause of this wasted attention, “attention without any lasting value.” It’s the infographic that brings in the hundreds of thousands of visitors to your site but I believe it’s the job of the site to keep this attention.
Does the content on the site match with the subject of the infographic? Do you use relevant content giveaways in return for e-mail signups? Are you making the most of click ways? Is the brand aligned with the content in the first place? Etc. Etc. Etc.
My point is that yes, infographics can lead to lots of relevant traffic but how you convert this to something meaningful should not just be left at the door of this one format. You wouldn’t expect one 400-words blog post to attract new users, build mailing list sign-ups and convert them into clients. As AJ mentioned, the infographic format must be part of a larger strategy, which I believe is true for every other content format.
When Why Infographics Work
From an audience attraction point of view, I stand behind the infographic format as being one of the most powerful content options in a content marketer’s toolbox versus $ spend.
What other type of content can get your brand featured on the top-tier magazines, blogs and newspapers, while driving thousands of visitors to your site? Especially when you consider that it can get non-brands in places that would normally take years to achieve that exposure and audience.
Of course we are not talking about a $500 spend but in comparison with the alternatives, infographics have no competition in terms of content produced with the aim of driving large audiences.
By the way, if you know about any other format, which shows more potential and power in that regard, please share it with me—my agency would be the first to jump on it 😉
Concept Will Always Kill Format
Infographics need to inspire an emotional reaction, but this goes beyond the simple LOL or OMG effect described by AJ on his article. We have actually identified that the best infographic ideas will incorporate one of these three concepts, based on Jonah Berger’s great book Contagious:
- Practical Value – Content provides an actionable solution,
- Social Currency – Sharing the content makes you look good in front of peers,
- Triggers – “Top of my mind, tip of tongue”or why people talk more about Cheerio’s than Disneyland
What is important to remember is that an emotional response will always depend on the audience you are targeting, so there is hardly a unified LOL/OMG emotion that will magically work for any brand. Emotional content created for the SEO audience would have a very different effect on a travel or parenting audience. That’s why here at NeoMam, we identify these audiences “limbic/emotional” nature as a step one and then use this information when evaluating potential ideas.
I would love to say that the concepts we use in the ideation stage of our infographics are completely unique but I would just be trying to big up my industry. The truth is that infographics are just a format for the content; the factors, which will define the failure or success of the piece will be concept + execution.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I have argued against format bias from those in the SEO industry, but it has certainly been the most interesting of arguments against the format I’ve read. And the topic itself has lead my entire team to think about our processes, so now we have a far clear idea of why we do what we do how we do it.
Thank you, AJ! It has been a pleasure.
The infographic format itself can provide access to a large audience with its combined use of text and imagery* but like any content format, it cannot be expected to work without a larger content strategy.
When talking about content, the real factor to define success is concept and execution:
- A powerful concept executed well in a blog post = Reinforces the site and brand.
- A powerful concept executed well with an infographic = Reinforces the site and brand.