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Sensory Images

 

Let’s face reality. Your prospects’ inboxes are overflowing, their social media feeds are filled with your competitors’ updates, and the first three pages of their Google searches contain sites just as good as yours. “Visibility” is no longer enough. Everyone is so visible that they’re all blending into one big bulk that might as well be invisible.

You are not just a tree in a forest. You are pine tree in an evergreen forest—a large evergreen forest. And your prospects can’t see you, lost in the evergreen mass.

So, in a world like ours has become, how are you going to catch your prospects’ attention? How will you make them remember you? You can’t just crank out more “content.” It’s not going to work. You can’t just get louder by plastering more social platforms with more updates. No one cares. There’s an infinite supply of “valuable” information out there. Why will people listen to YOU?

It’s time to reconnect with basic human psychology. What engages the human mind? What causes it to react and respond? Sensory images.

Communicate with sensory images.

Our brains are wired to respond to sensory images. We notice them and we remember them.

In 2006, researchers in Spain reported in NeuroImage that when subjects’ brains were being scanned while reading words with strong odor associations, the fMRI showed their primary olfactory cortex lighting up. When they read neutral words, that region of the brain stayed dark.

Another study, published this year in The Journal of General Psychology, illustrates the influence of mental imagery on memory. In this study, researchers told one group of participants to use mental pictures to remember a list of words, and told another group just to remember the words. Those who were told to create mental pictures for the words were better able to remember them. Merrin Oliver, the study’s first author, said: “Creating images improved participants’ memories and helped them commit fewer errors, regardless of what kind of list we gave them.”

These are just two examples of myriad studies that demonstrate the power of sensory images.

Using words that involve the senses in marketing can catapult your sales—because suddenly you don’t sound like your competitors, you’re enabling your prospects to truly “get a sense” of how you can help them, and they’re better able to remember what you’ve communicated.

Here are 3 literary tools you can use to infuse your marketing with sensory images.

Simile

A simile compares two different things, saying one is “like” the other or shares the same characteristic “as” the other. Using a simile, you can give your audience a concrete way to think about an abstract concept. For example, instead of simply saying that you offer quick turnaround times, you could say “Our turnaround times are like Nolan Ryan’s pitch. You won’t be waiting around for us.”

Similes are especially powerful when used to describe common abstract terms—terms that make no impact because they’re so familiar as well as non-visual. In the example above, “quick turnaround times” is a forgettable phrase because we’ve seen it so much. But “Nolan Ryan’s pitch” immediately brings an image to our minds that we’re going to remember for a while.

Metaphor

A metaphor compares two different things directly—it states that something is something else. The effect is the same as a simile, but it’s another important tool to have in your communication toolbox.

An example of a metaphor would be the image that opened this article: “You are a pine tree in an evergreen forest.” I could have just said “You don’t stand out among your competitors,” but I wouldn’t have communicated the significance of the problem very well.

Imagery

Imagery involves the senses of the reader—it engages the reader in a way that simple, straightforward statements don’t.

Using imagery is as easy as adding rich description to your writing. Consider words that will help readers see, feel, hear, what you are talking about. Instead of “Customers get frustrated when they can’t find what they’re looking for on your website,” you could write, “Let’s say you have a customer named Joe. Joe uses the Gold level of your software, and he’s a satisfied customer. But one day, he encounters a glitch and needs to call Support. Joe’s a pretty chill guy, so while he’s annoyed that he’s having to deal with a problem, he understands that no software is perfect. But when he gets to your website, he can’t find your 1-800 number. It’s not on the homepage (although the number for Sales is front-and-center). It’s not on the Contact page (again, only the number for Sales is mentioned). By this time, he’s scowling, and assuming you’ve made it difficult to contact Support on purpose. By the time he scrolls to the footer and finally finds the number he needs, he’s downright frustrated. Is it any surprise that the support technician gets an earful when she answers the call?”

Imagery goes hand-in-hand with storytelling. Any time you can show through a story, rather than simply tell what you have to say, you’ll be a more effective communicator.

Imagery is especially useful in blog posts and articles. How many boring introductions have you read that left you uninspired and unsure if you should continue spending time reading the rest of the article? Using imagery can help you grab the readers’ interest and pull them into the body of your post.

A Few Tips

Your sensory images will be most effective if you keep in mind a few tips.

  • Stay away from cliches. Cliches are, perhaps, better than overused abstract terms, but don’t get lazy. Think beyond the obvious and what first comes to mind. However, if you think of a cliche that’s just too appropriate not to use, putting a twist on it can freshen it up.
  • Customize sensory images to your audience. What are the hobbies and experiences of your audience that you could draw from? You want to use word pictures that will resonate with them.
  • Practice! At first, trying to come up with sensory images can be frustrating, because most of us don’t naturally think this way. (Which is why jargon and abstract terms are so common—and why it’s so easy to stand out with just a simple sensory image.) But practice will stretch your mental muscles, and you’ll get better (and faster) at it over time.

Using sensory images makes for stronger communication—you’ll capture attention, and readers will remember what you say. And most B2B marketing is a sensory desert, so using sensory images is one of the best ways to make your content stand out from your competitors’.

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