Humans have an amazing capacity for visual memory.
Memory champions around the world have said that they remember long lists of words and data by converting them into pictures in their heads. Visuals help stimulate multiple senses, like smell or sound, which makes our memories stronger.
Take the word “carnival” for instance. Studies have shown that we are more likely to remember a picture of a carnival than seeing the word carnival.
The picture of a carnival activates other areas of your memory like the taste of funnel cake, or the greasy, oily smell from bumper cars.
The secret to good content marketing is making your content relatable. Tapping into memories and mental maps that readers already have provides perspective to make your content and ideas relatable.
If you can capture the imagination of your readers by thinking about perspective, you can make virtually any topic relatable.
Start by envisioning one trillion dollars.
Power of Visuals
Look at the image below from PageTutor .
That is one million dollars. Did you think that one million dollars would look that small? By using a person as a sense of scale, we have attached extra meaning to the pile of money.
Now, picture one trillion dollars.
Most people in the world have no sense of what a trillion dollars looks like, so simply asking them to visualize it is beyond their comprehension.
So, giving you visual comparison helps you gain some perspective if you have no reference point.
So, what if you aren’t writing posts about one trillion dollars?
Start with eliminating percentages.
Putting things into perspective means making them relatable. However, since data studies and surveys make up most of the B2B world, people seem to be rushing to publish any percentage they can find, even if it isn’t relatable in any way.
When you think of your percentage, you should have the same mindset as the PageTutor piece: How can I put this in perspective for the everyday person?
Most percentages reported don’t hold very much weight in storytelling or visuals. They don’t make much sense to the user unless you can give some perspective. Here’s an example from the CDC:
The CDC states that 17% of children are obese. What does that mean to you?
Here it is visualized in a more relatable way:
17% becomes one out of every six children.
This mindset of perspective certainly takes some imagination, so before we dive into a few more examples, it’s important realize that there is an art to choosing the right comparison when putting something into perspective.
Choose the Right Comparisons
100 million sharks were killed last year.
That’s certainly a large, awe-inspiring number. However, there can be an instance where that number is too large—especially when it comes to visualizing your data.
Drawing out 100 million sharks runs the serious risk of visual and mental burnout. (Plus who has the time to draw 100 million sharks?!)
Presented with this very problem, Joe Chernov and RipeTungi decided to adjust another variable to help present their number in a more relatable way. Instead of looking at how many sharks were killed in a year, they lowered the unit of time to one hour.
The result is a visually stunning statistic about the destructiveness of shark finning, served up in a relatable (albeit exhaustive) way:
It is still an incredibly long infographic, but that’s kind of the point. If they had gone with anything less, it wouldn’t have been as effective, and anything more and they would risk visual burnout.
How about trying that with distance?
Power of Perspective in Distance
Elon Musk wants to take us to Mars. But, Mars is 54.6 million kilometers away from Earth according to Google.
To me, that number just means “far”. However, if I had a relatable data point to compare that to, that might help. But, like the trillion dollars, or 100 million sharks, people rarely have the chance to experience something this large.
If the baseline you are using isn’t relatable, the content won’t be as memorable or impactful.
Even if I said that is like flying around the Earth 1362 times, that may only be relatable for the astronauts at NASA.
So, David Paliwoda and Jesse Williams chose to present this distance to Mars by comparing it to something more relatable; something that people who stare at computers almost eight hours every day can grasp: pixels.
In their site, simply named distancetomars.com, they take you on a journey through space (in a pixel perspective) to give you a sense of how far away Mars really is from the Earth.
This distance is truly astounding, but more importantly, the relatable unit they chose to display it in helps seal the deal.
The creators of this piece also hit on another important aspect of perspective: time. Midway through that hyperspace journey, you are told that the average time it would take to get to Mars is 150 days.
Time is a great natural storyteller for marketing because it is something people experience everyday naturally.
So, when telling the story of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction in 2012, why was it so important to see both the before and after to grasp the true story of the storm’s power?
Same Place, Different Time
When Superstorm Sandy barreled through New York City, most of my friends on the Lower East Side sat without power for weeks. Those even further out on the coastal towns like Far Rockaway saw their beloved beachfront town demolished.
This piece from ABC that came out after Superstorm Sandy hit helps users visualize the full impact with interactive before and after photos.
Stats were thrown around about the amount of destruction throughout the city nearly 90,000 buildings affected, 2 million people without power, $19 billion in damage. You might even see some photos of the aftermath and get a sense of the destruction.
But to tell a story, you need to give some perspective of the before.
With no personal connection or mental map of that area, a stat or even a simple ‘after’ photo doesn’t tell the whole story.
So, using time and distance are great ways to give perspective to your data.
But what about size?
Giving Perspective Using Size
When I was in New York City, I couldn’t ride the morning subway without breathing down someone’s neck. So, if I told you that New York City had the highest population density in the U.S. you might not be surprised.
However, when people say we are “standing on top of each other” that’s apparently not entirely accurate. We aren’t nearly as crammed as we might think.
This post from WaitButWhy is an amazing look into something that you probably never thought about literally, but is a great exercise in perspective.
After finding out that an elementary school was able to fit 9 students into a square metre, the WaitButWhy team got to work extrapolating this to the extremes of imagination.
The culmination of this study brought them this final image which visuals the question – if the world’s population were placed in one building (standing on top of each other) how big of a building would we need?
They also take a look at the other extreme: if the world’s population held hands in a circle.
Again, the gut reaction when looking at these images might be, wait, but why are you showing me this (hence the name of their site), but for content marketers, they are a great resource for brainstorming perspective.
While WaitButWhy chose to use New York City as their baseline to give perspective in the previous image, you can get even more creative with your point of comparison.
This type of comparison leads nicely into the last piece of perspective. It is a type of perspective that I like to call a perspective shift.
Shift the Perspective
The perspective shift doesn’t necessarily show size or scale, but still calls upon something that is already relatable and looks at it from a different angle.
Everyone knows what the Mona Lisa looks like. But who has thought about what else she does outside of the frame of her painting? What are her hobbies? What does her house look like?
This is a simple question that helped create an award-winning campaign that showed ads where it looked like the characters in famous paintings had shoes.
You can see the full video here. Their campaign won them several awards in print and digital. Painted in the style of the original paintings helped keep the original feel, but added a fresh perspective.
These “perspective shifts” are where you typically find the most creative pieces. Here is one from SmartSign that imagines business card designs from pop culture.
Shifting perspective is simply taking something that you already know and turning it on its head. So, I would be remiss of if didn’t mention this weird trend that spawned somewhere in the depths of the internet until it reached its peak and will hopefully die out forever.the weirdest (and most viral) kind of perspective shift you’ll ever see…
Do a quick Google search for “Disney Princesses reimagined as” and you’ll see what I mean. There are Disney princesses reimagined as popular superheroes, cats, and even as men?
My favorite is this one, Disney Princesses Reimagined as Cement Mixers.
Why are these such viral champions? It’s because they take something that we already have a connection to and shift it. The more extreme the shift, the more memorable it becomes: hence the cement mixers.
There are some less extreme examples of how brands actually do this naturally.
- Simply Self Storage looked at What if Fictional Characters Moved to Different Cities.
- DirectDeals looked at popular TV shows reimagined as Sunday comics strips.
These pieces work because they set a baseline that the viewer already knows —Sunday comic strips or cartoon shows—and shift the perspective.
Open Your Mind
All in all, adding perspective to your pieces is a skill that takes time to develop.
It can sometimes be most effective at the onset of your ideation process. Try to add it to your design phase to make sure you piece tells a story.
Can you add some comparative piece to a statistic to make it more relatable?
Can you hijack other senses so that this piece is more memorable? Think of the carnival example. We are more likely to remember a photo of a carnival than we are the written word “carnival” because the photo helps provide stimulation for the other senses.
Can you take one thing that people are comfortable with and shift the perspective. Lastly, how can you relate all of your data to cement mixers?