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The 20s will be the decade of the Visual Economy

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock)

Many will remember the 2010s as the decade when technology became entwined into virtually every aspect of our lives. Today we can’t imagine living without Netflix and Instagram, our subscription-based shopping and dating apps -- or the intelligence that serves us the content they think we want. For better and for worse. One thing all these myriad innovations share in common is that they are part of what we call the ‘visual economy’. These apps, and the companies and brands behind them, rely on images and video to attract and engage audiences and customers, who in turn use visuals to share information, build communities, form relationships, persuade, sell and entertain.

As we think about what this new decade might bring, winning brands will be those that continually tell the most persuasive and compelling visual stories. Communicating visually, however, requires a completely different set of skills to working with the written word. It’s one thing to move an apostrophe to the right place; quite another to whip up an animated GIF on-the-fly. Brands and consumers alike are at a disadvantage if they lack the skills and tools to deftly create, transform and publish compelling images and videos through the right channels.

The visual economy is in its nascence in many ways, and I believe it’s about to really take off. Here are five trends I expect to see growing over the decade:

1. Video consumption will explode as digital natives gain spending power

You only need to walk down any street to witness video’s growing popularity. Everywhere you look, people are holding their phones out to converse, or watch TikTok, Vevo, YouTube or any number of popular video sites. Witnessing a young digital native child create, edit and produce short videos in minutes is a humbling experience for parents who grew in the realm of words and analogue technology. In this decade, as digital natives mature into consumers, demand for high-quality video will explode. That’s not to say that video is only popular with the kids. All generations are watching videos more, though each through different channels. The reason is simple: video is extremely efficient at conveying lots of information in a short amount of time. And people of all ages these days are time-poor.

2. AI will help brands cope with the video explosion

To meet this demand, brands have to find ways to use video to stand out from the competition. There are way too many repetitive tasks involved with managing video to handle everything manually. This is where AI comes in. With AI technologies, creative teams can do things like auto-tag media assets to make them easier to find and reuse; localise content and deliver engaging, well-moderated experiences at scale. AI-augmented tools are available that can analyse rich video metadata in order to deliver personalised content to viewers and grow engagement. AI can also intelligently reformat videos to adapt to different window sizes, orientations (for instance, when users flip their phones), devices and browsers.

3. ‘Headless systems’ will go mainstream

One of the greatest challenges of the visual economy is personalising content to match the preferences of individual users and groups. Headless systems help brand marketers solve this by decoupling the delivery layer, or user interface, from the content repository. This means interfaces can be adapted for each user and channel without having to touch the underlying data. Investing today in headless systems is a smart way for brands to hedge against any new standards, channels or devices that emerge in the visual economy.

Headless systems also make it easier for companies to do more everyday things, like update content. Say, for example, when an appliance retailer wants to replace or upgrade a single replacement part or change a price across many different channels. The platform independence means developers can efficiently deliver content via APIs to multiple channels, mobile apps, desktop websites and more. For all these reasons, I believe that the demands imposed by the visual economy will see headless systems becoming mainstream by the end of this decade.

4. Next-gen web standards will mature

This year and beyond, I’m expecting new enhancements to image standards that will help brands to save considerable time and effort. A groundswell of marketing demand will drive next-generation formats like JPEG XL to continue to evolve, improve and support a broader set of use cases. Consumers will experience richer images that are not only more appealing, but convey more accurate visual information.

5. The web gets more accessible

In the 20s expect to see brands make great strides in improving online accessibility to people with visual impairments. As companies face more pressure from disabled consumers (and get hit with lawsuits) more are getting serious about ensuring everyone can visit their websites with ease and confidence.

There are many established techniques for developers to enrich online experiences for visually impaired people. For example, it’s best practice to make content accessible by applying meaningful alt text (descriptive wording) on all images that cannot be rendered. This also improves SEO. To improve the experience of colour-blind audiences, developers can apply different stripes and patterns to represent different colours.

It can be overwhelming for brand marketers to consider and prepare for all the changes that the visual economy will bring about this decade. Fortunately however, the visual economy is also sparking a lot of exciting new innovations to help everyone meet the challenges. These include new and improved image standards, better display technologies, AI developments and tools and techniques for managing and transforming visual content.

It’s going to be an exciting decade to look back on in 2030!

Sanjay Sarathy