Exceeding the expectations of your customers and even your own will always lead to success. And that’s where the art of over-delivering comes in. Dr. Diane Hamilton is joined by Kathy Ireland, the CEO and Chief Designer of kathy ireland Worldwide, to talk about focusing all of your energy on achieving the best possible results. Kathy shares her success story that started with just a single pair of socks, which eventually grew into a huge global brand. She tells how she managed to widen her connections in the fashion industry, helping her grow as an entrepreneur and even an author.
In today’s age of information overload, keeping your audience engaged in what you have to offer is extremely challenging. It is not simply about the words anymore, but more of enticing combinations of colors and pictures. Dr. Diane Hamilton explores visual communication in marketing with Amy Balliett, the CEO and Founder of Killer Visual Strategies. Amy explains how to develop effective material that can catch your audience’s eyes and attention, handle the five-second first impressions, and harness the power of extremely short videos.
We have Kathy Ireland and Amy Balliett here. Kathy is the CEO and Chief Designer of kathy ireland Worldwide. She is a supermodel turned super mogul as she’s known. Amy is the CEO and Founder of Killer Visual Strategies. We’ve got two very powerful CEOs. This is going to be a great show.
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The Art Of Over-Delivering With Kathy Ireland
I am here with Kathy Ireland. She’s one of the 50 most influential people in fashion. She’s the author of multiple books, including Fashion Jungle which she coauthored with New York Times number one bestselling author, Rachel Van Dyken. It’s nice to have you here, Kathy.
Diane, thank you. It’s wonderful to be with you.
I was looking forward to this. I’ve had all kinds of people from Steve Forbes, billionaires, to all kinds of various successful people on the show. My connection to Forbes made me look up some of the Forbes things. You’ve been on the cover of Forbes. You’ve been on the cover of many magazine that wasn’t just related to fashion. I was fascinated with your story. I know we don’t have a ton of time, but I do want to get a little backstory on you. Who doesn’t know who Kathy Ireland is from all the famous modeling pictures and all that, but how did you get to that level before you even turned into this super mogul?
It’s been a journey for sure. The long-ago modeling career, I’m grateful that it ended up being an amazing education. It was not part of the plan at all. I would say that the biggest gift from that career was all the rejection. I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I always worked and loved business. I was four years old when I had my first job. I was that kid going door to door selling painted rocks and everything. I had a paper route. When we started with a single pair of socks, I was an aging pregnant model who started from our kitchen table and then presenting those socks to retailers. We had every comment you can imagine and doors slamming in our faces, but it certainly didn’t destroy me by any means. No means, “Now we’re talking. I’ll come back tomorrow.” Maybe your circumstances will have changed or maybe you’ll be in a better mood.
That ties into my research in curiosity of what holds people back and it’s fear a lot of times. If you don’t see that as a negative thing, instead a learning thing, that’s crucial. You have taken everything that you’ve learned to the next level better. I was interested in all the different things you’ve done like writing books, being in movies like Necessary Roughness and Dancing with the Stars. There are not too many things you haven’t tried to do, which I love. What was interesting is that you take advice from Warren Buffett, which is a nice friend and mentor to have. How did you get such good friends?
I met Warren Buffett through Irv Blumkin of the Nebraska Furniture Mart. When we first got into the home industry, it was at a time when people who were known for other things didn’t have furniture and weren’t designing home furnishings. In fact, Jay Leno, who I adore laughed at me on television when I told him I was going into the home industry. Just because something hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I love a good challenge. Mrs. B, Rose Blumkin, for your audience, is an amazing woman. I had read about this leader in the home industry and how she came to this country virtually penniless, and she started the Nebraska Furniture Mart.
I never got to meet her. There’s this legendary handshake deal she had with Mr. Buffett. Nebraska Furniture Mart is part of Berkshire Hathaway. The very first furniture market that we were launching in High Point, North Carolina, Mr. Blumkin shows up. I was so nervous when I saw him. He sees team members around me. I know he was thinking I had an entourage. I didn’t have an assistant. This was the team. That’s how I invested my money and putting a team together. Irv says, “Kathy takes me through alone. If she doesn’t know her stuff, I’m not buying.” He gave us a chance. He bought and how Nebraska goes, so goes the country. He gave us our first chance. He and his family are cherished friends and family. We work together. They’re amazing.Every failure is a lesson. Click To Tweet
Mr. Buffett calls Irv Blumkin his best friend. That’s how I met Mr. Buffett, who also had a paper route when he was a kid. He started inviting me to compete with him in these newspaper tossing competitions at the opening of his Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ meetings. Bill Gates would compete too. Mr. Buffett is a fierce competitor. Despite him having a little bit more experience than me, he practices until late at night. He’s very good.
I love that he and Gates always talk about how they value curiosity so much. That is such a huge aspect of what makes somebody successful in business. What I found interesting is how many types of businesses. You don’t just sell clothing, wedding dresses, home and gardeners, swimwear and eyewear. It’s so encompassing. Does it ever get overwhelming that there’s so much? Do you ever want to scale back or are you wanting to expand more?
We want to grow and expand. When we started with that single pair of socks, that was the foundation. It felt like a solid place to start, but there were never limits on it. Something that I find in business too is I’m so grateful for every lesson and every failure. Everything has been a lesson. Something I have bumped into as many have are oftentimes, people will want to put us in a box. They’ll want to put them on us. Maybe it’s because of our gender. Maybe it’s because of a career that we once had. You can work in beauty or you can do this. There’s nothing wrong with that, but why? How about FinTech? That’s a wonderful area in which to work.
Our company works with some incredible companies like American Family Insurance. They have amazing people there. Ireland Pay is our merchant services. We’re working with UBS. Something that we launched during the pandemic is kathy ireland Small Business Network. Small businesses are the heartbeat of our country and this is to not only help them survive and thrive but to scale, and to bring new opportunities and relationships to them. Entertainment, that’s an area in which we work. We worked with incredible people like Vanessa Williams, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.
Our company worked with Janet Jackson and got her back to her rightful place in number one. BMG gave us a record label. We are working with Magnolia Hill, Sam Haskell, who just brought to Netflix, Dolly Parton’s Christmas in the Square. Some amazing people in publishing and real estate. kathy Ireland American Home is bringing affordable homes to people throughout our country with single moms and military veterans in mind, as well as luxurious states around the world. I work with an amazing team and great people.
That’s a mountain of work. I noticed you also had worked with Elizabeth Taylor, who I met a long time ago. I’m thinking of all the things that you’ve done. I was watching some of the videos because there’s so much on you. It’s hard to pick what you want to talk about. What’s it like to see Peter Griffin singing to your cutout on Family Guy or to see that you’re this icon that reaches all levels? It’s interesting to look at your transformation. Modeling is a whole different ball game than starting your own company. Where did you get this business acumen? I teach many business courses, so I’m always interested in how entrepreneurs learn the business.
The entire time I worked as a model, I was trying and failing businesses. It took me a long time. If I had one of those earlier ventures been successful, the modeling career wouldn’t have gone on so long. Early on, I didn’t feel comfortable earning a paycheck off how someone else perceived that I looked. I saw how fickle that was, and there wasn’t a lot of security there. It was the lessons I learned as a child selling rocks and selling newspapers. When I got that paper route, my dad said, “Kathy, always give 110%. If the customer expects the paper on the driveway, you get it on the front porch.” That was the foundation of learning to under-promise and over-deliver. It’s the foundation of our business. In fact, our team members, when somebody does a great presentation, it was like, “You got it on the front porch.”
Sales are such a huge thing. Many people don’t do that. You do have to over-deliver. I was looking at what you’ve over-delivered and it’s in the billions and your companies. You were outselling some of the big names. We know Martha Stewart’s and the name’s out there. Did you have any idea when you started this that it was going to lead to something as huge as it led to? Is it every day, you’re surprised by what happens next?
It’s humbling and we’re so grateful for the opportunities that we have. At the same time, we feel like we’re a baby brand getting started because there’s so much we want to do. Sometimes people say, “Why do you keep working? What do you want to do this?” I feel that it is such a blessing to be exposed to needs and also to opportunities that are so much greater than us. One of the things we’ve had the privilege of doing is working with the youth program at the UN on their millennium development goals, which include everything from eradicating hunger, poverty, and disease, to supporting education and the environment. We’ve added the support of military veterans and their families, and also the fight against human trafficking.
Everyone with whom we have a business relationship with, that’s our first vetting process, our “getting to know you” process. We share with them the ten diverse group of goals. We don’t demand a monetary amount. It can be volunteer time with their teams, yet we need to know that there’s a commitment and that in success, we’re going to be able to do some wonderful things and make a difference. Once in a while, we’ll get somebody who’s like, “No. I’m not interested in any of that.” We’re like, “Let’s not waste each other’s time. We’re not going to be a good fit,” and moving on. We work with incredible people. I feel so fortunate for the amazing people.
Many of the relationships that we enjoy are decades-long. We have some new ones. We started working with our dear friends, Marcus and Bobbi Lemonis of Camping World. I have so much respect for Marcus and Bobbi. They are amazing people. We’re designing camping furniture and wonderful products for this great group, but from brand new relationships to relationships that are decades old, it becomes like family. It’s all about people and choosing the right people, the right fit. Sometimes people are not always who they say they are. Every once in a while, we bump into that. For the most part, we have such a great team. I feel so fortunate in that.
It’s important to give back. I saw your work with the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation. You’re doing a lot of amazing things. British Vogue called you the World’s Richest Model. You’ve had this great responsibility of giving back. If you’re doing all these successful things, I’m curious, what would make you want to write as well? Writing isn’t the most financially rewarding thing. From somebody who’s written five books, I can tell you that. I’m curious because you wrote a novel and that’s unique.
That surprised me too, Diane.
Tell me why you did that.
I was not planning on sharing those stories. It’s fiction and it’s based on true stories that happened in my life, as well as roommates and girls I knew in the fashion industry. It was when I met Rachel Van Dyken who is a New York Times bestselling author. Rachel and I started talking. If not for her, I don’t believe I would have done this. She understood how to take those stories and weave it into just a wonderful read and novel. There’s a lot of intrigue. She’s absolutely fantastic, but it is a cautionary tale. My reason for wanting to share these stories is because we look at the finished product. It is so glamorous, retouched and all of that, but we often don’t see what goes on behind the scenes, the underbelly of that industry.If the customer expects the paper on the driveway, you get it on the front porch. Click To Tweet
It can be pretty gnarly. There were things I experienced as a teenager that I want other people to be alert to and watch out for. I tell people of every age to figure out what your values are. For me, it’s my faith and my family. It’s being in service through our work. Figure out your values and put boundaries in place to protect them because they will be challenged. “No” is a complete sentence. I was in my 40s before I learned that one. “No, thank you” is good, but “no” works. Oftentimes, we have to say no to good things in an effort to say yes to great things.
I was looking at some of the things that you said someone didn’t respect your no. Is that a true story that a photographer tried to have you pose topless and you decked him or is that an incorrect quote?
That happened. I was in Paris. I’m a teeny. I’m in the apartment of this photographer and thinking back it’s like, “How would I go to an apartment with this strange man?” It seemed perfectly normal. I thought all the adults were good people like my mom and dad. I trusted people. He wanted me to pose topless. I was like, “No.” I said, “That’s not my thing.” I grew up in California. You get arrested for such things. I’m not judging other people but it wasn’t comfortable for me. I said, “No, thank you.” He started showing me pictures of other women who had. I said, “You can get them for your photos. No, thank you.” He crossed that boundary with me. He crossed that line and he started to push me into the bathroom. The left hook just came out. He wasn’t hurt but I got away. That was the end of that.
That’s as much as you had. I would imagine you got a lot of people trying to cross the line and it’s tough. Would you recommend being a model to young girls now?
I always feel like the naysayer or the killjoy when people ask me that. I think you’ve got to be alert and aware. It is possible. You can survive that business. You can do well. There can be good things from it, but it’s tough. Even the most secure people can have a challenge with it. You got to be alert and protect yourself, and always have a plan B as well. Unless you’re producing the photoshoots, you have limited control on that. It’s always good to have a plan B.
You mentioned you had children. Do you have daughters? I’m curious how many kids do you have.
We have two daughters and a son. He is married. They are all beautiful young people. They’ve all been approached to model at different times. I was so afraid, our son who’s our oldest. He didn’t know until he was in 3rd or 4th grade. Someone at school said something and he’s like, “Mom, are you famous?” I was like, “No.” Some of my work is in the public eyes. I’m known by some, but not in comparison to others. There was always that fear because of the things I’ve experienced but yet, I’m so grateful. All of our children are amazing people with great heads on their shoulders. They have other gifts and they enjoy using those other gifts. It hasn’t been of interest. All that worry was for nothing.
I think you’re very famous. The Sports Illustrated cover that you graced, is that the main one that you were on? I know you did thirteen of them. Doesn’t that one still rank as the number one best-selling of all time for them?
There was that 25th-anniversary issue. Julie Campbell, the editor of that issue and she founded it. She continues to be an amazing part of our lives. What a brilliant woman she is. I got to watch her navigate and fight for the integrity of her brand, and navigate in a world where there were very few women at that time. She was amazing.
I know you’ve done so much and I think a lot of people want to follow you and want to know more. Is there a website or something you’d like to share? I know you’ve got a lot of charities and things you’re dealing with. I didn’t know which site to share for you. Is there something you’d like to share?
LinkedIn is great. Instagram, Twitter, and all the handles. KathyIreland.com is great. I love connecting with people. I’ve met some amazing people. I was slow to getting on social media. Our president and CMO Steven Roseberry said, “You got to do this.” I resisted it. I’m so grateful. We’ve met some incredible people along the way.
You have done a lot of amazing things and I hope people check out your book. They can get that on Amazon too. This was a lot of fun, Kathy. I know you had a busy day. Thank you for fitting this into your schedule.
Diane, thank you. It is an honor to talk with you. Congratulations to you on all your success. I wish I could be interviewing you. You’re amazing.
Communicating Through Visuals With Amy BalliettOftentimes, you have to say no to good things in an effort to say yes to great things. Click To Tweet
I am here with Amy Balliett, who is the CEO and Founder of Killer Visual Strategies, an industry-leading visual communication agency that designs and executes communication and content marketing solutions for Fortune 1000 clients. She is also the author of Killer Visual Strategies: Engage Any Audience, Improve Comprehension, and Get Amazing Results Using Visual Communication. It’s nice to have you here, Amy.
Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.
I was looking forward to this because I teach a lot of marketing, communication, all the things that you write about. I do a lot of consulting in different things. This is a very important area to get into how to get results in the business world, especially now, it’s a crazy time. I know you’re the founder Killer Visual Strategies. I want to get a backstory on you of what led to your interest in this.
It’s a little all over the map. What I love to say is lean into the fact that I am a Millennial. Although I like to claim Xennial because I’m in that little four-year gap there. Millennials change their careers a lot because we’re a different generation. We’re a generation that has grown up with a lot of innovation and the ability to jump into a lot of different career types as a result. I started in the world of visual storytelling because I started in the world of film, which is still a huge passion of mine. I went to film school and was excited about making a career in film, but I minored in marketing. The two things, film and marketing, felt like they conflicted with one another.
I could either be a marketer and work for major brands, and focus on finding ways to help bring them attention and bring them engagement with their customers, or I could be an artist, work on film, create documentaries and things like that. I had this conflict back and forth for the first start of my career. I found ways to work in the film and marketing space combined. After that, I pivoted entirely into online marketing. I moved entirely away from film, video editing, animation and went right into SEO and online marketing. I learned web design and development so that I could make sure I was properly optimizing websites. I fell in love with that side of the world. I realized I’m more of a marketer than anything else.
Killer started through a series of accidents. I was trying to do a variety of different types of marketing campaigns for a completely different business model that I had. People started to respond to the infographics that I was putting out. It led to this pivot where we went from owning a bunch of websites that we were monetizing in different ways to selling off the most valuable of the websites and shifting all of our attention to becoming a full-service visual communication agency. Visual storytelling had changed into a great tool for digital marketing. It took all of my passions and combined it into one. As we evolved, we started adding in animation and live-action video as a service. I started getting to take on a lot more projects that fit in my genius zone as well.
When I was the MBA program chair at Forbes, I had to write a brand publishing course where we got into so much of the marketing and the challenges of all the software. As you were talking about some of this visual stuff, it was coming back, some of the stuff I had to deal with, which I loved. I’m a computer nerd. I love all this stuff behind the scenes, but it’s challenging when there are many vendors and there’s so much content. How do you stand out? How do you personalize a message at scale? All those kinds of things kept coming up. I know you’re a LinkedIn Learning instructor. You do a lot of this stuff. You write for Inc. and you touch on so many different aspects. What’s the main thing people hire you to help them with?
People hire us to engage their audiences. That’s the main thing. If we want to make it as short and simple as possible. They’re trying to get the attention of their audiences, but they also want to keep that attention. You can’t grasp the attention of today’s consumers with any old content. For instance, we used to be able to slap some text on top of a stock photo and that was enough. Those days are long past. Today’s audiences expect high-quality content, custom, bespoke content that is focused on exactly their needs and speaking exactly to them. We do focus on finding ways to create personalized content. A content that is truly customized in a way that engages the audience and brings the story forward. The other very important piece of that is everything we do is rooted in visual communication because the best way to engage today’s audiences is not to lead with text.
Text should be the afterthought. People don’t take the time to read until you’ve hooked them and given them enough reasons to spend their time diving into your text-based content. What clients come to us for is first and foremost, creative content that engages, but that engagement needs to stick. To ensure that it sticks, every single thing that we do leads with the best practices for visual communication, and honors the science of visual communication. Without that, the content would fail. It would maybe catch some attention, but it won’t maintain that attention. It won’t send customers into the conversion funnel.
It’s interesting when you talk about what we used to be able to do. I’m a Boom-exer, I’m trying to go with what you did. I was interviewing the former CEO of Dunkin Donuts. When I was young, there was an ad where the guy would go, “It’s time to make the donuts.” He’d wake up every day and say the same thing. It was a huge ad. They won all awards for this thing. It’s fun to look back at what worked in the past. Is any of that recyclable or are we completely in a new way that we can’t even go back to any of that old stuff?
Unfortunately, I think we’re in a spot where we can’t go back. We can recycle styles. For instance, the loud color illustration style of the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. That’s coming back in full force. Illustration styles recycle and come back at the same level of clothing styles. Fashion and illustration have a nice correlation to them. That’s interesting to witness, but the type of content that audiences expect now is so much different than what they used to expect. There are many reasons behind that. One big reason is simply the iPhone. That completely changed how we consume information. All of a sudden, we were in a place where we could get content anywhere we were as long as we had a cell signal the minute the iPhone came out. On top of that, our need to consume content went from consuming content through normal traditional means, to suddenly having a very tiny screen that could deliver huge amounts of information to us.
We have had to adjust how we deliver content to ensure it fits a small screen, but also fits the decreasing attention spans of today’s audiences, which are decreasing left and right, because of all of the advancements in technology. You look at social media and the dopamine hits we get as people hit a thumbs up on something that we post. That need for that constant confirmation is something that we need to consider as marketers as we produce content. How do we produce content that elicits that exact same response and excitement in our customers and our audiences? When you think about that, the old form way of advertising doesn’t work anymore. We have to consider all of the channels available to us, all of the devices and how to ensure our content caters to those.
As you’re mentioning the shorter content and certain things, I had flown to New York before COVID for Verizon. We created these short videos that they use for internal communications within the company. Since I’m an expert in the area of curiosity, they filmed a little bit about me and then a little bit about an employee who was super curious and was successful because of it. They would make these little video vignette things to put within their communications, stores, onboarding, and different things. Are you doing a lot of that thing for internal use as well?
Yes, we are. I like to look at content these days as making sure that it’s bite-sized and digestible. That means those little vignettes, those short-form videos that offer a single set of thoughts, not something that goes too in-depth. When you think about internal communications, those drive so much more value within companies than the HR rep sending out another lengthy email explaining process changes or something like that.
We have companies hire us all the time to create training content for their employees where we will be producing videos that are under a minute in length that introduces key concepts. It then drive to interactive training modules that are also quite short that include gamification and other ways to engage that audience. Throughout, we use a set of visual symbolism to help increase comprehension and understanding. When you pair short-form text with universal iconography, you increase the comprehension of the viewer by an average of 89%.In this age of information overload, focus your energy and time only on the things that matter most. Click To Tweet
Visual communication done right can drastically improve understanding and help when it comes to training your end audience on new processes and things like that. There’s this cool company out there that just launched called Doodle. Doodles’ quick elevator pitch is TikTok for work. That’s what it is. You can do these videos that are a minute or less, and send them out to your entire team. You can send them to different Slack channels if you want. You can email them or you can have your own Doodle social network within the platform. These are new and unique ways to keep your employees engaged and build around a culture of remote work as well.
I have worked virtually forever. When you’re talking about these videos that the companies make, I can remember training videos in 1985 for a pharmaceutical training. They’d have these pretend sales presentations you’d have to watch. They were so cornball, “Hello, doctor.” It was so unrealistic. I’m sure you guys, whatever you do now has got to be so much better. It was cutting edge at the time. As we’re talking about Doodle or some of these different shorter content bite-sized pieces that we hear a lot. How short can they get?
I can’t remember which movie it was from where he’s like, “I’m going to have six-minute abs because it’s better than seven minutes.” I don’t know if that was Zoolander or whatever it was. How low can we go? What is the attention span and what are the numbers? I’m sure you probably deal with that once in a while, what people listen to and what they won’t listen to. That’s why YouTube, I’m hitting skip to get through those first five seconds. Why are we so impatient and what is it getting to?
We’re impatient because we have so much at our disposal. We live in the age of information overload. We have information coming at us left and right from all angles. Honestly, because of all of that, we need to focus our energy and time on only the things that matter most. As a result, our attention spans are about five seconds long right now. Attention span is defined as how much time you will spend looking at something before you decide if you want to give it more of your time. If you pass that five-second threshold, you can keep somebody hooked for anywhere from another 40 seconds to another 40 minutes, depending on what is in front of that person.
For instance, if it’s a motion graphic or an animated video, you want to keep those these days under 60 seconds in length. It used to be under 90 seconds when I started Killer, but now it’s 60 or less. It’s definitely going down. You need to lead with original custom illustrations. You can’t use stock imagery or stock vector assets because they’re so blatantly obvious these days. You also need to lead with as little text as possible because, in five seconds, the brain isn’t actually going to fully comprehend the text in front of it.
If you are relying on text to hook your audience, you’re going to lose them right off the bat, because five seconds isn’t a lot of time. You need to lead with a visual hook that gets their attention and excites them. One of my favorite statistics that I love to share, it’s one of my favorite rules of visual communication. One of the first rules I ever came up back in 2012 is people care less than goldfish. Goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds. We only have five seconds. We care less than goldfish.
It’s important that you find ways to connect with your audience first through that bespoke high-quality visual content. If you can get them, if you can hook them, then they will dive deeper into your brand or your service and learn more. They’ll dive deeper into more text-heavy content after that fact. We have to keep adapting and to answer your question, how short do things get? I don’t actually know. It is a concerning statistic that our attention spans are only five seconds long. It is a concerning realization that today’s motion graphics should be 60 seconds or less instead of 90 or less. I don’t think it’s possible to tell the right story in an even shorter timeline. We’ve done the 30 seconds push, but in 30 seconds, it’s hard to get a three-act structure out in a motion graphic. We do try to focus on that 45 to 60 seconds range these days.
You bring up some interesting points. I was thinking of the whiteboard drawing thing and how you look at that. You’re like, “I’m so sick of seeing those. I don’t want to see those anymore.” You’re saying you can’t use the stock images because everybody goes, “That’s obviously a posed group in whatever thing.” When I spoke to SHRM, I remember you don’t want to have just a graphic. You don’t want to have words. You do all the things they tell you to do. I remember when I left, they’re like, “Can we have your slides?” I’m like, “There’s nothing on these slides except for pictures.” We’ve lost the bulleted points.
I started putting more stuff and pictures on the slides when I give talks so people would have content later, but then you’re breaking that rule. First, it was bulleted points and then it was pictures. Now they want content again. How do you know where to get pictures? How do you know how much to give? I know you speak at South by Southwest and all these different places. What do you do as a speaker when you’re trying to get your message across when you get these conflicting things? Where do you get these images if you don’t use stock images anymore?
Every single thing that we produce is a custom illustration. I’ll use stock imagery to make a point, but I won’t use stock imagery if I’m referencing something that has nothing to do with stock. I will only use stock imagery in my presentations if I’m talking about stock imagery specifically. Everything else is entirely original. That being said, one of the things that we do to prepare for a year of speaking because I’ll typically do about 30 conferences a year. Often over the course of those 30 conferences, I’m doing about 3 or 4 topics in total. It’s dependent on the conference and their needs as well as the audience.
At the start of the year, we will identify what those topics are going to be for the year. We will then identify all of the most reputable and recent statistics that are needed to help validate what we’re talking about in those conferences. We’ll go ahead and design all of it upfront. We won’t design the slides. We will go into Adobe Illustrator and design all of the different databases and iconography needed for those slides, which inevitably gives us this digital toolkit of assets that lets me pull things into PowerPoint as needed to quickly produce slides. My slides are not text-heavy as well. I’ve always had that same problem where people come to me afterwards and they ask for the deck. I think to myself, “Why? What are you going to get from this deck?”
One of the things that I’ve done to aid in that is I will actually fill in the notes section of the deck so that they can get the context even further. Honestly, a big reason I wrote my book, which is also called Killer Visual Strategies like my company was because of that. Everybody kept requesting decks. I felt like the deck wasn’t going to do the content justice. Yes, it has great stats. You can go through any one of my decks and walk away with 20 or 30 great statistics but you need to know more than just the statistic. You need to know the why behind the statistic and the who behind the statistic. Understanding those things helps you understand how to take that stat and create some actionable steps out of it.
For instance, one of my favorite statistics to share is that 94% of first impressions of your brand or service will be based entirely on the design of the content your customers see. Design is such an important thing to consider these days. Years ago, you could slap together an ugly design and people didn’t care. They cared about the products you were selling. These days though, there’s so much competition out there that audiences want to feel like you’re taking the time to earn their attention. They want to know that you’re creating content that they can’t create themselves.
As a result, we have far more discerning tastes and we form our first impressions fast because visual information gets to our brains 60,000 times faster than any other form of communication that exists. We’re forming those first impressions based on your visual content. If you’re not elevating your design year over year, you’ll be left behind. Hearing that stat on its own, you can come to some quick conclusions. Hearing that stat followed by all of the contexts I gave you makes it a far more important consideration when you’re planning your content for the next calendar year.
As you’re talking about planning your content, when I teach marketing, we talk about content calendars and all these things. I’m thinking of my students in general and the courses I teach. You design courses and a lot of times they take something like a VARK, which tells you if they’re Visual, Auditory, Read/Write Preference, and Kinesthetic type of thing. You can design content based on generational influences in the marketing field. Maybe what a Boomer wants is a little different than what a Gen Z wants. Where do you get your research for all these stats you have, and how do you design based on many different preferences?If you're not elevating your design year after year, you'll be left behind. Click To Tweet
First, I’ll talk about designing based on different preferences. I could go down that research rabbit hole for a while and I want to make sure I’m giving these equal. Designing based on different preferences is a matter of understanding who that core audience is and making sure that you have audience segments. When you have audience segments in place, a typical brand will have anywhere from 3 to 7 audience segments, although seven is a lot to have.
We often suggest to try to define five key audience segments and then create a visual language for each one. In other words, based on who that audience type is, we can identify an illustration style that will resonate with that audience type. We can then create content specific to that audience type utilizing that illustration style. We might be utilizing a specific set of fonts as well, a specific color palette, and also, beyond those visual choices, successful visual content is 50% narrative.
It’s not just all about the visual output. It’s also about the narrative that is laying in the foundation. You need to have a great narrative to have great content. Even if you’re using as little text as possible, your content has to give people some valuable takeaways. It’s identifying what’s valuable to that end audience and speaking in a tone that matters to that audience. We encourage our clients to create very specific segment-based visual languages that build off of their brand.
When it comes to research, that is a beast all in of itself. My company, Killer is part of a portfolio of companies called Material. Material is an insights-driven marketing agency, It consists of Killer, Kelton Global, which is of the leading insights and research firms in the country. Lieberman Research Worldwide, one of the other leading insights and research firms in the country. Karma, a phenomenal PR firm. T3, an amazing innovation marketing firm. The list goes on.
We have such an amazing portfolio of companies within Material. Because of that portfolio of companies, we have the ability to get some amazing research because it’s driven by Kelton and LRW. They do a variety of consumer insights research for their clients. We’re able to call survey data and do online listening to understand what the trends are out there. We’re able to do focus groups. Those are times when we need to dive deep and get some custom research put together. At the same time, there’s a lot of great research already out there. You have no clue how many times I will quote HubSpot as an example. They pulled together some of the best statistics on marketing that there are. Content Marketing Institute provides a yearly report that surveys hundreds, oftentimes tens of thousands of CMOs around the world.
Based on those survey results, it identify all the key trends, what’s working and what’s not working in the world of content. The CMI annual report is honestly one of my most valuable pieces of research out there. I look towards reputable sources. I check the context of their research to make sure that the focus group or the sample size is large enough for the data to matter. To give you an example, that goldfish statistic that I was telling you about. Originally, I would say to people that consumers have an average attention span of eight seconds. That’s because there was a report in 2012, put out by Microsoft that suggested that the average attention span is eight seconds long.
At the time, I wasn’t doing super high-quality research. I was still learning all there was to learn about researching reputable sources and data. In this situation, I saw the name Microsoft and the eight seconds and ran with it. When I dug deeper into that, Microsoft was only studying 112 people, which is not representative of the entire population. The eight-second statistic was referencing a different study from a different organization. When I went down the rabbit hole trying to find the original source, I couldn’t find any published source that said eight seconds was a legitimate statistic.
Instead, I took the definition of attention span, which again is how long somebody will spend looking at something before they decide if they want to give it more of their attention. I started looking for various studies that spoke specifically to that idea of attention. I found bounce rates studies. I found eye-tracking studies. I found content sharing and content engagement studies. Studies put out by Google, HubSpot, and other studies from Microsoft, Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, the list goes on. All of them came back with five seconds.
It was such an interesting combination. That is what brought me to five seconds as the number. I stopped using eight seconds. What’s funny is when people quote that exact study and they say the 8-second and the 9-second goldfish joke, that they’ll often reference Microsoft, but they link back to an interview that Microsoft did of me. They’re quoting me, but they’re giving Microsoft the credit, but in the end, I’m like the tertiary source. You’ve got to go to the primary source and you’ve got to get the context behind how that data even came to life.
I think it’s interesting to find the sources for data. I’ve tried to get more research on the impact of curiosity in the workplace in terms of innovation engagement. It’s so much content, but there’s not a lot of research in certain areas. You must spend hours and hours, days and months that ties into it after you add it all up. What you do is interesting. I love it when I teach the brand publishing course that I created. I don’t get to teach it that often, but whenever I do some associate faculty work for different universities and the one at Forbes. Sometimes they’ll send me back into that course and I love teaching that because it’s so much fun. I’m sure I’ll include this in that course as extra information too. This was so much fun. Thank you, Amy, for being on my show. I know a lot of people are going to want to know how they can follow you and find out more. How can they reach you?
You can find me on Twitter, @AmyBalliett. Although I will be honest, I don’t tweet a lot. You can definitely contact me there. I’m most active on LinkedIn. I’m also at Amy Balliett on LinkedIn. I will post any podcast I’m on. I post my podcast interviews there. I post articles there. I do a lot of writing on Medium and post that back onto LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the best place. If you want to dive deep into all things visual communication and learn exactly how to create content that truly succeeds online, my book is available on Amazon. It’s called Killer Visual Strategies. It is literally ten years of industry lessons. The good, the bad and the ugly. I share everything. I’m an open book.
You do a lot of sharing. I know you’ve spoken to more than 175 conferences around the globe and you do a lot of amazing work. It was fun having you on the show. Thank you.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
I’d like to thank both Kathy and Amy for being my guest. We get so many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can catch them at DrDianeHamilton.com. You can also find out more about the Curiosity Code Index, the Perception Power Index, my speaking, training, and all the information is available on that site. It’s all very simple to find. If you don’t find it at the dropdown menu at the top, please look at the bottom for links. Our affiliate link and other things are listed there as well. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode.
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About Kathy Ireland
Kathy Ireland’s iconic modeling career began on covers from Vogue to Cosmopolitan and Kathy has graced the cover of Forbes Magazine more times than any other cover. According to Fairchild Publications, Kathy Ireland® is one of the 50 most influential people in fashion. Kathy Ireland inspired the phrase, Super Model turned Super Mogul. kathy ireland® Worldwide is listed as the 26th most powerful brand globally by License! Global Magazine. The success of kathy ireland® Worldwide is the result of teamwork and dedication. Kathy is the author of multiple books including newest release in January, Fashion Jungle co-authored with NY Times #1 Best Selling Author Rachel Van Dyken. Kathy serves on multiple Boards including NFLPI and WNBPA. Kathy has partnered with some of the most famous women including Elizabeth Taylor, Serena Williams and fellow ETAF Ambassador Vanessa Williams.
About Amy Balliett
Amy Balliett is the CEO and founder of Killer Visual Strategies, an industry-leading visual communication agency that designs and executes communication and content marketing solutions for Fortune 1000 clients. She owned her first company at age 17 before building a successful career in online marketing. In 2010, she founded Killer Visual Strategies, which has been an Inc. 5000 company for four years in a row. Balliett has become a thought leader in visual communication, and has spoken at more than 175 conferences around the globe, including SXSW, Content Marketing World, Adobe MAX, and SMX Advanced. She is also a teacher at Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts, a LinkedIn Learning instructor, a columnist for Inc., and an accomplished public and corporate speaker. Her book, Killer Visual Strategies: Engage Any Audience, Improve Comprehension, and Get Amazing Results Using Visual Communication, was published in 2020, and was Amazon’s #1 new book in communication and business communication.