A picture is worth a thousand words

I got the idea for this column while teaching a class to the professional photography students at North Island College. So I have them to thank as we focus on the importance of having professionally designed visuals to compliment your communications strategy.

It began with a discussion on the importance of having a professionally taken photo versus one that was shot by an amateur. This inevitably led to someone mentioning the old adage a picture is worth a thousand words.

Some claim the origin of this phrase came from Confucius who coined the phrase but said one picture is worth 10,000 words. Others say it was a take off from a piece published in 1921 on the effectiveness of graphics in advertising written by Frederick Barnard who wrote 'One look is worth a thousand words.' And yet again there was newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane who in 1911 was giving a talk to the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club and told them to 'Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.'

Whatever the origin though, it does highlight the fact that visuals play an integral role in how your existing or potential customers will view your business.

The reality in marketing is that image is everything. If your photography is not of excellent quality and your graphic design misses the mark your branding efforts will come across as being weak and amateurish.

Your graphics and your photographs are key features of the professional face of your organization. They will provide the mental image that will stick in the minds of  your customers, suppliers and the community at large.

From the time we were born our first impressions of life were formed by the things we saw around us. To a great degree we use our sense of sight to gather the information that bombards us each day. What we see also determines how much importance we will assign to each of those visual messages.

It stands to reason then that using visuals in marketing and communications allows us to reach deeper levels of relationship building and making better connections with specific target groups. Memorable images are what provide those lasting impressions that help build brand awareness.

The key to using visuals is to make them simple but powerful. A poorly designed logo, business card or brochure does not help convey a positive impression. Nor will they be memorable. Think of some of the more successful symbols that have become a part of the marketing landscape. McDonald’s golden arches, the Nike swoosh, brand names such as Coke and Pepsi, they are all easily recognizable.

The one thing they all have in common is their consistency. They are evident wherever those products are sold. Good, professionally developed graphic design will ensure that your visual marketing will support your overall goals and objectives.

By the same token a photograph is more than just a nice picture. It is an art form that not only has an eye catching composition but can be reproduced well and equally as important will support your marketing message and enhance your brand.

The graphic elements in your marketing strategy can make or break whether people will retain your message. Well executed graphics will help explain your message and make you stand out in a world that has become more and more reliant on visual imagery.

The goal of every marketing and communications strategy is to clearly convey what you have to sell, how you can fill a need, want or desire and ultimately get people to reach into their pocket or budget to make the decision to buy your product or service.

There’s another adage that is commonly found in marketing textbooks: it's not what you say, but how you say it, which ties in with the expression that we started with: a picture is worth a thousand words.

When you combine both of these you have a very powerful tool that will make your business stand out and help you become successful.

So thanks again to the students of the professional photography course. Some of them will be graduating soon so watch for them as they make their way into the world of business.


Joe Smith is a communications consultant and an accomplished fine artist. He can be reached via email at

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