Comments and “likes” used to send social marketers into a frenzy, but as brands begin to get serious about monetizing their content, vanity metrics are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Consider this: Nearly two-thirds of senior marketers in North America agree that visual assets are core to communicating their brand story, and many believe that the importance will only grow, according to eMarketer. Yet research from Curalate and the Internet Marketing Association (IMA) reveals that marketers are simultaneously eager to measure how visual assets impact multiple areas of their business. In fact, 77% of marketers agree there’s a heightening need to connect visual content to ROI.

To achieve this, brands are increasingly seeking out technologies that can enable them to align images to products in a way that seamlessly puts consumers on a path to purchase. But this is often easier said than done. Coming up with a constant stream of creative visuals, determining which content is resonating with fans and actually measuring ROI across channels are three hurdles that marketers are currently facing when it comes to successfully executing a visual commerce strategy.

However, it can be done. Below, find out how to overcome these marketing barriers alongside examples from brands like Sigma Beauty, Forever 21 and Lilly Pulitzer.

1. Grow your content library with new, creative assets

Gone are the days of perfectly polished product images set against a white backdrop. More than ever, brands are expected to create top-notch and eye-catching visuals that help them stand out among the vast amounts of content that can be found online today.

The good news is that brands don’t have to solely rely on their own teams to create these images. Consumers love to shout out brands while sharing their latest purchases on social media, whether it’s a new tube of lipstick they’re wearing or a shower curtain that’s completed their bathroom redesign.

And let’s not forget about the army of influencers and advocates you could be recruiting from your community. Tools like Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube have made influencer marketing more relevant than ever. As reported by eMarketer, 59% of marketing and communications professionals are leveraging influencers to fill their content libraries with new creative assets.

Modern marketers understand the value of crowdsourced content and are tapping into images from customers, influencers, partners and others. This not only gives consumers a more authentic and comprehensive view of your brand, but it also gives you, as a marketer, an easy way to add quality photos to your cache of visual content.  

Sigma Beauty is a great example of a brand that demonstrates an expert understanding of influencer content; they frequently leverage social influencers to create buzz around new lines of product.

060315_SigmaBeauty_InfluencersThe international cosmetics retailer leverages the power of crowdsourced imagery across multiple channels, including Instagram and their e-commerce site, in an effort to boost sales.

060315_SigmaBeauty_Like2BuyBy using authentic images to demonstrate what their products look like when worn by real people in the real world, Sigma has driven a 4x increase in digital engagement and a 16x visual marketing ROI.

042916_SigmaThe takeaway is simple: While using your own images to tell your brand’s story is important, don’t be afraid to tap into a network of fans, influencers and store associates who are already sharing your products in new and unique ways.

2. Harness visual data to identify your best assets

A lot of marketers are currently focused on making it simpler for consumers to buy products directly from owned images, which explains the proliferation of social commerce tools like Pinterest’s ‘buyable pins’ and Instagram’s ‘Shop Now’ buttons.

But making it easier for consumers to buy your products doesn’t mean much if the images aren’t resonating with viewers in the first place. Whether on social media, in an email, or on your brand’s website, it’s important for marketers to be able to determine which images are most likely to result in clicks and sales. Digging deeper, it’s also important to understand which products within images are most-loved.

This is where your visual data comes into play. To start, it can be as simple as paying attention to which images are getting the most likes, comments and shares, but it shouldn’t stop there. It’s worth investing in a visual analytics platform that can track more granular engagement data, like which product photos are generating the most organic Pinterest buzz, or which products on Instagram are most likely to drive consumers off of the social channel and onto your website.

Lily PulitzerTake Lilly Pulitzer, for example. The brand enlisted the Curalate visual commerce platform to discover how its images are faring on platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, and has been able to glean important information from it — like the fact that 33% of its social engagement was being driven by a particular series of images called the “Lilly 5×5.” They now use insight around top performing illustrations to amplify these photos online, in stores and even within a dedicated book.

3. Measure the new ROI – Return On Image

The most pressing issue marketers are facing in today’s visually driven environment is how to measure what some might call the new ROI – Return on Image. As visual marketing continues to mature, and as brands increasingly dedicate more of their budgets to it, marketers need to be able to justify that their content is, in fact, leading to sales.

This is especially crucial on “pay-to-play” platforms such as Instagram, which require advertisers to fork over cash if they want those ‘Shop Now’ buttons to appear under their posts. The good news is that there are other ways to lead Instagram users to your product pages without paying for a sponsored post that also allow you to track where traffic is coming from.

Retailers like Lucky Brand, Staples, J.Crew and Forever21 are leveraging visual commerce platforms to drive Instagram followers from images to product pages in a matter of two clicks, making it seamless for fans to quickly shop looks that catch their eye. By doing so, brands are able to track important metrics like clicks, referral traffic and digital engagement, giving marketers an easy way to measure the impact of their images.

For instance, after making their Instagram feed shoppable, Forever 21 analyzed engagement over a two-week period and found that they were driving an 80% click-through rate from Instagram content to products. Moreover, Instagram-referred traffic spent 24% more time-on-site and viewed 19% more pages than the brand’s average mobile user.

Final thoughts

Visual commerce is still in its early stages, but it’s bound to become even bigger as consumers continue to communicate through images, videos, GIFS, emojis and more. Establishing and developing a visual commerce strategy will help your brand prove the value of your visual marketing efforts.

But how can you get started? Check out our Complete Guide to Visual Commerce and learn how to connect visual content to ROI.