When was the last time an infographic made your job, or at least your day, easier?

I find it takes a couple of beats before I can think of an example.

Visuals are a great way to amplify the reach and impact of the content you create, but some brands churn out infographics, e-books, and social media images without stopping to think about how those pieces of content can help readers ease their pain points and provide the resources to fix them.

Most of the time, brand-generated content doesn't get shared just because it has an ultra-compelling headline or significant advertising dollars to back it up. Instead, the most popular visual resources are those that give your audience actionable, valuable, and, above all, non-promotional tips they can apply to their daily work.

Next time your team is drafting a new piece of visual content, ask the following questions about its intent, potential reach, and ultimate value before you pour hours and dollars into the project.

1. Are we marketing with this content, or teaching with it?

If you create an infographic or e-book that exists only to promote your brand's message, you severely limit the number of readers who will download, engage with, and share the piece. And that means you'll lose out on opportunities to bring prospects into the top of your sales and marketing funnel.

Today's consumers face a deluge of advertising every time they get online or open an app on their phones, and they're discerning about brand intent. In other words, your audience is already overwhelmed. As a marketer, take that fatigue as an incentive to create selfless content your readers can print or post on their desktops as a quick, promotion-free reference. Instead of slapping your product message onto that content, use it as an opportunity to highlight expertise in your industry and stand out from the crowd.

If you want to comment on an existing conversation that's gaining traction in your industry, consider how you can offer readers a fresh angle. For example:

  • If your brand is rooted in security software, your customers have already seen plenty of graphics illustrating tips to avoid a data breach, but they might be interested in a detailed guide for detecting a point-of-sale systems breach on their network.
  • Or, if you're a provider of event-planning services, augment your library of checklists to delve deeply into a more nuanced topic, such as tips for executives preparing to deliver keynotes at industry events. This kind of teachable content establishes trust with new prospects.

2. Have we gotten straight to the point visually and textually?

Your reader should be able to scan your graphic and understand its message within a few seconds or less. Sure, you can add nuances like flow charts and text effects to create a more interesting visual journey through the piece, but, ultimately, overwhelming your reader will only cause her to close the page.

Think of the websites you frequent. They probably have clean, responsive designs that aren't cluttered with excess information or advertising, and clear keywords in headlines and text that help readers find the information they're looking for. The same principles that make you save, share, and credit the source for those sites apply to your graphics, too.

3. Where is our data coming from, and how can our readers use it?

The data behind your infographic—or blog post, social image, or any other piece of visual or editorial content—should be relevant and interesting to a wide audience. It won't matter if your graphic is compelling and informative if it's backed only by skewed survey results—or findings that apply only to your brand.

As you choose your source material, consider the ultimate goals of your infographic and your overall marketing campaign:

  • Are you looking to establish your brand as an industry leader? Educate readers about problems they didn't know they had? Share fresh commentary audiences haven't seen anywhere else? Great: an image-based content strategy can move you toward each of those objectives.
  • Are you hyper-focused on generating new leads or securing funding? No problem. But if that's the only takeaway a reader can glean from your piece, you may find that the time and budget sunk into your graphic aren't as helpful as they seemed on the drawing board.

4. How will we distribute this content?

There's no such thing as pixie-dust PR, and no magic trick to guarantee a piece of content will go viral. To achieve that, you need a strategy behind the piece that aligns with your overall PR and marketing plan, industry thought leadership and actionable takeaways for your readers, and a solid distribution approach.

Spend at least as much time distributing content as you do creating it, and consider how you'll measure the return on investment (ROI) of your piece:

  • Capture emails from readers interested in downloading the full version of your infographic or a complementary, deeper piece of content.
  • Embed links that drive visitors to engaging, informative landing pages on your website, where they can learn more about your company by following a workflow of related content.
  • As you monitor site traffic and workflows, engage with visitors in ways that reflect their interests in your organization and help you qualify leads worthy of follow-up from your sales team.
  • Break the graphic into pieces of microcontent that can be quickly shared on social media and used to spark engagement during events like Twitter chats.
  • Repurpose the findings behind your graphic. Blog about it, record a podcast about it, and pitch a story about it to a media target.

* * *

Think back to the last infographic that stuck in your mind, taught you something new, or helped make your day a little bit easier. View it as a consumer of information, not as a marketer. If you asked its creators the above questions, what would they say? Now put those questions to the most recent graphical piece your team created or one you have in the works.

If you're not happy with your own answers, it's time to pivot.

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Four Ways to Stop Your Infographic From Being a Total Flop

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image of Rebecca Joyner

Rebecca Joyner is director of content services at Metis Communications, where she drives content-creation efforts to help clients get found online, convert leads, and establish themselves as voices of authority in their industries.

LinkedIn: Rebecca Joyner

Twitter @rebeccamjoyner