In the immortal lyrics of David Gates' 1971 hit, “If a picture paints a thousand words then why can’t I paint you?”
Kojak fans may remember the crucifixion Telly Savalas gave If a few years later.
However the words ring true decades later: a picture may truly represent a thousand words. Specifically if you’re guessing at the impact that picture will have on decision making.
The people who make decisions on tenders are usually pretty lazy readers. They tend to gain a subliminal impression of a company profile by the pictures in the proposal in front of them. I say this with concrete authority because all CEOs and CIOs are far too busy running their companies to actually read this column and will never retaliate. And also, because it’s a lot quicker to look at a picture than to read a thousand words.
This may simply be a human trait. Erin Newman of Victoria University’s Psychology Department has based some of her PhD research on a crazy tendency people have to believe things they see in pictures rather than what they read.
“We see photographs all over the place [Ahem. No kidding]," Newman told Radio New Zealand. "What we wanted to know was if photographs did more than just serve as decorations. We wondered if they influenced our thoughts and beliefs about information.”
Newman's group studied peoples’ beliefs after being shown an ordinary picture next to a supposed fact which wasn’t true. Their study showed that people believed untrue things that had been illustrated with a picture more so than not. “The pattern is that people said things were true more so with a photo than not with a photo.” Newman goes on to state that a photograph is usually taken as proof that something has happened.
Big Blue has been telling people this for years. Every now and then IBM runs little day courses called The Art of Writing a Winning Proposal which is designed to help its channel partners get more business. If you ever see one of these on the diary list you really must attend because IBM usually provide excellent bacon and cheese filled croissants and they really don’t mind too much if you fill your pockets or hand bag with a few extras for later.
One of the few things I learned from the seminar which I attended was that images make for better reading than words. Oh, the irony. Not just pictures, but flow charts, diagrams, bullet points and pop art all make for an interesting few minutes for your intended audience.
But, it’s important not to go overboard or you are in grave danger of making your billion dollar solution look like your ten year-old daughter’s school project on sustainable fashion for imaginary pets. And if your diagrams look too technical your reader may just drift off to memories of trying to work out how to actually get off the London Underground’s Circle Line.
According to a presentation by David Tse, general manager of sales at IBM NZ, and higher up the pay scale than your average hairy-handed proposal writers: “In the future we anticipate mediums such as animation and devices...becoming a great tool for sellers to win bids as we broaden our ability to utilise imagery, branding and sales messages to create a far more enriching experience. This will be important to emphasise our value add capability as well as our technical ability."
I have a feeling Mr Tse is holding back. I bet he also has gloves like Tom Cruise used in Minority Report for the really important proposals, with a holographic 3D experience that he controls by waving his arms around as if a bee just flew into his car. Meanwhile the rest of us better get the Pritt Stick back from our kids.