LONDON/NEW YORK: The power of pictures is emerging as an important aspect of luxury brand marketing, as reports highlight customers being swayed by visual stimulation and brands utilising image-based social networking sites.

The new Global Luxury Themes report from Ledbury Research identified this as one of the areas currently attracting a lot of interest. "Visual-heavy social media has grown at a phenomenal pace over the past year," said Nicola Ko, senior luxury analyst.

"Luxury brands use it to promote products, cover live events, hold campaigns and contests… yet followers don't feel they are looking at advertising," she said, explaining that social media had enabled a two-way conversation between brands and customers.

Benedetta Moreno, a London-based marketing consultant, told Luxury Daily that the risk of losing a sense of exclusivity by being present on social media was offset by those communications.

"They help brands learn about customers in terms of what they like, what they don't like, what works and what doesn't work and, if the ability to understand the customer is worthwhile for any business, it is even more important for the luxury market where demanding customers wants to be not only satisfied but also surprised," she said

L2, the New York think tank, recently reported that 93% of prestige brands were now present on Instagram, up from 63% six months earlier.

It went on to suggest that Instagram was the world's most powerful social platform as it was growing faster than Facebook or Twitter had done at a similar stage in their development, while registering 15 times the engagement and double the engaged user base.

For luxury and prestige brands, the appeal of visual marketing is twofold. Ledbury noted that luxury clientele tended to be stimulated more by images than text (and so gravitated towards platforms like Instagram and Pinterest), while L2 pointed out that pictures required little translation allowing brands to more easily operate across borders.

L2 observed that Instagram had experienced especially rapid growth in the latter half of 2013, with prestige brand communities in Asia Pacific quadrupling, while those in Eastern Europe had seen especially high engagement rates.

And unlike many other Western platforms, Instagram had also been allowed behind China's "Great Firewall" where its content was shareable to the Sina Weibo platform.

Data sourced from Ledbury Research, L2, Luxury Daily; additional content by Warc staff