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November 17th, 2014

The Continued Rise of Today’s Visual Storytelling

It’s far from new news that visual storytelling across digital touch points is what tends to generate much higher levels of engagement and views.

There are endless quips, factoids, infographics and stats on this subject.

And through the statistical clutter, one thing is certain: Time again, digital markerters and social media strategists are told over and over to…

  • …use MORE visuals!
  • …create BETTER visuals!
  • …use BETTER visuals MORE often!

No matter how you slice those pixels (pun intended), visual storytelling is a widely sought-after digital content commodity, especially across branded social media outposts where the more aesthetic the content presented, the increased likelihood it will be easily consumed and eagerly shared.

Even social networking platforms have been aligning themselves to this fanatical visual-focus trend for some time. As a result, many of the mainstream social media channels have been frequently updating and tweaking their interfaces to better accommodate more, bigger and better visuals.

Facebook’s huge design shift to Timeline in September 2011, an interface move meant to prominently showcase visual storytelling activity, is a strong testament to this fact. So was Pinterest’s redesign in March 2013 which, in addition to launching several pin search improvements, also allowed for the sharing of larger, bigger pins. And even Twitter’s recent design upgrades in April 2014 were made in large part to increase size of profile photos as well as to introduce immersive, more visual headers.

What’s the big deal about visual communications?

Everywhere you look, just about everyone is communicating with images. One quick peek inside Facebook says it all: status updates with graphics, photographs, memes and more saturate your news feed day in and day out.

Some people actually prefer to express themselves with images – more so than with short or long form text – hence the popularity of Instagram where it seems multiple hashtag use often replaces the image captions or status updates.

A prominent celeb example of someone who has purposefully elected to communicate exclusively through imagery (on Instagram and Facebook) is Beyonce who reportedly ditched tweeting back in August 2013 because “it’s very hard to say what you want to say in 140 characters.”

Whether you agree the 140-character imposed limit on Twitter makes it too difficult to express oneself or not (these folks, for example, believe a lot can be said in a single tweet), what I think most brands can and do agree on is that the trend of visual storytelling continues to intensity with each passing day.

Why is there so much demand for visual storytelling?

The response to this question is multi-layered, however, in an effort to remain brief, we can quickly summarize the “why” with the following two succinct answers:

  1. Consumers and social audiences just can’t seem to get enough eye-candy.  And it’s no wonder. Visuals are quick to be absorbed and can immediately communicate a message, topic or theme with relative ease (read more about the “picture superiority effect” impacting today’s consumers if you want more nitty gritty on this topic). Moreover, with the over-saturation of text and long form on the web, online users are looking for much simpler media to consume.
  2. When optimized status updates are limited to 71-100 characters on Twitter and 40 characters on Facebook, the need for incorporating a really strong visual skyrockets because, after all, a picture is worth 1,000 words, right? So what better way is there to add far more language, content and context into an abridged micro-status update if not with video or imagery?

There are plenty of sites and blog posts speaking about the countless benefits of incorporating a visual content strategy as part of your brand’s digital storytelling for those of you wanting to dive further into this topic.

In summary, the demand for brands to produce imagery that resonates, inspires, motivates, informs, educates, moves and connects with fragmented audiences who have limited attention spans is at the highest levels I’ve seen to date.

And not just any image will do, no.

It can be tempting to slap together a quick visual without much creative effort or direction and yes, sometimes, these quickie-types of images do have their place. Still, brands fare best when they take the extra effort to elevate the aesthetic nature of their visuals.

Don’t forget to add a pinch of emotion whenever possible

Another way to heighten a brand’s visual storytelling efforts is to incorporate emotion into imagery if and when the opportunity presents itself to do so in a relevant and meaningful way.

Remember: Brands able to capture highly visual moments in time that evoke authentic sentiment or emotion are the real sharable-content winners.


In the example 2012 tweet above, The Obama brand epitomizes the usage of emotion in its visual communications strategy. Notice the tweet includes only a small, 3-word caption: “Four more years.” Despite its minimalist caption, it was the authentic, poignant moment captured and shared that propelled this tweet to the most retweeted tweet worldwide; a title it held until March 2014 when its retweet record was broken by Ellen’s Oscar selfie tweet earlier this year.

So why does the emotion factor need to be considered into marketing imagery?

Simply enough, humans are ruled by their emotions. Research has shown that only 30% of purchases are rational, while the other 70% of purchases are emotional, hence why emotional or poignant imagery tends to increase content’s sharablity factor far more than not.

Does this mean that logic gets thrown out the visual content strategy window in favor of sentiment? Hardly. Logic and sentiment both have their place in branded visual content strategies. Just keep in mind that the consumer’s “gut reaction” tends to have more influence than logic does.

What is YOUR brand doing to heighten its visual storytelling across digital?

Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear how your brand’s efforts in bumping up the aesthetic aspects of its digital storytelling is helping to make more of an impact or better traction with audiences.

Tags: Brand Marketing Content Development Content Marketing Content plan Content strategy

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