7 ways to optimize visual storytelling


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The most powerful stories on the Internet today are visual. Photos and videos are playing an increasingly central role in the way people find, consume, and share stories. Video already dominates 78 percent of Internet traffic and Cisco predicts it will grow to 84 percent by 2018. The old adage that a “picture is worth a thousand words” is more relevant than ever.

However, simply posting a photo or a video is not enough to stand out amidst the vast volume of visual online content. Visual storytelling is an art, and requires an understanding of how to best connect with your audience. Let’s take a deeper look.

Create a narrative arc

All stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end, regardless of the medium. The best photographs capture more than a moment. They tell an entire story. For example, an image of a young girl wearing a pearl earring is enough to evoke an entire novel about her life and how she came to wear the earring. You can also think of the structure as introduction-body-conclusion, depending on the subject (i.e. a how-to video). Regardless, the content should immediately provide context, undergo some sort of progression, and wrap up with a key takeaway. Connect the dots and close the loop — people want to feel part of a journey and finish the race.

Appeal to the emotions

Humans are emotional beings. We cry during movies, get angry during traffic jams, and an old stuffed animal can trigger waves of nostalgia. While we are also rational, emotion plays a significant role in determining what we respond to, what sticks with us, what we like and dislike, and how we make decisions. Visual storytelling is a valuable opportunity to connect with your audience on an emotional level. You can use emotion to setup a scene, create tension, and illustrate a learning, and you can appeal to emotions in all of your visual elements — from colors and style, brand elements, photos and iconography.

Professor Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions breaks emotions down into eight primary emotions. The dimensions and colors of the wheel reflect different emotions and their intensity. For example, ecstasy is stronger than serenity, and both are associated with the color yellow. When creating visual content, your choice of words, colors and images should seek to connect with the emotions you want to evoke.

Embrace the 7 dimensions of wellness

Visual storytelling is also an opportunity to explore how you can connect with the state of wellness of your individual customers. The seven dimensions of wellness are: social, emotional, spiritual, environmental, occupational, intellectual, and physical. Use these dimensions to create deeper and more balanced content. For example, a photo of a family eating dinner together speaks strongly to social and occupational wellness, and poses the question to the viewer — do you have wellness in your work-life balance?

Telling a story that appeals to the human desire for wellness and self-improvement motivates the viewer to pay attention to and act on what they see. It gives them something to strive for and stamps a lasting impression.

Cater to the senses

The more senses you engage with your stories, the stronger the impression you will make. Videos in particular enable you to engage sight and sound, and to use the two together to have an even stronger impact. Sound can supplement/complement images to enhance emotional drama or create a calming effect. Visual storytelling also enables you to evoke other senses like taste and touch. A close-up shot of a juicy hamburger or ice cream sundae easily gets mouths to water, and an image of a fuzzy blanket evokes the feel of it on your skin. Catering to the senses cultivates empathy, and empathy forges a meaningful connection.

Invite your employees and customers into your story

Today’s consumer craves authenticity. They are skeptical of formal ads and seek out brands, content, and experiences that seem “real.” At the same time, they are producing huge amounts of digital content, thanks largely to mobile phones, which make it possible to create and share visual stories with just a few taps. Embracing user-generated content enables organizations to convey authenticity. Furthermore, it creates a feeling of membership. Consumers are not interested in raw transactions with faceless brands. They want to actively participate in brands’ stories and feel that their voice matters. And perhaps best of all, UGC is affordable and scaleable.

Be consistent

The stories you tell, visual or otherwise, should be consistent. This does not mean you have to tell the same stories, but rather that you should deliver the same fundamental theme, impression, or message — all content should emphasize the integrity of your brand. In today’s omnichannel world, consistency becomes particularly important (and thorny) across devices. Find ways to repurpose what you have for multichannel campaigns, which has the dual benefit of creating consistency, reducing the amount of work, and expanding your target audience.


The most effective visual stories are balanced. You want to find the right balance between vivid clarity and overwhelming distractions. If you are too straightforward, your story may seem to simple or boring. If you have too much going on, your message may get lost in the mix. A similar principle is true for trendiness. You want to be trendy, because this capitalizes on what people are interested in and cultivates a certain cultural cache. However, being too trendy may cause you to appear fake and shallow and thus inauthentic. Given how rapidly trends shift, erring on the side of trendiness may also cause your lovingly created content to quickly become obsolete.

Visual content is no longer a marketing “extra.” Hip clothing lines and enterprise software alike need visual content — and more specifically, visual storytelling — to establish a foothold and gain ground in their markets. Thanks to the Internet, consumers can explore hundreds, even thousands, of options at their fingertips. While factors like price and reviews certainly matter, a compelling visual story can really help a company stand out.

Image Source: iStockPhoto

Jake Athey
Director of Marketing at Widen Enterprises who is the user and administrator of several popular marketing technologies including customer relationship management, campaign management, digital asset management, email marketing, blogging, and social media management platforms.


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