I am talking to a lot of folks these days about visual storytelling, and from these conversations, I’ve learned there is still a great deal of ambiguity about what visual storytelling is and why it’s important now for marketers. If you’re clueless too, don’t feel bad. Some of the top dictionaries like Oxford have no clue either:
Oxford: No exact match found for “visual storytelling” in US English
When I figured, “Hey, maybe these are old fashioned resources. Let’s try Wikipedia,” I received:
A visual narrative (also visual storytelling) is a story told primarily through the use of visual media. The story may be told using still photography, illustration, or video, and can be enhanced with graphics, music, voice and other audio.”
Getting warmer! The reality is that the term “visual storytelling” is pretty new. Looking at Google Trends for the past 10 years, the term garnered low counts of fewer than 100 searches a month, and it’s only in the past three years that the term is gaining traction, albeit still modestly.
Looking closer at these searches, we find that the term “visual storytelling” is largely associated with topics covering the visual arts targeting artists/designers: photography, media, illustration, and infographics.
However, switching our camera lens to the marketing space in 2017, and especially after an intense election year packed with competing narratives, we find that the power of story has never been more crucial. Marketers also have realized that the benefits that rode visual storytelling in the entertainment space to new heights also make a lot of sense when driving business impact with jaded audiences overwhelmed by tons of copycat content plays.
To paint the picture in broader strokes, we see that the communications landscape today is strongly marked by two opposing forces:
1) Content explosion:a. There is a dramatic and continual increase in content production
> “4.6 billion pieces of content are produced every day.” – LinkedIn
b. Content consumption is further enabled by greater broadband and mobile access
> “70 percent of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2020.” – Cisco
2) Decreased user attention span: a marked and well-documented downshift in focus
> The average human attention span is down to eight seconds.” -- Microsoft
We recognize two core drivers that support effective visual storytelling:
- Our human brain processes visuals much faster than text.
> “Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text by the human brain and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual.” -- 3M
- The human brain prefers information packaged as stories
> “92 percent of consumers want brands to make their ads feel like stories.” -- OneSpot
So what is the definition of visual storytelling in the context of marketing?
“Visual storytelling is the confluence of art and science, balancing an intended message with purpose and mutual value while investing in the medium and the culture that defines it. It’s not only meant to be consumed but also designed to be shared … educating, informing, and entertaining along the way.”
– Brian Solis, digital analyst and anthropologist
The reality is that nobody cares about your product or service. It’s the power of your big story that fuels your message to cut through the clutter and resonate with your audience. As a marketer you need to put your audience as the hero of your story, addressing first their core problem – not yours.
"The task of marketers today is no longer to sell the drill, nor hole in the wall, but to sell the experience of making that hole or the lifestyle the hole enables us to."
- Rolf Jensen, interactive design director
Visual experience is key.
And companies that sell experiences, rather than product/service functions are poised to be rewarded with audience attention. A great example is Apple. Some of us own iPhone 6 devices that work perfectly fine, but regardless we gotta have the new iPhone 7, even with its marginal upgrade benefits. It’s that unique experience that the Apple story enables.
Ready to revamp your business and personal brand with next generation visual storytelling?
Apply for Visual Storytelling Xperience (VSX) - a full-semester course at The Idea Center at Miami Dade College – that will transform your audience into a revved-up advocacy powerhouse.