Note: This blog post is an excerpt from my new book, Marketing Spark, a guide for entrepreneurs looking to embrace the power of story-driven marketing. Featuring worksheets, templates, framework, tools, and step-by-step tactical instructions, it’s a workbook to make marketing and storytelling happen.
Humans are visual people. Our ability to learn relies mostly on visual data. That is why visual storytelling is emerging as a powerful, creative and engaging way for businesses to tell stories across different platforms.
The human brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than it takes to decode text. We are told that 83% of human learning is visual. On average, it takes a person 50 seconds to read 200 to 250 words, but only 1/10 of a second to process a visual image.
The power of visuals is most evident on social media. Images account for 93% of the most engaging posts on Facebook, while tweets on Twitter with images receive 150% more retweets. By 2018, an estimated 84% of communications were visual, according to a study by Cisco.
In today’s fast-moving world, words are becoming less important when compared with visuals. People want information instantly. They don’t want to work or invest time digesting it. For a storytelling wordsmith like myself, it is disconcerting but it is the new normal of communications when the average attention span is about seven seconds (about the same as a goldfish!). It explains why visual storytelling has so much momentum.
The ability to quickly and effectively deliver information is powerful in a media-saturated world. Using a photo, graphic, infographic, GIF, or video to connect with consumers makes a huge difference in getting your message seen. If a brand creates user-friendly content, it is easier for consumers to explore and embrace.
Marta Olszewska, head of marketing with Piktochart, an online infographic creation service, says most humans are visual learners. She says that we recall 80% of what we see as opposed to only 20% of what we read and 10% of what we hear. As a result, visual storytelling is compelling for companies looking to stand out in a sea of content.
“The greatest cinematographers have been engaging us with visual stories for more than 100 years, and so have the biggest brands,” Olszewska says. “The only reason ‘visual storytelling’ is emerging in the brand world now is because the tools and methods exist that can make us all storytellers without having seven or eight-digit budgets.
“With DIY tools for creating animated GIFs, narrated videos, and infographics, along with the rise of creative talents who can do it all, anyone can tell a story. It is less about the production quality (e.g. Snapchat) and more about the message being conveyed.”
For marketers, visual storytelling is an increasingly important part of the mix. In many respects, words are the supporting actors to visuals. Words provide context but they are no longer the stars of the show. It is not that people dislike words; it is that visuals deliver instant gratification.
It explains the growing popularity of digital services like Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope, and Facebook. Instagram, for example, now has more than 500 million active monthly users who share an average of 95 million photos and videos a day.
Since Instagram launched, users have shared more than 40 billion photos, five times the world’s population. Meanwhile, Facebook has 300 million photos uploaded a day, while Pinterest has 150 million active users and 50 billion pinned items. Any way you slice it or dice it, the numbers are staggering.
So what is driving the growing popularity of visual storytelling?
The obvious answer is smartphones. With mobile phone penetration rates nearly 80% in North America and 90% in Western Europe, hundreds of millions of people are consuming content on the go. Just as important, mobile Internet speeds have sharply increased so it is easier to watch videos using live streaming. Services like Facebook Live and Twitter (Periscope) offer real-time video connections.
Another reason for the growing appeal of visual storytelling is authenticity. Consumers want to see themselves in photographs and videos. While there is still a role for high-production visual content, marketers realize real-world content is more believable. Think about how a “real” photo stacks up against a stock photo that looks staged and undifferentiated. As a consumer, which photos would you believe?
Brands effectively embracing visual storytelling
Brands of all shapes and sizes are successfully using visual storytelling to engage, entertain and educate audiences. The keys to success are a combination of having an editorial focus, selecting the most relevant platforms, being creative and having a commitment to generating content on a regular basis. Some brands that are using visual storytelling in interesting ways include:
At a large manufacturing conglomerate, you would think GE would be challenged to leverage visual storytelling. The company, however, has attracted a fast-growing audience with photos and videos that highlight its technology and how it is used in different parts of its global business: airplanes, trains, power plants, and automobiles.
The content provides a behind-the-scenes look at GE’s products and innovation activities. The content is organically created, often using point-and-shoot or mobile cameras rather than professionally-produced images. GE has a strong presence on Instagram with nearly 400,000 followers.
Katrina Craigwell, GE’s Head of Global Digital Programming, said visuals provide context and connection with the company’s technology and start conversations with people who love science and technology. The photo below is a detailed look at a compressor within a GE gas turbine. It shows how visual images can make anything more accessible.
While many brands have struggled to evolve from paper to digital National Geographic is thriving as it discovers new ways to share its visual content. Given National Geographic’s roots as a photograph-driven publisher, its embrace of visual storytelling is not surprising. The company is reaching new audiences by using platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.
On Instagram, it has more than 95.5 million followers, making it one of the biggest non-celebrity accounts in the world. Below is an example of how National Geographic leverages visual content on Instagram.
Need to jump-start your marketing? Are you stuck or wondering what type of marketing to embrace? Let’s talk about how we can work together. My services include messaging, brand positioning, marketing strategies, and content development. I also offer a CMO-for-Hire service to oversee, operate, and build your marketing department.