Half of business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers say that, just in the last year, it’s become more difficult to attract and keep their audiences’ attention. But do you know what has kept audiences’ attention? Westworld. Game of Thrones. Avengers: Infinity War. Stranger Things. All of these cultural phenomena have one thing in common: They tell great stories, and they tell them visually.
Brands are finally starting to realize that they, too, need to be able to tell great stories. Sharing the story of your company -- what drives you, what you value, what you hope to achieve -- can make you more human and relatable. It can help audiences feel more personally and emotionally invested in what you have to offer.
Still, this is far from easy. Based on my experience as public relations manager of a visual communication agency, visual storytelling is a unique skill, and it requires the collaboration of a talented team of designers, writers, animators, developers and project managers to really succeed.
But let’s take a step back. What is visual storytelling, anyway?
Visual Storytelling, Defined
Visual storytelling uses visual communication to craft a narrative that explains a concept and evokes an emotional response. Education is one of the end goals, but this approach also aims to persuade the viewer to reach a specific conclusion.
A strong piece of visual storytelling incorporates a narrative to guide the viewer toward that conclusion, but it also includes important information and data along the way. To make your visual story a success, incorporate these four essential elements.
1. A Great Hook
When you’re writing an article, you start with a strong hook. The same goes for visual communication. A motion graphic or video often captures the reader’s attention immediately. After all, YouTube lets viewers skip most videos after just five seconds. A great script is far from enough to keep them watching. Your visuals must inspire them to learn more, and that means high-quality animation or live-action shots are an absolute must.
The same goes for static visual content, from infographics and white papers to the first page of an interactive widget. Why should your audience stop scrolling through their Instagram feed and engage? Why would you? A great hook is more important than ever.
2. The Right Tone
Tone is an essential consideration as you create any brand messaging. Think of it as a way to set the mood for your story. Are you delivering a drama or a comedy? A mystery or a reality TV show? And what tone corresponds with each?
Achieving the right tone or mood visually is its own challenge. One key is picking the right color scheme. Blue-and-white combinations tend to communicate a more professional, serious tone, ideal for business-to-business (B2B) communications. Bright neons are more fun, down-to-earth and often funny.
Design style, especially when it comes to illustration and animation, can also do a lot of work when you’re establishing tone. Comic-book-style characters with exaggerated features might be best for those neon-palette brands, whereas more serious communications might opt for more lifelike figures. Either way, characters can help make your story feel more relatable, but your choice depends on what kind of story you’re telling.
3. A Story Arc
You probably remember it from English class -- the classic story arc with rising action leading to a climax. When it comes to telling your brand story, the same structure can go a long way. It may be better phrased, however, as a “problem-solution” arc.
Here’s how it works: Begin with the problem your brand is trying to solve. Whether you’re showing a character facing that problem or explaining it using data visualizations, you’ll want the audience to recognize this problem as something they have encountered.
Next comes the rising action. In visual content, this can take many forms. A character might encounter obstacle after obstacle as she seeks a solution. Or you might share the story of how your company worked through the same obstacles.
The solution, of course, is the climax of your story.
When you’re working with a motion graphic or video, custom music and sound design can rise and fall with this story arc, peaking at just the right moment for maximum effect as you arrive at the solution. In static pieces, make sure your solution is visually dominant -- in many cases, taking up more real estate and featuring especially attention-grabbing illustrations. You might also want it to present a tone or mood change, communicating better times ahead with the help of what your brand has to offer.
4. Visual Campaigns
Quite often, a brand’s story simply can’t be told in a single piece of visual content. You might have multiple divisions or products, or a long history of innovation. If this is the case, it will probably be more effective to avoid packing too much information into a single video or infographic. The right solution, in this case, could be a visual campaign.
Based on what I’ve been seeing, more and more brands are opting for visual campaigns as a broader vision for telling their brand stories. This allows them to target common goals with multiple pieces of visual content that maintain a consistent look and feel.
Each piece -- be it animation, interactivity, graphic design -- should tell its own part of the story visually from beginning to end and should not require extra context for understanding. And each piece of content will do its own work in adding to the story of your brand. A consistent look and feel will help viewers understand that they’re all part of a single, larger narrative.
So, as you formulate a new way to tell your brand story, start by determining the visual language that’s right for your brand. Then, build all your content around that style. You may find you’re connecting to more customers than ever. Why? Because you know how to tell a great story.
Original story in Forbes