Visual storytelling is a cornerstone of modern day marketing. Instead of simply listing a product's capabilities, products are promoted through emotionally-charged narratives that engage consumers on a deeper level, and help them form emotional connections to the products.

Let's consider Skype for a minute. Skype is a powerful, high functioning video chat application with many desirable features. Yet, when they market themselves, they don't simply list all the technical capabilities of the software; instead, they market themselves as a tool that connects people.


Skype




Their ads show how the platform allows long distance families, lovers, friends, colleagues to connect. This emotionally-charged approach to marketing is a perfect example of Skype telling its consumers a story.


Why is it storytelling so important now?

So, why the shift from black and white product explanations to flowery, emotional stories? The short answer is modern technology.

We follow brands on social platforms, and because of this, brands' posts are a part of our every day. Whenever we refresh our Facebook newsfeed, we see a post from Coca Cola right above photos from grandma's 70th. We see branded posts alongside posts from our family and friends, so we view and consider them similarly.

Storytelling is about creating brand-to-consumer connections similarly to the way you connect person-to-person - through emotions, interactions, real time events, etc.

We long to create emotional connections with products and brands - this is often why we choose name brands over cheaper generic brands. We like to know that the brands we use care about us as consumers and reflect our values.

2016: the year of visual storytelling

While visual storytelling is not a technique hot off the presses, it is one that has rapidly expanded over the last twelve months, particularly thanks to social media technology facilitating storytelling.

By the end of 2014, photo messaging app Snapchat, released a feature called 'Snapchat Stories', a function that allowed users to upload a series of photos and videos that is available to all the users' friends for 24 hours. This feature facilitated a lot of storytelling amongst its users, with many posting photos cataloguing their day, or using the video feature to tell bitesize stories, and eventually brands hopped on too.

In 2016, Instagram and Facebook both caught onto this trend and created their own functions that mirrored Snapchat's Stories, proving just how effective the storytelling function is.

For example, let's look at how NASA uses the stories feature to market their content to viewers. They upload informational examples, snippets of interviews, and links to the full form content on Snapchat and Instagram. In this example below, they used a grand total of 10 images/videos to tell a story to users about control burns on spacecraft.


NASA





















Another feature that has been on the rise in 2016 has been live video streams. Popular on Facebook, these real-time glimpses into the live goings on with a brand not only helps to connect users more intimately with the brand, but helps to tell real-time stories, as if you the consumer were speaking directly to them.

A great example of a brand that uses live video is Australian brand Thankyou. They use live videos to give glimpses into their office dynamic, show them packaging orders, and the company dynamic.


Thankyou




Visual techniques and trends have evolved to facilitate storytelling too. Infographics in particular are continually on the rise as they interweave a narrative with facts and figures to create a more connectable and relatable content.

Plus, creating infographics is no sweat nowadays. Check out Canva's infographic templates, customise it to suit your story and data, and you're ready to go.

For a bit of inspiration, check out this infographic by Format that compiles a slew of information, data, and figures into a timeline-based narrative to better communicate the information.


Format






In short, advances in social technology have facilitated storytelling in various ways that allow for emotional connections to be more easily made.

Social enterprise brand Thankyou offer another great example of this. Thankyou donates 100% of the funds raised from their products "to life-changing food, water and health and sanitation programs around the world." However, when you purchase a Thankyou product you can search the serial number on their interactive map and find out where the proceeds were sent.


Thankyou




How can you and your brand visually tell a story?

Ready to tell your own story to your consumers? Here's how you can start.

Construct a hero

As Widen notes, first of all "Make your customers the hero and the product their superpower". As we mentioned earlier, storytelling is all about allowing users to connect with the story and product on emotional levels. They should feel that once your product is in their life, they will become the hero you paint them to be.

Check out this video from action camera brand Go-Pro that shows the hero, a fireman, using the product, a GoPro camera, to capture his act of heroism in saving a kitten from a fire. The video is emotionally charged, has the narrative structure of a story, and establishes the user of the product as a hero.


GoPro










But, not all heroes are firefighters. Getty has listed a series of character archetypes used in visual storytelling, from the explorers and creators, through to the lovers, caregivers, and rebels.

Construct an archetypal hero that reflects your brand and consumers, arm them with your product, and put them in a heroic situation.

Show the process

Everyone loves a glimpse behind the curtain at the inner workings of your brand, it helps to foster a more intimate relationship with your consumers and your brand, plus it helps you tell a story about how a product is launched, how a job gets done, or how the cogs in your machine turn.

Check out how Warby Parker do just that. By showing some behind the scenes shots and sneak peaks of their new frame line photoshoot, they are bringing their consumers along on the ride, from the inception of the new line, to the staging, straight through to when the frames are put up for sale, telling them the story of a new product's launch.


Warby Parker

Google took a similar approach when unveiling their new logo design. They compiled a video that relayed their history, from the clunky inception of Google to the shiny, masterpiece we all know and love today.


Google


Everybody loves a rags to riches, and point A to point B story, so tell yours! Be proud of the process.

Tell your consumers' stories

When in doubt, authenticity is always a winner. Tell true stories as relayed by your consumers by sharing their experiences and crowdsourcing content. Show off how consumers are using your product and explain how they used your product and what benefit it gave them.

Airbnb are experts in this field, as is evident from their social media channels full of crowdsourced imagery and recounted stories from happy customers. They relay stories celebrating unique Airbnbs, their histories, and the experience of the customers to create immersive pieces of content.


Airbnb

























With so many brands on the market at any given time, creating unique connections with your consumers is crucial, and the best way to facilitate this is through stories.

When crafting social media posts, ads, and campaigns, keep in mind that your content will be viewed alongside posts from family and friends. Instead of simply listing the abilities of your product, try to connect with your audience by appealing directly to their emotions and showing how your product can directly benefit their lives. Tell a story to your consumers about your consumers.

Published on: Jan 15, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.