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Using Visual Storytelling to Engage Your Audience

By Cedric Jackson, November 7, 2017
Using Visual Storytelling to Engage Your Audience

I chose this particular topic because I think it's one area of content creation that is largely overlooked. In fact, until recently, it was hard to even find a concrete definition for it.

The crazy part is that I talk about this (or variations of it) all the time in my blog. Long-time readers should know already that I place a heavy stake on visuals as part of any successful marketing initiative. I also strongly (and repeatedly) recommend writing copy around visuals, not the other way around.

That last bit is visual storytelling, in a nutshell. One definition of it reads like this:

Visual storytelling (aka “visual narrative”) is the telling of a story using visual media as the primary communication medium. The teller might employ the use of photographs, illustrations, or videos, enhanced with music, graphics, sound effects, and spoken word.

Now you know why I'm covering this on a copywriting blog.

I've made passive mention of this so many times, I finally decided to do an entire blog about it. Today, I want to give you some great advice on how to tell a story with pictures and add the words later. Get good at this and you won't be able to stop your audience from sharing or talking about your content.

Your Visuals: Stock vs. Original

I don't think I need to keep repeating what I think about this one, so I'll be brief: Original content is always better than stock. That said, for new businesses, new product launches, or under any circumstance where budgeting is tight, it is OK to use stock media. If you do, though, there are a few things you must consider.

First, always select visuals that affirm and reinforce your brand message. Maintain consistency in the kind of media you present under your brand label. For example, if you design a marketing campaign around orchids, you don't want to change gears and start bombarding your audience with images of tiger lilies (unless you're a florist, in which case, just ignore this entire example).

Also, if you find that your audience responds well to video, don't suddenly switch to stills unless you can identify key elements in those visuals that elicit a positive response. A still of a part of your video that gets lots of comments or “wows,” for example, could be effective in building and maintaining a good momentum with shares and likes, but don't think a random screenshot is going to have the same effect. It won't, and you'll lose money testing out your theory.

When it comes time to delve into original visual content creation, don't be tempted to take things in a new direction. You want your own content to look familiar but never plagiarized. This is why I always recommend putting some degree of branding on every piece of content you share. Certain brands are really good at this. So good, in fact, that it's hard to distinguish between their own content and the things they curate and re-brand.

Things as simple as placing your logo somewhere in or around the frame of every image and video can help you more easily transition between stock imagery and your own self-produced content. If you want a really good example of how this works, check out Great Clips' Facebook page. It curates as much content as it produces, but it's hard to tell the difference. Why? Because it brands everything really, really well.

Adding Elements to Your Visuals

Since Beez is a copywriting company, I'm going to steer comments here heavily toward spoken word, but I will offer a bit of advice regarding other auditory and other enhancements to your visual content.

First, don't choose enhancements that are flashier than your brand. Blinking banners, annoying sound effects, and an overall gonzo presentation of your content might have worked well in 1997, but today's audience, fortunately, expects a bit more. I use the word “consistency” quite a bit, and for good reason. You want to stimulate the viewer's senses, not assault them. Keep any auditory or visual enhancements reined in and, again, be sure that the way you present them is always consistent your overall brand image.

Now let's talk about spoken words. For starters, be sure your copywriter knows ahead of time that what he or she is writing is intended to be spoken. Framing the project as a video script or voiceover script is the best way to find the right content creator quickly. Also be prepared to provide the raw video that you will be using so your writer understands the tone and pacing required in the script.

Never think that you can just describe the video in words and get back a script that matches it. That approach never works out well. Give your writer all the tools he or she needs to deliver a powerful script on a first draft. If you haven't developed or settled on the video you want to use yet, it's not time to hire a writer yet, either.

Lastly, and most importantly, the goal of visual storytelling is to let the images tell most of the story. That means that if your video is two minutes long, you'll probably only need about 30 seconds of copy (150 words, maximum, and usually fewer).

Be sure your writer knows this from the start, so you don't wind up with lots of extraneous copy or with so much good copy you can't decide what to edit out. If your script is two minutes long and you include 90 seconds of spoken word, that's not visual storytelling, it's storytelling that uses visuals. Yes, there's a huge difference.

Final Takeaway

Visual storytelling is a great way to engage your audience when it's done right. If you are the type of person that has to provide lots of detail and explanation in your content, you might find it difficult to fit visual storytelling into that mold. It is, however, well worth the effort to learn how, since people retain far more of what they see than what they hear. They also retain more of what they hear when the words are delivered in small chunks coupled with great visuals.

If this is your first exposure to the concept of visual storytelling, I really hope you decide to give it a try. When you do, we're here to help.

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