Visual storytellers overcome the monster. Rags to riches. Quests. Voyage and return. Rebirth. Comedy. Tragedy. These are the seven basic plots of stories. These plots are not just in novels or movies, they are in every part of our lives, including marketing campaigns.
Visual storytelling began with visuals like cave drawing and rock art. Then came word-of-mouth storytelling with gestures and expressions. Stories were passed down from generation to generation and helped build cultures. Bards used storytelling to explain natural phenomena and creation itself. Storytellers were regarded as healers, leaders, teachers and cultural secret keepers.
Brands tell us stories too. Maybe they don’t have healing powers, but for digital audiences, they provide insight and snackable content to consume throughout the day. Storytellers receive social support from others, according to a study in Nature Communications. Isn’t that the whole point of today’s social media platforms? Companies push out content and receive engagement through follows, likes or reposts. They are building their community support through the stories they tell on Facebook, Instagram, etc.
To entice consumers, companies must first build their brand through content, establishing themselves as thought leaders and visual storytellers. Visual Storytelling is especially prominent online with videos, photos, GIFs or emojis littered throughout blogs, emails and other content marketing pieces. According to academic research, the human brain processes images 60,000 faster than text, and people remember pictures better than text. As brands attempt to snatch the wandering eye of the digital audience, content needs to be memorable.
We think of Google as our portal to knowledge, but it’s really a B2B service. Like most others, Google has established themselves as prominent visual storytellers which is evident based on their content. You can watch a less than two-minute video story about Google AdWords on how a local deli went from a small business to a national mail-order business, demonstrating how Google is the hero growing the business.
The first 10 seconds of the video pull at viewer’s emotions with the line, “People want to be part of something that’s greater than themselves. Certainly, we’re more than a business that just sells sandwiches.”
Now that resonates. None of us want to be just a sandwich seller. We want to be part of something meaningful. And Google can get you there ─ at least that’s what the content wants you to believe. Through the deli’s story, Google isn’t explicitly telling businesses “hey, buy ads.” It’s showing them how it can benefit their lives.
When people hear information, they’ll likely only remember 10 percent of it three days later, but people are likely to retain 65 percent of that same information when paired with a relevant image, according to Brain Rules.
Businesses will remember the Google AdWords story when they are looking for an advertising or marketing solution better than if Google had just written a post. The video will stick in their minds.
MailChimp – visual storytellers series
MailChimp used visual storytelling to build its humorous brand with its “Did You Mean MailChimp?” campaign. After a 2014 MailChimp advertisement featured a young girl mispronouncing the MailChimp name went viral, MailChimp ran with it creating an entire campaign surrounding nine aliases from “MailShrimp” to “FailChips.” Each alias came with videos and graphics promoting a fake company, each targeted to audience segments. MailChimp’s Video Case Study
MailChimp introduced a campaign on Instagram with GIFs telling snippets of each of their alias. Among others, there’s a dancing dog made of kale, a bag of chips with arms swinging and of course, a chimp bouncing. The GIF entices social media users. Further, they can look for each alias within the graphic, or it makes them wonder what it’s all about. It also adds to MailChimp’s amusing brand.
Three aliases, MailShrimp, KaleLimp and JailBlimp, were three short films about a singing shrimp in a mailroom, dogs made out of kale and a blimp-shaped piñata full of convicts, respectively. Each tells a weird and goofy story but makes you curious about MailChimp and builds its brand. They show their humor and youth in snackable one-minute videos. Each is long enough to watch at work or stop you from scrolling by quickly. MailChimp’s strategy had clearly defined them as effective comedic visual storytellers.
REI – visual storytellers series
REI’s Opt Outside campaign is perhaps the most known example of visual storytelling. REI closed its doors on Black Friday, encouraging its customers to share their stories of “opting outside” on social media with the #optoutside hashtag. It then aggregated the user-generated content on its website, sorted by categorical hashtags used by social media users in addition to #optoutside such as #vibes and #roadtrip.
This campaign connects REI to its customers through user-generated content. According to a Harvard Business Review study, our brains release oxytocin when processing stories, a hormone linked to empathy and bonding. REI bonded with its customers, closing their doors on the biggest shopping day of the year, but guaranteeing a long-lasting relationship with its target audience. The proof is in the numbers with a 23% uptick in digital sales year over year.
On the internet, people lose social cues that supplement storytelling such as facial expressions, gestures, and tone. Brands use visual storytelling as a proxy for emotion. With 18 billion Facebook video views a day, users enjoy the visual content. Visual storytellers show customers what they can do for them, not tell them. Online users can quickly glance at something visually impactful and compelling and take in all the information they need.
Stories are much more than telling stories in marketing. It’s an essential technique that has a significant place in a brands content marketing strategy. Storytelling’s intense focus on what people want to hear and share shifts us from standard content creation and messaging processes to an empathetic customer-centric focus where outputs are designed to make a lasting difference with the brand’s target audience.