Telling a story, and telling it well enough to have it pull in readers and make them remember it, is the Holy Grail for a writer/creative.
Also, telling a story that does the above, while adding real, discoverable value to a business, is the same for a marketer.
That’s called, creating an experience.
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.
Plus, the overwhelming majority of experienced marketers are all trying to do the same, more or less.
All of this creates a vacuum for marketing stories that wow the audience. Stories that make them go down a brand’s rabbit hole until they emerge as loyal followers.
Only a great brand story, that leverages visual storytelling techniques, can achieve this today.
Let’s get into it and see how marketers can do that.
How Visual Storytelling Aligns with Marketing
“People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.”
– Steven Spielberg
At the essence of it, marketing is just promoting products, services, and/or ideas by telling people about them in a positive light.
The content marketing strategy of today is saturated with backlink-chasing, high content volume, and a number of black-hat tactics. It’s increasingly rare to find a brand that knows how to tell a brilliant story through a mixture of written and high-quality visual content (like animated explainer videos).
On one hand, we have veteran agencies that CAN and DO tell great stories. However, even they, over time, have started to stick to a standard, and now there’s no standout performance from them.
Here’s the thing though—ANY agency could tell a crazy good story for ANY brand they come across.
Any agency could listen to a brand, and craft a tale that’s nothing short of an experience, out of it.
All they need is to know what makes for a great story, today. Also, how to tell it in a way that brings in the reader/customer/client, and converts, nay, makes a loyal follower out of them.
In short, brands need to derive actual marketing value from their story. And, it’s the marketers’ job to tell it for them.
How Do You Tell An Effective, Immersive Story?
In other words, how do you:
- Market a brand to make it stand out from the crowd, in a big way?
- Provides customers with an experience, not just a few snazzy words and pictures?
- Give customers something they can take with them?
In short, how do you create an experience that makes a positive impact on the audience’s lives?
Simple (well, maybe not so much!). By using tried and tested visual storytelling techniques to create amazing content.
- Takes the reader/viewer on a journey, while informing and enlightening them
- Turns the marketing effort into a valuable experience for the reader
- Explains the concept in a way similar to a visual narrative, making it super-interesting
- Becomes a genuine asset for the client
- Builds a community of happy customers around the brand’s message.
Now, marketing in 2020 is all about generating value. And, true value, in this day and age, comes from something that is unique. Today, it’s all about crafting something nobody else has, or putting a spin on an existing concept, and improving it tenfold.
That’s where the power of visual storytelling comes in.
What It Means to ‘Leverage Visual Storytelling’
If for you, as a brand, value is measured in dollars returned per investment, then you’re already going about it the wrong way.
Same goes for marketers.
If your measure of success is bringing attention to a client’s brand and making them some money, then you’ve only had some temporary success.
What you haven’t done, is making sure what you delivered, in terms of marketing value, stays with the audience long after they’ve given the brand their money.
As mentioned earlier, the best way to do that is to tell the brand’s story like traditional visual storytellers (filmmakers, screenwriters, etc.) do.
Here’s an example of what that means.
Everyone remembers the unique visual style of The Godfather, arguably one of the greatest movies of all time. The lighting, camera angles, dialogue delivery, the way scenes transition into each other! All the storytelling tools just came together to make one of the most awesome visual storytelling examples.
Fast forward 48 years and the movie still tops charts. More than that, it’s now a case study in excellent filmmaking.
Now imagine a marketing campaign that does everything The Godfather did, i.e. creates unique assets around the very idea of the brand.
For example, if one of the prime assets is an explainer video, imagine if it has:
- Custom illustrations that set the mood for what the brand is
- A set of characters that represent the brand
- A musical score that matches the energy of the brand
- Colors and transitions that glue users’ attention from one scene to the next
- A full narrative arc that explores the characters’ journey
- A conclusion that shows how the audience can experience the same success as the characters do.
We see tons of clever ads and explainer vids, but THAT is something we don’t see very often, if at all. And THAT, is pretty much what it takes to stand out in the run-of-the-mill world of marketing today.
Oh, and if you’re thinking that sounds like the typical filmmaking checklist—it’s because it is!
The best part about that checklist is that it could apply to pretty much any content type, not just explainer videos
Let’s break it down further, and see how each visual storytelling element applies to creating marketing value.
Custom Brand-Specific Illustrations
A picture is only worth a thousand words if it captures the subject really well, and makes the viewer go, “damn, that’s awesome!!” Or something to that effect.
However, the thing about pictures is, they’re a limited medium.
You only have so much control over what’s in the background, how the surroundings react to and interact with the subject, and how much you can say with all the items in the shot.
The same goes for video, by the way.
That’s why a lot of the ‘brand journey’ videos you see, involve someone walking around and telling about how their company “Started from the bottom and now they’re here…”
That gets really boring, really fast…
That’s where custom illustrations, infographics, and animated gifs come in.
With a medium like 2D design (and animation), for example, you have so much more control over what you can show.
Each frame of a custom 2D video can have exponentially more content, and so much more of the story in it, than a live-action video.
That means, with a custom illustrated content asset, you can:
- Deliver better content, in a package that appeals to a more diverse target audience
- Save time, money and manpower while creating content
- Have more room to brainstorm bigger, better ideas
- Create content that’s fully primed to the brand’s marketing needs
- Put out content that helps a brand stand out
- Add more value to your clients’ marketing efforts.
With custom illustrations adding to the visual appeal of the content, you can bring in a large and diverse audience. Plus, you can provide them a fun and immersive experience, something that stock images just cannot capture.
Brand Representative Characters
Time after time, we have seen either a company’s leaders, or the company itself, be the main character of its story.
You know, the CEO who built the company up from nothing, and who struggled in the early stages but that struggle made him smarter, and all that jazz…
That might have worked with enterprising young entrepreneurs from the 20th century.
But definitely not in 2020.
There are very few CEOs in the world, interesting enough to be the main cast in their brand story, and you’re likely not working with an Elon Musk or a Jack Ma.
The solution—interesting, larger-than-life and exciting fictional characters.
If we have learned anything from the insane success of the past decade’s superhero movies, it’s that people just love grand characters.
And it’s just plain fact that fiction sells better than true-life.
Now, you might think here that coming up with a bunch of fictional characters to tell the story of a brand is just counter-productive. You know, the audience being unable to relate to fictional characters.
But you see, that’s where the magic of good visual storytelling kicks in. Here’s a simple example.
How many people do you think can relate to a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist with an advanced flying suit of armor!? But, how many people actually related to his very human faults and imperfections? EVERYONE who saw the movies!!
By showing characters face problems, you can:
- Have your audience connect with them, and see themselves in the characters’ shoes
- Use the characters’ problem-solving techniques in the story, to show how the brand can help its audience in real life
- Entertain and intrigue the audience, and make them want to explore the brand further.
Also, with custom illustrations as a medium, the sky’s the limit to what kind of characters you can cook up.
This one’s a no-brainer, seeing as the sound is half the experience of any great story.
You’ll need sound that:
- Matches the brand’s overall outlook (upbeat, techy, laid-back, outdoorsy, etc.)
- Goes well with the development of the story arc
- Gets the entire video stuck in the audience’s heads!
Yes, this point is almost only useful for explainer videos, unless you have a piece of content with an embedded video. The latter case is even better because it lets you engage the audience with both written and video content.
Effective Colors and Transitions
It’s been scientifically proven that colors can influence moods and emotions, and have a distinct effect on the human brain. in fact, up to 90% of a consumer’s product assessment is based on color alone.
Your color palette (regardless of visual medium) decides what the audience will feel while interacting with your content. Keeping this in mind, there’re 3 ways you can go about using color.
- Unified color palette across content types: If the brand you’re marketing for has a color theme across their website, you can create content featuring those colors. This will make the audience associate that color with the brand. It’ll also make the story easier to digest, since the audience will already have a frame of reference to connect with, in terms of visuals.
- Vibrant, diverse colors: If your marketing strategy for a brand calls for grabbing the audience’s attention and mesmerizing them, use a more diverse palette. Don’t worry too much about the brand’s own color scheme. Your content will bring the audience, and the vibrancy of your colors will keep their eyes glued, on pure aesthetic quality alone.
- Color psychology for specific content: Using color psychology (warm tones to attract, cooler ones to mellow out, etc.) always gets an emotional response from the viewer. It’s hard-wired into our brains to respond to colors in a certain way. Work out what you want your audience to feel at specific points, and color your content accordingly. For example, use cool tones when going into the depth of a concept, green when providing a solution, and warm when giving a call to action.
The second part of the equation is a smooth transition from one scene to the other.
An effective transition prevents people from looking away from what you’re showing them. The longer your content, the more effective your transitions need to be.
Create unique transitions based on the length of your content.
Long-form content (articles, blog posts, videos, etc.) should never have drastic changes in color scheme and design, as you read/watch further into it. Always carry one element of a scene into the next, so that the viewer always carries something familiar into a new portion of the content.
The transitions will allow you to build a lot of context into the call to action when you finally deliver it at the end of the story.
Brand’s Story Arc
This is the clever part of the entire visual storytelling puzzle.
This is where you get to a) position the brand as the perfect solution for the audience’s common problem, and b) do so in an intriguing and immersive way.
Here’s what you can do:
Step 1: Choose one of the traditional story arcs (Hero’s Journey, Man in a Hole, Cinderella, etc.) or create your own. The Cinderella arc (hero’s rise, then temporary setback, then rise again) is always a good choice. This is because of how well it can apply to a brand’s journey of being founded, facing a problem, and then getting the solution.
Step 2: Create a plot that flows along the lines of your arc. Your content color scheme should reflect what your characters are going through at each stage. Also, needless to say, the plot should preferably be a fictionalized version of the brand’s actual journey.
Step 3: Figure out how to lead into the call-to-action. The brand you’re marketing offers a solution to a problem. So, you’ll need to show exactly how it does that, and expand a little on the specifics of the solution.
Step 4 (Optional): Make sequels of the story, in case the brand expands by offering more solutions, or one for all the different aspects of the one primary solution.
The best thing about those traditional story arcs is that you can keep repeating them.
Or, you can switch to a different arc once one episode of the story ends (if you’re making sequels).
For example, if the pilot story has the Cinderella plot (initial success, setback, success again), then the sequel can have a Man in a Hole arc (setback, success again). You can mix it up here, with your own creativity being the only limit!
Lead-In to the Audience’s Potential Success Story
This will be the conclusion of the story, which will basically serve as a soft sell.
Yes, there has to be a sales-y element to it, if you’re looking to generate any actual marketing value.
Build the story to a point where the main character experiences success and tells the audience about how the solution that worked for him, can work for anyone.
Remember: a soft sell is vital.
You don’t want to keep the audience hooked to your story, only to disappoint them with a hard sell at the end. This will literally create the opposite of marketing value.
Conclusion: Visual Storytelling Empowers Content Marketing
It’s no secret that filmmakers make for amazing marketers.
This is because it’s literally their job to sell stories convincingly, and leave audiences hungry for more content.
Interestingly, content marketing can learn a lot from filmmaking. The marketing approach of the latter is a lot more effective. And if marketers are to stand out from the crowd with a radical new approach, they need to make their brand stories more interesting.
Fortunately, the art of visual storytelling has a ton of room for creative output. If a marketer can truly harness it, they can, and WILL, deliver real marketing value every time.