Your audiences are inundated with content. How do you compete for attention when you have so much competition? Without a doubt, visual storytelling is the best way to cut through the noise and engage your audience.
That’s why we asked 23 experts from top brands, including The Coca-Cola Company, Red Bull Media House, Buzzfeed and Entrepreneur Magazine, to share their #1 visual storytelling tip. Now, we’ve put together the ultimate list of tips for content creators, from content creators.
No need to take in all these amazing tips at once – feel free to jump around. We’ve broken it up into five sections:
What’s missing? Tweet your #1 visual storytelling tip @psforbrands!
Let’s start with the basics. No matter what format you choose, stories are the best way to engage your audience. Without a good story, people will scroll right past your content. These tips will help you catch and hold your audience’s attention.
Make it personal. Leverage a true personal story that makes the topic real and authentic to your personal journey. This will draw listeners in and make you more approachable and relatable.
Erin Herbert | Baltimore Ravens | @Ravens
Plan ahead. Choose rich, impactful imagery and let the visuals guide how the story will be told.
Alex el-Effendi | Bumble | @bumble_app
Think beyond what interests you from your internal seat within a company. Think like a customer who has minimal interaction with your brand. Find a story that is compelling to the consumer.
Ellen Lupton | Cooper Hewitt | @EllenLupton
Every story needs action. So make sure that what ever design you create represents action or invites action from a user—or even better, both!
Don’t be afraid to put your personality into the story! Your excitement and passion will help draw the viewer in and set your work apart.
Andrew Fingerman | PhotoShelter | @awfingerman
The speed of storytelling is changing. Your audience has an insatiable demand for visual content. Nothing beats the immediacy of content that can be put into the audience’s hands in real time.
79% of marketers say video’s role is on the rise – and it’s no wonder. Research shows people are highly likely to watch a video, recall it afterward and share it with their friends. 90% of people say product videos are helpful in their decision process. These tips will help you improve your video marketing.
Khalil Garriott | Red Bull Media House | @khalilgarriott
Avoid “boiler-plate” thumbnails that don’t differentiate your property from all the others out there. Put yourself in the user’s shoes: What would draw YOU in to the piece of content? Be edgy. Take risks. Capitalize on big moments in real time.
It’s okay to linger on a “talking head” in your video as long as it’s engaging and interesting. Try shooting interviews handheld. Every interview looks the exact same today so be more intimate with your subject. Sit next to them. Hold the camera yourself. Connect with them. Capture their quirks (hand gestures, etc). Give your audience the sense of what this person is like and that they’re sitting right there with them. It will make their words more believable. A person’s face or body language can tell a story too.
Phil Nottingham | Wistia | @philnottingham
Aim for an integrated aesthetic. By this, I mean that the visual style should match the literary style of the story. If it’s a dramatic and symbolic story, allow the visuals to adopt this too.
93% of senior marketers say photography is either important or critical to their overall marketing strategies. The right photography can help your brand stand out, especially on crowded newsfeeds. These tips will help you create stunning photography.
Gabriel H. Sanchez | Buzzfeed | @guynamedgabe
Have empathy — in my opinion this is truly the most important element of visual storytelling. Working in photography can place you face to face with the worst and best parts of humanity. Without understanding that these are real people on the other side of the lens — people with hopes and dreams, family and friends — then it’s impossible to produce meaningful stories that can actually enact change in this world.
Michel Leroy | Michel Leroy Photographer | @michelleroy
To tell a compelling story you have to consider how it looks from every angle. A little girl picking an apple from a tree can be seen from the onlooking parents, through the eyes of the child or from the apple’s vantage point about to be plucked from the tree. I try and find the image that will surprise the viewer.
Bryan Derballa | BryanDerballa.com | @lovebryan
Look for metaphors. We learned all about them in high school English class. And they work visually just as good as they do in writing. Sometimes we don’t see them until the edit, but keep them in mind. Sometimes photos can be too literal and lose the artfulness. But with a good visual metaphor you can speak volumes. One of my favorites is a photo by James Nachtwey of family at a funeral and the woman in the center is holding a white rose, which is casting a shadow over her heart. It’s beautiful and reinforces the content of the image.
Never post or include a photo just for it’s content. Make sure every photo can stand alone as a great photo not just as a piece of the story.
Jerm Cohen | JermCohen.com | @jerm_cohen
Less is more.
How do you make text and imagery work together seamlessly? These tips will help you create thumb-stopping graphics.
Jimmy Daly | JimmyDaly.com | @jimmy_daly
If you can’t draw an idea, you don’t really understand it. I try to include visualizations that I create in Sketch to support any post I write. This helps me put a fine point on the idea and makes it way easier for the reader to comprehend. (Example)
Nadya Khoja | Venngage Poster Maker | @nadyakhoja
A lot of people who use visuals, where it’s for social media, to make a poster for an event, or an infographic for a blog post always tend to use more text than is required. But when it comes to visual storytelling, less is often more in terms of word count. I’d recommend sticking to using images or illustrations that have a metaphorical or symbolic meaning to add deeper context to the message you are trying to get across. By using these symbolic images, you will actually help your readers or your audience draw better connections to the themes you are sharing.
Take the opportunity of preparing speaker presentations to prepare graphics for your content. Big, bold, on-brand images for your slidedecks work well on stage, but they also work well (with a few minor tweaks) to break up long-form content. And since you’ve already got the graphics and the story, it’s a really quick, “cheap” way to insert relevant graphics into your posts. Like this example here involves slight tweaks to slides from a recent presentation. It let us go from finish written post to finish post with images in minutes.
Allison Fisher | Globe at MICA | @globeatmica
Make it Bold, Make it Bright! Globe Posters uses bursts of fluorescent color and black gothic type to shout the peoples entertainment from city street to country cross roads. Now known as the Globe Collection and Press at MICA we carry on this tradition making new work in the Globe style. If you can’t read the who, when and where in three seconds or less it is not a successful poster.
Once you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to hone your craft. These tips will help you pay attention to the details and make your content more effective.
Don’t overly complicate your visuals. Sometimes people fall so deeply in love with their visual concept, they forget that the point of it is to communicate information in an efficient way. You want the visuals to compliment the information—to make it all more organized and easier to understand. If your visual presentation isn’t doing that, it’s time to pull back and reconsider.
Nancy Harhut | HBT Marketing | @nharhut
Show faces. Human beings are hardwired to look at other people’s faces, especially their eyes. So show faces looking at your reader/viewer to attract attention, and use eye gaze to direct your audience to look where you want them to.
Sonja Likness Foust | Duke University | @SonjaFoust
“Right-size” your content for the platform you’re using. That means, of course, changing image sizes, but also thinking about what kinds of content works well on different platforms, and what features you can use on those platforms (like swipe links on Instagram Stories or location filters on Snapchat).
Jason Keath | Social Fresh | @jasonkeath
Simplify and focus on contrast. More often than not, too many social media and content marketing pros are trying to fit busy images with tons of text. Focus on getting the audience’s attention first. Make sure the content has one center of visual impact, or CVI. This simplicity focus creates images that are more bold. And therefore are more likely to draw the eye. Also consider how your image or video can stand out in the space it is being shared. What colors and fonts are most common where your audience will see the image? What would the opposite look like?
Donna Moritz | Socially Sorted | @sociallysorted
Visual Storytelling on Instagram has become huge for small business, and Instagram Stories are a great way for your content to stand out on the newsfeed. Instagram stories appear high on the newsfeed and catch attention. They are a great way to engage with your followers – letting them go behind the scenes to see the people behind your business. There are dozens of ways to use Instagram Stories. You can give some tips, share a product launch, interview a team member, do a story takeover with another business or influencer, share fan photos, showcase an event, announce news or tease new content on your blog. You can also leverage many tools that are within Instagram Stories for more engaging and discoverable content – stickers, text, polls, location stickers and hashtags. You can also take your Instagram Stories to the next level with branded templates like these from Easil.
Cover photo by Chris Owyoung.