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visual storytelling for brand marketingVisual storytelling is one of the most important trends for 2016. Brands that embrace visual storytelling will attract and engage their audiences better.  

Consider these statistics. Visual content is more than 40 times more likely to be shared on social media than other types of content, according to Buffer. Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images, according to Kissmetrics. Shoppers who view video are 1.81 times more likely to purchase than non-viewers, reports Invodo.

The old saying “A picture tells a thousand words” can be changed to “A picture sells a thousand products.”

Visuals include photos, graphics, memes or videos. The most effective visuals tell a story. Not all images tell a story and not all succeed in delivering your brand’s message.

New Rules for Visual Content Marketing

The rules of visual content marketing have changed in just the last couple of years due to the spread of smartphone and visual-based social media networks, writes Paul Bingham, COO of Shuttlerock in a post for Jeff Bullas. Those new networks, such as Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat, are popular largely because of their emphasis on visual content. Recognizing the importance of visual content, Facebook has also made video a priority.

Consumers’ expectations have also changed, Bingham says. They are increasingly reluctant to click through to an image or link to view a brand’s content. They make split-second decisions based on what they first see.

Experts urge marketers to follow these recommendations to create effective visuals.

Show. Don’t tell. The best visuals tell the story with few or no words. Think of the silent movies of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Even today, first-class movies develop their plots with few words. Talking is boring, and talking about yourself is even more boring, asserts visual storytelling expert Ernesto Olivares. Instead, show customers using your products and enjoying their benefits.

Play with context. Context is what everybody assumes, based on what you show or hint at. Try playing with your audience’s assumptions by defying their expectations, Olivares suggests. For instance, characters are not what they seemed to be. Suspense thrillers play with context by using plot twists.

Show conflict. Conflict is necessary to create a plot, however brief, and spark audience interest. Good stories show someone who wants or needs something and must fight to get it. Importantly, that protagonist facing conflict is someone the audience can relate to.

Be recent. Social media posts from last week are extremely difficult to find unless you are seeking something specific. Content much older than that is almost obsolete. To keep content relevant, Bingham advises time stamping your content or featuring current, topical events. Honda Motor Bikes keeps social media relevant with a social hub on its website that shows recent user-generated content.

Remember your goal. Content marketers sometimes become infatuated with creating images and forget what action they want viewers to take, says Donna Moritz, visual content specialist and founder of the Socially Sorted blog. “Marketers need to think of their visual content as a doorway to great information. It’s not about just catching the attention of fans with visuals but having them take action on your content,” she tells the Content Marketing Institute.

Understand your target audience. Develop images with your audience’s perspectives in mind and tailor the images to work on each social media network, Moritz adds. It’s essential to understand what type of content works best on different platform. “Take off your marketer hat and step into the shoes of your fans. Then you will see that the styling and message of your visual content must vary from platform to platform,” she advises.

Bottom Line: Visual storytelling will rise to marketing prominence this year. With the proliferation of videos on social media networks, visual storytelling has become key to accessing consumers. Visual stories must be well done in order to attract consumers’ interest. Following these guidelines will help keep your audience engaged.