“Visual storytelling is not just about the pretty pictures. There are a lot of ways to tell a story visually or subtly without leaning on the most amazing artwork.” – Dayana Cadet
In this #ContentChat recap, Erika joins Dayana Cadet, content marketing consultant and clarity coach, to discuss how to use visual storytelling to take your readers on a journey and enhance their experience (without needing advanced graphic design skills or expensive tools).
Watch the full conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below:
Q1: What is visual storytelling from a marketing perspective?
Dayana shares a concise explanation of visual storytelling below:
“Visual storytelling is telling the story from all angles and using as many tools as you have as a marketer to share or show a perspective, or lead your audience on a journey.” – Dayana Cadet
She expands on it here:
“[Visual storytelling] is telling a story from a dynamic perspective… it allows people to look at [your story] from several different angles, as opposed to a wall of text that they interpret as they will. And the way we interpret information comes down to so many things: our upbringing, our learning, societal, cultural, all that stuff. With visual storytelling, you give—intentionally or not—cues into how you’d like the story to be digested. If I’m going to use another anology: If storytelling is food, visual storytelling is everything from the plating, the fragrance, and the backstory.” – Dayana Cadet
Erika likens fashion to visual storytelling:
“For most of us, the way that we dress and curating our closet was our very first personal branding. Maybe we’re going to wear band t-shirts, or maybe we’re gonna wear thrifted clothes that we upcycle. All of those little choices that we made about our appearance, for most of us, was our first start into putting forth that kind of personal brand. And that is the approachable way to start thinking about this. When you’re a writer person, it can seem really scare to be thinking about visual storytelling and adding visual elements into your writing when you’ve grown up thinking you’re not a creative person in that way. In reality, that’s balogna and we all can be much better visual storytellers.” – Erika Heald
Q2: How is visual storytelling helpful for creating more engaging content marketing outputs?
Visual storytelling adds nuance to your content and provides readers with road signs to guide them through their journey:
“[Through visual storytelling] you’re adding nuance to your content. [It can be] adding a visual element that is going to have an impact, loud colors or a [bold] visual concept or anything like that. As marketers, we’re not telling stories to tell a story. The end goal is to have our audience go through a journey—the buyer’s journey—so adding a visual storytelling element to your content drives that point home and can often act like the road signs throughout their journey. They’re driving along, they don’t know where to go, there’s a fork in the road. There are two signs, and those are the CTAs, those are the different avenues for content and resources that we are compiling to make available to these consumers at any point of their journey. And so again, visual doesn’t necessarily have to just be the images you use, but how you use them, where you use them, what they’re meant to be for.” – Dayana Cadet
Ask how you can expand on a concept and push the envelope further to create truly fun and engaging content:
“Even in thoughts and ideas and concepts that are arleady otuside of the box, how can you push it further. So you’re doing a quiz. How can you make it even more exciting? How can you make it even more interactive and animated and push that envelope because I think we’re in an era where that’s really what customers want to see. And that’s what I want to see.” – Dayana Cadet
Q3: What are some of your favorite examples of effective visual storytelling in content marketing, either from brands or individuals?
At 13:47 Erika and Dayana discuss two different ways that the NeoLuxe Marketing team approached visual storytelling: the What Kind of Marketer Am I? (marketing Zodiac quiz) and How Burned Out Are You? quizzes and content series.
“Every touchpoint that we realized we would need content for, it was fun to be like ‘how can we get silly with this?’ We approached it like it was a bit and we’re going to lean into it so hard. We are the Oracle for the next six months. In the end we learned so much and people really resonated with it, which is what we’d hoped. The incoming information that we got and the feedback that we got was so good and so juicy that we were able to build that off into another campaign. I really see the Zodiac campaign as being ‘hey, we see you, we feel you, you’re not alone in this. Let’s work together on creating guidelines for the type of industry we want to work with and we want to see in the future.’ Then that brought up a very important conversation about burnout, and that campaign was all about ‘what tools and resources can we share to help and all become collectively less tired and advocate for better conditions.” – Dayana Cadet
“What I liked for the burnout campaign is the visuals became a badge that you could share on LinkedIn. How dark was your toast? Were you crispy burnt, or were you lightly toasted? You could share that on LinkedIn and start a conversation with your colleagues and with your peers around where you’re at and where they’re at. That way you have a fun visual that could maybe give you a giggle, but also become a nice way to broach a topic that we all really needed to talk about.” – Erika Heald
The Barbie movie’s marketing campaign (including its Airbnb partnership) is a great example of how you can reach into new areas in a fun and engaging way.
“Barbie has partnered with so many different brands. And it’s not that it’s toy brands, because it’s not toy brands. It’s all sorts of interesting brands, including Airbnb. The Airbnb content marketing that they’ve been doing is amazing and so smart and so unexpected. It’s just all about thinking what could you do that would be unexpected, and really show that you get your community. Barbie understands that the community are the little girls playing with them today, and also the little girls who grew up playing with their Barbies.” – Erika Heald
Q4: What framework can content marketers apply to create story-driven visual content?
Start with a research phase and use mood boards to get your ideas started. As you research examples of other brands using visual storytelling, think about how you can do a similar thing for your company or client in an authentic way.
“Step outside your comfort zone and look at other industries. Look at what other people are doing—even if you think it’s way out of your industry or the type of work you do. You never know who’s going to have an awesome, off-the-wall idea. Being on social media, constantly following different media publications and different companies.” – Dayana Cadet
Stay focused on your goal, but don’t limit yourself when brainstorming.
“What do we want to do? What is the outcome? What is the goal? That’s also important and make sure that everything tying back to that. But also, [do not be] afraid to ask more audacious questions like how can we transport the audience here, how can we immerse them in this experience?” – Dayana Cadet
After you identify your big ideas, you can start thinking through logistics.
“That starts bringing up technical questions like where is our site hosted? Can we do this on WordPress? Do we have to get someone, do we have to get an app, what do we have to do? Once we have the logistics and [know] we can do this, let’s jump to the fun stuff.” – Dayana Cadet
To briefly recap one process you can follow:
- Get all the ideas out there. Mind mapping tools like Google’s Jamboard are helpful for this step.
- Ask all the questions about bringing your idea to life, including the questions people don’t want to think of.
- Go on Canva or a similar design tool to look up templates and start piecing everything together.
- Give yourself permission to focus on just one element at a time.
Q5: How can marketers uncover stories within their organization or from their personal experience that will strengthen their content?
Working on a small team helps because you can involve everyone in your planning conversations and brainstorms. It can be more challenging in larger organizations to uncover and save stories, as Dayana explains:
“Most companies don’t invest in the tool or the platform or the time [that is needed]. I’ve struggled in several different organizations just to have a repository for customer feedback and client testimonials to get those ideas going. It’s kind of like asking everyone at all times to have an idea book, but then we also need to be aware that everyone has an idea book and set the boundary of this is how this is going to happen. There’s never been the right amount of people or processes to make that work.” – Dayana Cadet
Erika shares three ways to tackle this challenge:
- Include an “ideas” tab in your editorial calendar. Invite people to add their ideas and regularly check those ideas.
- Host editorial meetings with representatives from across the entire organization, including at least one person from each customer-facing unit (marketing, sales, customer success, etc.).
- Use Kapost or a similar tool that includes a suggestion tool for any type of content need.
Q6: When can visual storytelling go wrong, and how can marketers avoid these pitfalls?
Hiring a diverse team and engaging a diverse network when creating your content can help you catch potential issues in your visual storytelling strategy.
“The best way is to have a diverse team. If I’m on a team, I will point stuff out. No ma’am, nothing is getting past me and embarassing me.” – Dayana Cadet
Dayana discusses the importance of knowing your history and where influence comes from:
“Know your history and be mindful of where influence comes from. In recent years there [has been] a lot of conversation around digital Blackface and what is Gen Z speak and what is AAVE. Most of the slang that you and I are aware of originates from Black queer folks. You have to take that into consideraton with your ad copy, for example, and even if you’re doing cheeky things like using gifs in your emails. When you aren’t necessarily Black yourself but all your reaction gifs and memes are of a Black woman, it adds to the ‘sassy Black lady’ stereotype. Get educated and don’t do anything too fast without showing it to people who don’t look and act exactly like you. Don’t assume it’s all fine and dandy because it’s topical and trendy, because it could come out and just be poor taste.” – Dayana Cadet
Be careful about the rights associated with the assets you use. In Canva, for example, you should use the information box to understand where an image came from. And when you’re using AI, always check the output.
“BuzzFeed recently did a Barbies from around the world article, but they used AI of the images. Well, many of the images were culturally insensitive, just wrong, just factually incorrect. It was ridiculous. Did no one look at anything before they hit submit?” – Dayana Cadet
When using visual storytelling on your company website, ensure you use authentic and original images.
“I’m going to share my favorite fail, and that is when you go to somebody’s recruitment page, their about us, their career page… and they’re using stock photography—on a page that’s trying to convince you to come and work at their amazing company. That tells me that your company is not amazing and that you don’t have a great culture, because if any of those things were true, you would actually be able to put up your Instagram photo feed and you’d be able to have people who work for you and love working for you create video content. If you’re putting stock photography on the ‘why come work for us’ page, it means that you don’t have a unique wonderful culture.” – Erika Heald
Pay attention to the details.
“Be cognitive of the details. When I said visual storytelling isn’t always necessarily images, I mean even how you format and structure your pages, the font you choose, that’s saying something. I’ve come across companies wehre visually it just didn’t click. And it’s something as simple as [having] stock images in the work for us page and terrible copy.” – Dayana Cadet