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Visual storytelling: 7 tips to bring your brand to life

Visual storytelling is a universal mode of communication that has been in use since the beginning of time. And, through the ages of cave art to silent movies, it has shown itself to be one of the most effective ways of catching not only human attention, but also human hearts.

It’s no different in this day and age. From the humble blog article to the full blown Time Square billboard, visual elements tell the story as importantly as copy. No campaign is complete without striking visual elements, and more than likely, that’s what your potential customers will remember.

Here are my 7 tips to get you on your way:

  1. Slow the scroll
  2. Show, don’t tell
  3. Instruct
  4. Rely on context
  5. Focus on people
  6. Conflict is your friend
  7. Think like a designer

Slow the scroll

It takes the average person just 50 milliseconds to form an opinion about a webpage, and 2.6 seconds for their eyes to settle on the most impactful spot. That’s not a lot of time for your brand to make a good impression.

You need to capture people’s attention quickly, and slow their scroll down. Even the most avid readers skim webpages. And as people scroll words get blurred together, losing their impact. If there is no imagery to be found, it’s likely your readers will bounce from your page quickly.

Picture this: a web page advocating a new weight loss method that only includes text OR a similar ad that includes a striking before and after image. Which one are you more likely to stop and look at?

 

 

When time is money, getting users to take time out of their day to stop and look at what you have to offer is essential to driving revenue.

 

Show, don’t tell

Most people remember what they see far better than what they hear. According to some studies, there can be up to a 65% increase in retention if the information is obtained visually. And the best part: images require zero work for the user. Sifting through text is hard, but taking in imagery? That’s fun. And it goes without saying that we all want to make our users’ experiences as pain-free as possible.

We cling to images because they allow us to interpret the information for ourselves, rather than being told how to interpret it. Good images don’t require an explanation. Instead, they tell personal and applicable stories without using words.

Nike’s home page is a great example of this. Their first fold is an eye-catching video, and their second fold looks like this:

 

They tell the story of each sport with both text and images, but, as you can see, the text is a very small portion of the story. The majority of the page is taken up by action imagery showing users what playing each sport looks like. And, it looks cool. Can’t you see yourself gearing up for football or playing soccer with the best of them? Most importantly, you could find exactly what you needed from this page without any text at all. And that’s how it should be.

 

Instruct

You’ve probably put together an IKEA dresser without reading any of the written instructions (we won’t tell). If the visual queues are clear, and walk you through the process with baby steps, image-only instruction can actually be just as effective and a lot less stressful.

Think of the signs that we use in driving. A few have text, but the majority use color, shape, and image to portray their instructions. Similarly, it’s not uncommon to see images in the business world that give customers instruction using no text at all.

 

How much more enticing is this video on making cheesy potatoes rather than reading a blog post on how to do it? It’s approachable, entertaining, and makes it look easy. Visual instruction is on the rise.

 

While I wouldn’t recommend doing away with text entirely, I would encourage you to think about how using visuals more strategically could positively change your marketing efforts. Images have the power to instruct your users, which means you have the power to influence what actions they take next.

Take a look at this example from Upright Pose:

 

This image tells a story, and gives an obvious next step: you’ve been slouching a lot lately, you’re worried about your health, and the solution is to buy Upright Pose. Textual calls to action are important, but they’re also pretty obvious. Imagine the ability to influence a user’s next step without them even realizing they are responding to a call — well planned and properly placed images have that potential.

 

Rely on context

Pretend you’re watching a video ad. The camera follows a man getting ready for the day in an average-looking home. Suddenly, he notices a brown paper lunch bag on the kitchen counter. He snatches it up and rushes outside to hand it to a little boy waving goodbye on his way to the bus stop.

 

Did you need a narrator to tell you that the man is in his own home? That the little is boy his son? Of course not. You followed the context of the story just fine. In fact, having that information spoken would seem silly because it’s so unnecessary.

Take advantage of the human ability to read context. Don’t waste time spelling out information you could give your audience through your images. They’ll pick up the information faster, and with more ease, leaving them with a better idea of what you have to offer them, and more energy to move closer towards conversion.

Take a look at this ad from Nikon:

 

They didn’t need words to let you know that surrounded by mountains and wilderness, you might find a use for binoculars. Wouldn’t you still feel drawn to the binoculars and the adventure they promise without any words? That’s how the best images use context. They tell an entire story simply through what you see.

 

Focus on people

Humans are the center of our own universe. When we see images, we want to be able to place ourselves within them. We want to know how what you are offering will help us do better or feel better.

So, it’s smart to focus on people when you plan your visual strategy. Whether that means you actually show people in your marketing, or whether the implication is implied, the focus needs to be on the humans in the story, not the product.

Look at this visual from Outdoor Voices:

 

Yes, Outdoor Voices’ products are showcased, but the focus is not on the people. They tell the story of how the product is used, and how it makes human lives better. It is the people in the image that make the product notable, not the other way around.

 

Conflict is your friend

Like we’ve talked about already, the best images tell stories, and the basis of any good story is conflict. So don’t shy away! When you can use an image to show potential customers the conflict that your product or service will solve — and not just the conflict, but the solution itself — that is a golden image.

Take a look at this advertisement from Home Depot:

 

In the image, we see a common pain point that Home Depot’s business solves. The messy porch, the leaves on the cement, and the bucket that shares the solution: Home Depot can help you clean up this mess.

People understand conflict, and they crave solutions. Your images can bring out an emotional response from your potential customers that it would take pages of text to convey. Images can speak volumes, so let yours share your conflicts and solutions.

 

Think like a designer: it’s more than art

You probably have different colors and styles that you like or don’t like, ones that make you feel good and others that drive you crazy. But designing images for your brand goes beyond preference. Good design can make or break your website, your advertisements, and eventually hurt your revenue numbers.

The solution: it’s time to start thinking less like an artist and more like a designer. Artists make things that are beautiful, while designers have a purpose behind their products. Every color or pattern is there for a specific reason. Visually pleasing arrangements (put in place for a specific purpose) are more likely to put your potential customers at ease, assure them of your professionalism, and sell.

Take a look at these two cartons of chocolate milk:

 

One is a generic brand, the other is a Fairlife. Fairlife understands that even if they want customers to believe their product is top-notch, their product’s design had better convey that message. The generic brand doesn’t look the part of an elegant, high-end chocolate milk. But it’s not trying to be something it’s not — it’s a generic brand for a reason. So while it may not look “pretty,” its design is accomplishing its purpose — run of the mill chocolate milk that is 20-40% cheaper than a brand like Fairlife.

Here is another example, this time with websites:

 

These are both homepages of interior design companies. While I’m sure they both do great work in reality, Amber Interior’s website design is intentionally showing users the quality of work they are able to do.

As you can see, the visual design of a website or brand truly has the potential to make or break your opinion of them.

 

So Remember...

It only takes a minute to look at your web page's (longer for your entire brand) visuals with these tips in mind. Evaluate where your brand is succeeding, and where there might be room to improve. Then put a plan in place to optimize your visuals and bring your brand’s game to the next level — increasing your revenue and sales. Remember: a picture is worth a thousand words, so make sure your pictures are saying the right words.

 

CRO redesign whitepaper 2

Maggie Call

Maggie is a Senior Designer at 97th Floor, developing content for print and web by creating infographics, websites, and interactives.

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