October 24, 2017

How to Elevate Your Brand with the Art of Visual Storytelling

the power of visual storytelling
A picture is worth a thousand words. What’s his story? -Photo courtesy Janko Ferlič.

You are what you see. Humans are visual creatures. As much as we hold up the invention of language as the main thing separating us from wild animals, our brains are better suited to process and recall visual stimuli than most other sensory input.

This is the reason advertising exists in the first place – brands discovered they could establish a connection with audiences with dazzling, evocative imagery. Once this idea took hold, it was inescapable. Think Times Square, with every available inch of space covered in bright, eye-catching billboards and signs.

visual narrative
Photo by Zack Marshall

Of course, after a century of advertising permeating their every waking moment, people have become pretty good at tuning it out. With so many ads out there competing for our attention, it creates a sort of white noise; how can one brand hope to stand out from the cacophony and have their voice heard? The answer has been in front of our eyes the whole time – visual storytelling.

What is Visual Storytelling?

Even if you weren’t alive at the time, you’ve probably heard of (or seen) Apple’s iconic 1984 Super Bowl advertisement.

It may seem cliche now, but at the time it was a groundbreaking achievement in visual advertising. Of course, Apple would eventually become known for their iconic advertisements, but why is this one in particular so resonant? Because it’s not just a normal ad for a new line of home computers – it tells us a story.

“Visual Storytelling is a marketing strategy that communicates powerful ideas through a compelling story arc, with your customer at the heart of the story, and delivered through interactive and immersive visual media – in order to create profitable customer engagements.” That’s from Shlomi Ron, co-founder of the Visual Storytelling Institute. The power of visual storytelling is that it can be applied to any visual media: photography, illustration, video, etc.

There are a few distinguishing characteristics of a visual narrative:

– A story (this obviously cannot be understated) that is both persuasive and has a distinct point of view to get across
– High-quality imagery, either still or moving, that seeks to evoke an emotional response
– Subject matter with important environmental, social, or spiritual value
– Some sort of appeal to the viewer to change their traditionally held beliefs or behaviors

Compelling visual narratives strive to do three things: showcase a brand’s authenticity and personality, emphasize real life, and convey a message from a humanistic perspective. These narratives can be funny, sad, anger-inducing, or visually arresting – above all, they must seek an emotional response in order to stand out in an oversaturated advertising landscape.

With visual storytelling, you know it when you see it. And when it’s done well, it can have an almost transformative effect on your brand.

visual storytelling
Storm clouds over Kansas, by Scenic Road.


Why is Visual Storytelling Necessary?

Pinterest. Instagram. Snapchat. All of these social media sites are completely based on eye-catching visuals. And if you’re an avid user of one or more of them, you’ve no doubt noticed that brands are beginning to take advantage of the unique storytelling opportunities these platforms provide. According to a report by Cisco, 70 percent of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video-based by 2020.

With how fast the internet moves, there’s no way of predicting which app will explode in popularity next. But savvy brands can get a head start by pivoting their marketing strategies so they’ll be ready to strike while the keyboard is hot.

Need more proof? Here are some striking stats to consider:

– 100 million people worldwide watch at least 1 online video per day
– Website visitors are 64% more likely to make a purchase after watching a video
– 80% of viewers recall watching a video ad up to 30 days after seeing it
– 92% of those watching video on mobile devices will share that content with others

Here are more statistics on video marketing in this infographic:

[pdf-embedder url=”http://www.scenicroad.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/170516_BLOG_INFOGRAPHICS_v6-1-1.pdf” title=”Video Marketing Statistics”]


How Your Brand Can Benefit from the Art of Visual Storytelling

LinkedIn claims that 4.6 billion pieces of online content are produced every single day. With that staggering amount of white noise out there, how can you make sure your brand’s message doesn’t fade into the background? It’s simple: Use the principles of visual storytelling to connect with your audience.

Let your visuals do the talking. Instead of simply listing the features of your product or brand, show them in action, preferably in a real-life setting. This way, viewers will have some idea how it might benefit their own lives.

Provide context. Where does your product or brand fit in an average person’s daily life? By providing context, you’re setting your audience’s expectations, but on your own terms.

Play with perceptions. This doesn’t mean you can’t be serious, but you should always be mindful of how your brand, product, or industry is perceived. Do people think banks only care about money? Turn that perception on its ear by highlighting exquisite customer service or corporate social responsibility.

Go behind the scenes. Nothing excites people more than feeling like they’re getting the VIP treatment, so take the audience behind the curtain and show them something most people don’t get to see. Show how your product is made, and highlight the people who work hard to make it.

Be human. Putting a human face on your brand makes it that much easier for your audience to connect with your message. As humans, our capacity for empathy is a strong motivator, so by using real people instead of actors you’re encouraging the viewer to put themselves in their shoes, which will leave a lasting impression.

3 Top Brands That Use Effective Visual Storytelling Techniques


Perhaps no brand on the planet is as good as Airbnb at provoking a feeling of wanderlust in their users. A quick visit to their website showcases bright, attractive photos of beautiful vistas, delicious cuisine, and one-of-a-kind experiences that could be yours for the right price. Their marketing is fantastic at communicating their brand goal: Opening up the world for their users to explore.

This simple video ad tells an emotionally resonant story of a daughter using Airbnb to help her father move on from a traumatic past by traveling back to his hometown of Berlin.

Their tagline “Belong Anywhere” speaks directly to the viewer, telling them the world isn’t full of strangers, just friends you haven’t met yet.


While this organization can be polarizing for some – try asking a Crossfitter why they do it and see how long you last – but it’s hard to argue with the results. Crossfit knows fitness is a powerful motivator, so they packed their website full of powerful imagery that connotes physical transformation and well-being. What some might jokingly call a cult, Crossfit calls a community, complete with their own lingo and recognizable brand image.

In this video of the 2017 Crossfit games, no words are spoken, but the images are chock full of emotion – triumph, tragedy, hope.


By focusing on shots not just of the competitors, but the people behind the scenes, Crossfit showcases that sense of community they embrace above all else.

Rose Brooks Center

Rose Brooks may not be as well known as the first two brands listed, but that’s a matter of necessity. As a domestic violence shelter in Kansas City, they provide a thankless service to a specific group of people that, all too often, face matters of life and death daily.

This viral video by Scenic Road is meant to promote the unique pet shelter at Rose Brooks, but it does more than that. It showcases a touching human story that could have ended in tragedy, but thankfully has a happy ending. The problem was, how will viewers connect with a woman who, for matters of protection, must be kept in shadow? The answer was simple: get out of the way and let her tell her story. A sketch artist does the rest.


Tell Your Brand’s Story with Visual Storytelling

In a culture so saturated with images and videos, if your brand isn’t utilizing visual storytelling to promote your message, you run the risk of being drowned out by the millions of other voices out there competing for attention.

Technology has taken us to the point where a creative 12-year-old and the digital marketing director of a Fortune 500 company have access to the same tools to communicate with audiences all over the globe. In this new digital landscape, only those who know how to tell the most compelling stories in the most visual way will survive. Will your brand rise to the challenge or be left behind?

At Scenic Road, we know the most effective way to capture an audience is by helping real people share their stories. It’s this authenticity that connects with viewers, and ultimately our clients. Strong story and beautiful cinematography are a winning combination. To see what we mean, check out our work – and for more industry insights like this, don’t forget to subscribe to our email list.


If you’ve seen or created a compelling visual storytelling campaign, please email me and I might feature it in an upcoming blog.