At any given time a major media company is rethinking the way it uses images to connect with consumers. So far this year The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, The Atlantic, and NASA all launched redesigns that make images and video more prominent and engaging across platforms.
VICE Media just won 10 Webby Awards for its highly visual work, which includes a documentary series on news and politics and a series of sponsored online prequels to the film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, created by VICE-owned Motherboard for 20th Century Fox.
The New York Times has begun to explore virtual reality as a tool to make its original content more engaging to viewers, even while it recruits professional filmmakers to direct branded videos for its advertisers. It’s a one-two visual storytelling punch that serves the needs of consumers and marketers alike.
Brands of all kinds are embracing visual storytelling, and their efforts are changing the face of the Web. New data from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) puts the digital video market at more than $3.3 billion. Display advertising, meanwhile, continues to grow, representing $13.5 billion in spending last year, an increase of 5 percent over 2013.
The IAB’s “Digital Content NewFronts: Digital Video Spend Study” also found that 68 percent of marketers and agency executives expect to grow their digital video ad budgets over the next 12 months. “Most advertisers agree that original digital video programming will become as important as TV within 5 years,” the organization said.
Bullish spending predictions aside, how is a brand to be sure that its investment will pay off? Visual storytelling is part craft, part marketing strategy, and that means it requires a sophisticated approach. Some advertisers are relying on strategic partnerships with social influencers to increase awareness and enhance the perceived quality and authenticity of their product. In many scenarios this is a low-cost deal that can lead to a notable uptick in business. LA restaurants, for example, are champing at the bit to have prominent Instagrammers with hundreds of thousands of followers snap and post photos of their dishes. Often the restaurants are required to provide little in exchange for the exposure beyond a free meal.
When it comes to creating an overarching digital storytelling strategy and ensuring that all manner visual content resonates with audiences, Nate Holmes, marketing manager at digital asset management company Widen Enterprises, recommends that his clients follow a five-step approach: provide a takeaway, feature a relatable character, be consistent in your visual style, include snackable content like animated GIFs, and repurpose visuals into various pieces of content. “A strong, consistent brand makes your content instantly recognizable,” Holmes says on the subject of keeping consumers coming back for more. “If you share an inspirational quote on Twitter every Monday, use the same speech bubble graphic to continue the narrative through each week.”
Holmes adds that every visual story, regardless of format, must have a purpose in order to incite a response. “We’ve all got a friend who struggles with storytelling; they go on and on and then the story ends and you’re left wondering, ‘OK, what’s your point?'” he says. “Don’t be that friend. Make sure you’ve got a message that’s worth sharing.”
Finally, Holmes advises brands to offer a diverse treasury of content options that meet consumers’ multi-platform, cross-channel needs. This can be done by leveraging in-house business data to make the most of existing investments. Video can be costly, and it isn’t the only route to visual marketing success. Rather than blindly follow the trends, brands should start at home by turning white papers into image-heavy social posts and market studies into infographics that can be featured on Pinterest and Facebook. This kind of visual content is ideal for sharing and can help a brand lay the groundwork for a larger, more elaborate visual storytelling campaign.
The excitement surrounding visual storytelling is palpable, but brands mustn’t lose sight of their individual goals. Stay abreast of industry developments, understand the opportunities available to you, and experiment to see what fits.
Every brand is unique, and every brand has a unique story to tell. The visual Web is just the place to do it.
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