With the PR industry evolving into the digital media landscape that it is, visual storytelling is becoming more and more relevant in everyday PR activity. There are examples of visual storytelling done well and done not so well every day in the PR industry. Here are some recommendations for how to keep visually relevant in today’s digital age.
Before we get started, we should probably ask ourselves why visuals are so compelling in PR nowadays? Humans are wired to receive and follow stories and with us being creatures of a short attention span (a human’s average attention span is 2.8-8 seconds in fact), it’s obvious that blog posts, adverts and online tutorials with visual elements do better than those with a huge amount of text – visuals actually get 94% more views than text based information and viewers spend 100% more time on pages with visual content.
As the digital age advances, so do our lives and we have less time to process information; The human brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text so obviously if we have the option between a page full of information and an infographic, we’re going to choose the visual. This is why its so important to master the art of visual storytelling, and the effects that it has now more than ever.
Make it easy to replicate. Effective visual images are easily reproduced or recreated and shared to be made viral for example the #nomakeupselfie for Cancer Research UK. If you share an image that can easily be reproduced by other people, they will want to have a go and get involved, therefore sharing your original idea. Another good example of this is the snapchat filters and how almost everybody has a photo of them as a dog online somewhere (guilty!) We want to get involved and try things, it’s human nature! The more an image is shared, viewed and reproduced is a sign of share-ability and good content and you are able to evaluate shares, likes and views through analyst programmes.
Use Colour. Colour is eye-catching and always visually accessible. It can tell a story, appeal to different emotions and support the text that it is used alongside. Connotations of colour are strong for example, would you associate health with any colour other than green? And calm and chilled out words and images often incorporate shades of blue.
Colour is the main reason that we recognise the logos of certain organisations and is a very powerful tool in branding. Strong contrast is necessary to contend with the text as it can appear overpowering. It is also important to appeal to different target audiences with appropriate colour. The older generation are not going to want to read a post where there are fluorescent colours jumping out of the screen at them all over the place.
Balance. Seems simple, but it essential to get this part right. Balance is the concept of visual equilibrium and relates to our physical sense of balance. There’s something oddly unsatisfying about looking at a string of pictures that are different sizes and spread out wrongly across the page, we prefer to see a state of visual balance. It is reconciliation of opposing force in a composition that results in visual stability. Symmetrical and asymmetrical balance can both be effective when used correctly.
Legibility and readability. Legibility is mostly a function of typeface design. It’s a measure of how easy it is to recognise letters and words. This can be a problem between across different cultures and languages, which is why visual storytelling is so fabulously useful! Visuals can be understood in any language through the use of semiotics and symbols. Readability is about the overall reading experience and the allowing reader to access the content easily and in a way that makes sense. Factors to consider include the balance of visuals and text and making what the reader sees flow well.
Choose a purpose. It is a fact that photos, pictures and videos get over 100% more engagement but this is only the case if the image actually have relevance and are in-keeping with a certain theme. It might sound like a no-brainer, but more often than not, there could have been a much more suited image used to the one that was because there wasn’t that much thought behind it.
Authenticity – Authenticity in a visual image will create an authentic brand experience and allow real emotion to show through. You want to show reality and relate-ability. The Dove Real Beauty campaign does this perfectly. The best brand position is an authentic one, so it always good to show authenticity through visuals where you can.
Sensory – An image could also be sensory. A viewer is more likely to have a memorable moment with the image because of senses. Details that people can relate to or even remember create a sensory feeling and a tactile experience. A good example of this is the Heinz Tomato Soup advert from winter 2012. As the advert plays, you empathise with the girl featured, because we all know how it feels to get wet through with rain and come home and warm up again. It is a sensory visual and that’s why it works.
Archetype – Using an archetype or an aspirational persona with emotional connection always works! We want to motivate our audiences whether that’s with a call to action or as mentioned earlier, taking an image and making it your own by reproducing. You need to think about what the audience want to hear (story wise) through your visuals and multimedia, which obviously needs to link back to your brand or point. A good way to use archetypes is with the use of core emotions, this makes us tick. The 2015 John Lewis Christmas advert gets us emotionally every year, no matter what it is. It has set the bar and we all just know it’s going to be something spectacular. Last year they demonstrated the successful use of a common archetype – the hero. It put across the important message of showing someone that they are loved at Christmas time, in partnership with Age UK. The visuals show a little boy seeing an old man who lives alone on the moon, and decides to send him a bunch of balloons to show that someone cares about him (even typing this is out is giving me goosebumps). Using the little boy as the hero archetype and showing him doing something kind motivates the audience to want to do something kind for someone else and show them that they are loved at Christmas; Everyone loves a hero.
Relevance – You must ensure that your visuals are relevant to the purpose and to your audience. Talk about things that people care about. During the run up to the 2015 general election, there were billboards all over the place about what the different political parties would do for us. The Tory election poster that promised to cut the deficit and not the NHS worked visually and I believe that their visual campaigning strategy was a huge part in winning them the election. The text talks about something relevant to the people of the UK and the visual is a picture of the man who promised to do it all. Naturally the visuals and the text match, and the poster as a whole was successful.
Through all of this you must ensure the telling of a story, as complex or as simple as you would like using the tools and techniques that I have mentioned. We like to experience new things, so try and keep it original. Thanks for reading and happy visual storytelling!