How to Use Visual Storytelling for your Brand

visual storytelling for your brand

Strong Stories, Vibrant Visuals, and Adaptation

Storytelling is pervasive, a true constant in the human experience. At TruScribe, we refer to it as our human coding language. It’s the way that we get messages across quickly and easily, and without the need for charts, numbers, or other messaging aids.  Storytelling is, well, enough. So much so that it remains a central part of our interactions no matter how powerful or influential our brands or businesses are.

In her recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, music legend Dolly Parton explained why her new book, Songteller, received a title that seemed like a strange combination of songwriter and storyteller.  “I really think of myself as a songteller,” Parton explained, “because I write songs, but I tell stories in my songs.”  Such was the importance of storytelling to the icon—she invented a new word to keep it top-of-mind for her fans.

Visual storytelling isn’t songwriting. But as much as the classic track “Jolene” represents Parton’s brand in both its catchy tune and its bittersweet narrative, visual storytelling can define your brand for decades if properly composed and distributed.  We can’t all be a one-person industry like Parton. But we can all take her lesson. Storytelling leads to identification, to relatability, even between the public and a towering brand.

So, what kind of visual storytelling should your brand engage in?

Artversion, a branding agency that specializes in visual storytelling for brands, starts where any messaging should: relevance.  They immediately articulate the dual role of visual storytelling, noting “While your visual presentation is responsible for grabbing attention, your story is what will ultimately hook people in”.  The practice in general is meant to take your audience from asking “who are you?” to asking “how can I be a part of this?”

Now, this might downplay the visual element a little bit more than necessary. But the point that storytelling itself will “hook” your prospective customer (or repeat customer) into drawing nearer to your brand couldn’t be truer.  I’d change the wording a bit and argue that the visuals of your story hook your audience. The story itself secures your message in their minds.

In other words, the visual elements of your story create engagement with the story itself. This, in turn, drives retention of your message—and hopefully conversion, recommendations, and repeat visits to your website.  

So what should those visual hooks be?

Here, I’ll further diverge from the ‘visual = attention grabber, story = hook’ model proposed above.  Your visuals should reflect and complement your message, giving the brain an idea of what your brand means to you (and what it should mean to them) before they even get to the text or voiced message.

Let’s take Disney as a brand example. In Disney parks, visual storytelling is never-ending and highly purposeful.  That purpose?  To transport you, from an amusement park to a place of magic.  

Forced perspective make relatively normal structures into towering castles and mountains.  Costumed employees called cast members mill about everywhere, living up to their job titles as they convince children and even adults that they’re walking through a Disney-fied wonderland.

Is the illusion perfect?  It’s not far off. Disney’s commitment to successful visual storytelling famously includes underground tunnels that cast members use to get to their stations. That means that no Frontierland characters will ever be confusingly seen in the futuristic Tomorrowland.

From the environmental design to characters to safeguards like the tunnels, Disney’s visual storytelling is nonstop and a profound example of commitment to the right visuals that send a consistent message about their brand.  The company worked hard to earn the title of “the happiest place on Earth,” and works equally hard to maintain it.

How to Maintain Your Brand’s Visual Story

That last point, maintenance of your visual story, might be the cornerstone of visual storytelling for your brand.  While understanding the importance of storytelling and employing just the right visuals are crucial to branding through the practice, this third component will make your investment a lasting one.

In short, this means being flexible with your visual storytelling. 

Be willing to build your own underground tunnels, if you will—or, changes made in response to issues.  

We’ve seen numerous brands revise their visual storytelling recently, and this is no sign of weakness.  To quote screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, “Adaptation is a profound process”.  Whether it be for localization purposes, to change problematic imagery, or to simply modernize aged visuals, brands that survive and thrive are those who are willing to take a step back and adapt.

Dawson Whitfield chronicles one such adaptation with the example of Dunkin’ Donuts, who rebranded to show a new focus in offerings.  By removing the word “Donuts” from their logo, Dunkin’ shifted their brand’s focus (and association) to mean more than pastries.  Specifically, it allowed them to emphasize their coffee offerings, without diminishing the rest of their well-known products.

What kept customers from confusion surrounding the rebrand, Whitfield argues, was Dunkin’s wise choice to keep the rest of its visual storytelling intact.  The “organic colors and iconic font… ensure[d] longtime customers continue[d] to recognize the brand.”

Dunkin’ took a part of its brand that would best be removed and did so, but understood the rest of its visuals as necessary for customer recognition and left them unmodified.  Disney has done this too, frequently; just recently, the long-standing Pirates of the Caribbean ride removed a problematic skit due to its tone-deaf messaging.

Key Takeaways

As your brand defines itself through visual storytelling, it’s important to make sure you’re really telling a story. And it’s equally crucial that your visuals are both eyecatching and in sync with that story. As mega-brands like Dunkin’ and Disney prove it’s vital that you remain prepared to edit and maintain that visual story.

What kinds of brand visual storytelling have stuck out to you?  How does your organization use visual storytelling?  Are there any failures of visual storytelling that provide strong insight to you as you craft your own visual story?  What do you think about the value of re-evaluating your visual storytelling over time?