Visual Storytelling: Six FAQ’s

Visual Storytelling FAQ's

Visual storytelling can be a powerful tool to enhance your company’s communications. “Visuals attract people and give your customers an easy way to understand and remember your message,” reports Limelight Marketing’s Brandee Johnson.

Interested in increasing your customers’ engagement and rate of message retention?

Take a look at the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about visual storytelling, and you’ll be ready to deploy some visual storytelling of your own.

Frequently Asked Questions About Visual Storytelling

“Visual storytelling—does that just mean video?  How broad is the term?”

Rasmussen defines visual storytelling as “the art of communicating a series of messages using visual multimedia.” I’d argue that a slightly better definition would be “message or series of messages,” since plenty of visual stories focus all of their efforts on a single message, but otherwise, it’s a good place to begin.

This definition also answers our first question: no, visual storytelling isn’t restricted purely to video. Any narrative told through visuals to promote its message or messages counts, so think of infographics, paintings, photographs, cinema, website design, and many more formats in addition to video.

It’s a broader term than you might imagine.  

“Does visual storytelling have to be silent?  Is it purely visual?”

Visual storytelling does not have to be silent, though it can be—remember, many forms of visual storytelling use only still images and/or text, like an infographic or a printed advertisement. When visual storytelling does take video form, though, it can easily incorporate an audio track.

At TruScribe, our videos use visuals to reinforce the message voiced by the narrator. This synchronization greatly increases engagement and promotes retention of the voiced message.

Put differently, visual storytelling doesn’t have to be purely visual, and in fact is sometimes strongest when it combines its visuals with a voiced message.  But it is not by definition an audio-visual approach, so pursuing a non-audio format can be equally effective.

“How can I be sure my visual story is effective?”

Your visual story will be effective if you choose appropriate images that support your message, and a big part of choosing appropriate visuals is knowing your audience. If you’ve done your research and you know your audience’s preferences, lifestyle, and as much other information as you can, you should know which images will drive their interest toward your message and brand.

On the other side of the coin, be sure to avoid cliché or risky images.  Engagement tends to wither in the face of hackneyed visuals and potentially offensive images. Instead, opt for visuals that promote positive emotional engagement, such as humorous images and visuals that tell a fun and uplifting narrative. Consider also images that trigger positive sensory memories like smell and touch, which engage more of the brain and provide more pleasant emotional content for viewers.

With the right visuals and a strong message, be sure of your synchronization. Again, this means that the visuals function as reinforcement for your message, and never contradict your narrator in tone or subject matter. Given both visual and auditory information, the brain will prioritize the visual, to the detriment of your message.  Be sure that your visuals only bolster that message, and your visual storytelling should be successful.

I’m worried that my visuals won’t be good enough.  How complex should I make them?”

It might sound counterintuitive, but complex visuals aren’t necessarily better than simple ones. In fact, TruScribe’s guiding principles, Scribology, remind us to employ simple visual design instead of complex.

The brain has a tendency to remember things geometrically; that is, it stores and categorizes visuals by shapes, and interprets new visuals through this lens. The brain is also drawn to human forms, which leads us at TruScribe to design content with simple characters and images.
Message retention goes up when the brain can associate it with memorable visuals. Don’t worry if your visuals are simple and mostly involve people.  That’s exactly what the brain remembers best.

“How should I use color in my visual storytelling?  Should it be as colorful as possible, so people can’t look away?”

This is a great question, because it gets a pivotal issue in visual storytelling: making color work for your message, and not against it. 

Best practices are to make sure that your visuals are not so dazzlingly colorful that they distract your audience from your message. When confronted by a kaleidoscope of color, the brain experiences some confusion as to where to look, and how to interpret each color. While it works to piece together the logic behind the colors, it’s missing your message—again, when made to choose between visuals and other information, the brain prioritizes visuals.

How can you avoid this splitting of attention? Use color with more restraint and more purpose.

TruScribe methodology uses a single accent color, since one color becomes a focal point, and directs the brain at the message instead of pulling its attention away. Deploying one or few colors in this way increases engagement, focuses the eye on the most important element of the frame, and helps with retention (“I remember that part—they drew that bright-red sunset.”)

“How much do visuals really help my message?  Is visual storytelling really worth my time?”

“We respond to and process visual data better than any other type of data,” answers Harris Eisenberg of Thermopylae Sciences + Technology, and that’s putting it lightly. We process images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. This makes sense in light of how we evolved. Ancient humans needed to process as much information about the world around them as possible, and the most important of that information was visual—if we had to notice a coiled snake or a crouched predator to survive long enough to create a written language.

Visuals help your message a lot. Is it worth your time? Well, hopefully the science answers some of that question; regardless of the facts, though, there still exists a place for textual storytelling/messaging, and for other formats.

The better question than “Is it worth my time?” would be “Am I wasting my time, and resources, creating non-visual content?” Saving time in production won’t mean much if your finished content cannot accomplish your messaging goals.

Hopefully, the above answers have helped you see the value of investing in visual storytelling.  When we examine the biology and best practices, it’s no wonder visual storytelling comes up more and more commonly in marketing and other business contexts.

It’s a highly-efficient method of sending a message that’ll audiences will find engaging and retainable. So no matter what industry you’re in, it might be time to get into visual storytelling.