Content Marketing
The Rise Of Visual Storytelling

The Rise Of Visual Storytelling

January 21, 2014
4 min read

the rise of visual storytelling The social, mobile Web has disrupted businesses in more ways than most people realize. It has impacted the expectations of our customers and our employees who expect social media-like experiences.  And it has changed the way we interact with internal and external communities to develop products, communicate to the marketplace, and win new customers.

According to the Corporate Executive Board, as much as 60% of the buyer journey is complete before prospects reach out to vendors in a business-to-business transaction. And when they do reach out, it is often for a contract and a price.

How can brands compete? By establishing relationships that build trust. Your buyers are looking for brands that know how to connect in a human and emotional way. In fact, the Corporate Executive Board’s latest report shows that “emotional” marketing messages beat “promotional” ones by a factor of 2 to 1.

The bottom line: Talking about your products or “solution selling” is the quickest way to be shown the door in a selling situation. So how do you communicate to your potential customers?

Information Overload

  1. According to Nielsen, there are 27,000,000 pieces of content are shared each day.  And Statistic Brain says that our average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds – one second less than a goldfish!

We check our phones 150 times per day. We check our email 30 times an hour. And the amount of information in the world continues to double every 18 months.

All this available information and data is creating a battle for customer attention between brands, publishers, and each one of us who creates content. But more importantly, it’s forcing businesses to think and act like publishers.

That is why “Content Marketing” is one of the biggest buzzwords in marketing. It requires businesses to create content that their customers actually want. Content that helps them. And it is such a hot term right now because it is one of the biggest gaps between the content marketers create and the information our customers are looking for.

That is why more than 90% of marketers are using content marketing, but only 42% rate their content marketing efforts as effective, according to a recent study.

If everyone is creating content, how does a business break through the noise? How do we reach our customers in a way that engages them?

The Answer is Visual Content

  1. Articles with images get 94% more views than those without. And posts with videos attract 3x more inbound links than plain text posts.  A study by 3M showed that 90% of the information sent to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text.

And this holds up when you look at how the social world is evolving. The meteoric rise of sites like Vine, Instagram and Pinterest, as well as the efforts by Facebook and Twitter to add more visual elements to their platforms are simply following the trend that visual content is the best way to reach short-attention-span audiences in a world filled with so many content choices.

I recently asked my own social media followers “what was the best content of 2013?” All of the responses pointed to videos.

Now, let’s flip the conversation to one of the  most hated of corporate tools: slides. You don’t often hear Slideshare mentioned as a top social network. But according to Comscore, Slideshare is used by business owners and business executives at a rate 5 times any other social network! Slideshare may be one of the biggest content marketing opportunities for brands.

How To Take Advantage Of Visual Storytelling

We’ve all heard the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” but that is easier said than done for many businesses. The cavemen knew this when they created the first visual stories over 10,000 years ago. It is in our DNA to be able to tell visual stories that convey important pieces of information.

There are a variety of ways marketers can incorporate visual content into their campaigns, including:

  • Images and pictures
  • Videos
  • Slideshows
  • Infographics
  • Comics
  • Memes (Example: Grumpy Cat)
  • Infodoodles (Here’s an Infodoodle on ideas for visual content)


Are you ready to start telling better visual stories? Here are three tips that can help you get started:

  1. Become a voracious consumer and student of visual content. Follow the top photos, videos and presentations on a regular basis and try to understand what makes them so popular.
  2. Tell stories that inspire emotion. It is not about “going viral.” The best visual content evokes an emotional response and comes from a ton of practice and an expected amount of trial of error.
  3. Measure your results. You cannot just focus on the creation. Look at how movies are marketed. Often, 50% or more of the budget on a movie is set aside for marketing and promotion. Production is just half the battle … even great content needs a little push.

Every business faces the challenge of reaching new customers and growing their business. In today’s digital, mobile and social world, your customers have more choices than ever before. They are tuning out promotional messages and rewarding the brands that have demonstrated the ability to provide useful information.

But while content has become a strategic weapon in the battle for customer attention, the businesses who know how to tell visual stories are the ones who will stand apart.

Is visual content a focus for your team in 2014? Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please continue the conversation with me on Twitter (@BrennerMichael), LinkedIn, Facebook  and Google+.

This article originally appeared on The Economist’s Lean Back Blog in 2 parts.

10 thoughts on “The Rise Of Visual Storytelling

  1. Gregory Kohs

    Michael, this is good stuff. I was having a hard time making a point about how unfair a couple of Wikipedia editors were being, censoring a short list of Comcast Business clients from Wikipedia’s article about Comcast Business. That inspired this infographic, and it seemed to change a few minds over at Wikipedia:

  2. Michael Brenner

    Thanks Greg, that is really awesome!

  3. Ann Bevans

    Nice post, Michael. It’s certainly been my experience that more and more prospects appear out of nowhere, but with a clear understanding of my philosophy and approach. When they do finally make contact, the sales cycle is usually quite short and comes down to whether my price matches the value the prospect perceives. As a reluctant sales person, I love this trend! But it underscores the need for creative, authentic content. You never know what conversations are happening out of earshot. Thanks!

  4. Maciej Fita

    I think ever since content marketing really made it on the marketing scene as a serious player many organizations have been trying to come up with the most creative and appealing type of content. With that said infographics were born. The only question is how much of the data in many infographics is really true

  5. Michael Brenner

    Absolutely correct Ann. It has to be emotional not promotional. Helpful not selfish.

  6. Michael Brenner

    I’m sure most brands make every effort to present valid data. The risk is too great to use false data. The bigger question for me is does it tell a story? is it really useful or interesting? Or just a smattering of data.

  7. Neil Ashworth

    Great advice! Those recent viral videos created to promote the remake of Carrie (If you haven’t seen them – you must have been sleeping under a rock) prove again that the days of data only marketing/advertising messages are pretty much dead and gone.

    The era of storytelling is now upon us.

  8. Michael Brenner

    Thanks Neil, I love those videos too!

  9. Brady

    That is an interesting statistic about emotional marketing over promotional marketing, I plan to cite that often. THanks for the insightful post.

  10. Wheeldo

    Sometimes it seems that marketing is even more than those 50 % you mentioned in this article:) It seems visual gained huge momentum and we are always trying to keep that on mind when creating any content and games, as we are in gamification for marketing.

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Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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