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If there’s only one rule about visual storytelling in digital marketing that you should memorize, it’s this: Be authentic.
Authenticity builds a connection between a brand and a consumer. Today’s consumers have more access than ever to information, meaning they’ll see right through even the slightest deception in your marketing campaign.
What’s replaced the old “smoke and mirrors” approach is brand authenticity, and the campaigns that go viral are those that forge real emotional connections between a brand and its target market.
One of the best ways to be authentic in your digital marketing campaign is to use visual storytelling. Why? Here are two great reasons:
So now that you know the importance of authenticity in marketing (and the power of visual storytelling), here’s your step-by-step guide for using storytelling marketing to create a viral campaign.
You’ve probably done a ton of research on your target market—you know their demographic information, likes and dislikes, and both their objections and reasons for purchasing your product. But at the core of every consumer buying decision, whether they realize it or not, is an emotional motive.
The Harvard Business Review identified over 300 emotional motivators that led customers to a buying decision. They ranked these to determine which ones have the highest impact on consumer behavior (they call them high-impact motivators), and here’s what they found out. Consumers of products and services in all industries are most likely to buy a product if it will help them:
Do you recognize any of these high-impact motivators in your target audience? If so, make this motivator the central component of your marketing campaign by brainstorming possible ideas and stories.
Let’s look at an example. Imagine you’re putting together a campaign for a company that sells rock climbing shoes. Looking back to the emotional motivators, your target audience is probably most likely to buy these shoes because they want a “sense of thrill” since most rock climbers are interested in outdoor adventures. A secondary emotional motivator might be to “live up to their own self-image,” which would be to become the best possible climber they can be.
With your audience’s key motivators in mind, now’s the time to decide what story you want to tell. Though you can always invent a story, when you’re working on your brand’s authenticity, you’ll be best off using a real story. This could be a behind-the-scenes story about how a product is made, or the story of a real customer using the product to achieve something in their life. It could even be the company’s founding story, which can be captivating to both new and loyal customers alike.
When you’re choosing a story for your own marketing campaign, there are a few best practices that can help ensure you’re choosing a good one. Here they are.
Tension is important because it heightens your audience’s emotional response. In a study done by researcher Paul Zak, one set of participants watched a video featuring a father wrestling with his knowledge that his son’s cancer was terminal. Another set of participants watched a video featuring the same people in which the father and son were simply visiting the zoo.
The results? The first set of participants showed a dramatic spike in production of cortisol (the chemical that makes us focus) and oxytocin (often called the “love hormone”), while the second group didn’t have as much of a response.
Even more interestingly, when both groups were invited to donate to a charitable cause after watching the videos, the first group was far more likely to donate—and those who had the bigger emotional response donated more. Imagine the effects if this had been a real campaign by a nonprofit organization, raising money for childhood cancer research.
Don’t make the assumption that your visual story has to be extremely long or in-depth to create tension and drama. Flash fiction, social media posts, and memes are all proof that even the smallest bits of content can have a powerful effect. Sometimes the most viral campaigns tell the simplest stories.
A visual story could be a series of three photographs with captions, a single Tweet with an original graphic, or a Facebook post featuring an elegant cinemagraph and a short, descriptive text, like the one above (hit play).
The “hook” in your visual story usually appears in the beginning—it’s the first line in your video script, the first sentence in your infographic, or the first page of a PDF. Capture your audience’s attention in the hook by:
Now, let’s put together all of this information about choosing a story and return to our rock climbing example. Here are a few different ideas for both of our audience’s key motivators.
Emotional Motivator: Thrill
Dramatic story: A climber uses these shoes to ascend a very difficult outdoor route for the first time.
Travel story: A group of climbers uses the company’s shoes on a climbing trip, where they see new sights, go to parties, and enjoy a cross-country road trip.
Emotional Motivator: Self-Image
Inspiring story: An amputee used these climbing shoes and went on to compete against other famous rock climbers.
Newsworthy story: A famous climber wore your company’s shoes and won a major competition.
I’ve been getting emails from people to say they really liked my film “Choices” which is playing around Europe right now with the @eoft. I want to say thanks to everyone for the nice feedback!, and also to the team who created this film, and @mammut_absolute_alpine and @mammutna for supporting it 🙏🏻👊🏻😻 📷 @scottyrog
Once you have a hook, tension, and a conclusion, make sure to include a concrete call to action at the end of the story.
In digital advertising, competition is fierce and attention spans are short. One of the best ways to overcome this hurdle is to use the perfect visuals for your campaign. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of which type of media best complements your campaign, here are a few things to keep in mind:
THINK OF YOUR AUDIENCE FIRST
You may be a word wizard or a graphics junky, but if your audience prefers video, use video. The type of media your target prefers will vary depending on age, device usage habits (desktop or mobile, at home or at work), and other demographic info. Meet your prospect halfway using the media they already love, and you’ve overcome a massive barrier.
THE ADVERTISING PLATFORM
Certain types of media do better on specific platforms. Since YouTube is a video platform, it’s no wonder the advertising consists primarily of video ads. On Instagram, you’re more likely to find rich photos and beautiful imagery.
YOUR PROSPECT’S STAGE OF THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY
Some studies have shown that while images work well on cold prospects, video works best in retargeting ads, where you’re connecting with warm prospects who already have some familiarity with your brand.
When choosing a stock photo, it’s important to pick one that’s both on-brand and resonates with your customer. If your target prospects are primarily black college students, your photo probably shouldn’t show a middle-aged white woman.
. 📍 @papeetebeach| 📸 @stefanoiacolina 🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹 . 🥂Cheers with these dudes👍 . 🍾Si dice che l’anno prossimo @matteo_molina ci riservi il tavolo sul tetto per tutta la stagione, Dompe e lettini inclusi 🔥🔥🔥 . #graziemoli #papeete #papeetebeach #milanomarittima #beachparty #party #friends #goproselfie #goprogirls #clublife #partyplanner #ibiza #neverstopexploring #longexposure_shots #agameoftones #night_shooterz #ig_masterpiece #longexpo #nature_perfection #folkcreative #VisualsOfLife #gearednomad #MoodyGrams
Keep your emotional motivators in mind when choosing photos, too. If you’re selling a sense of belonging to a group, use a photo of people at a party. If you’re selling the feeling of being unique or special, use a photo that’s striking in composition or content.
The most important thing you can do is avoid generic-looking stock photos, or anything that looks “photoshopped” or fake. If you can’t find a high-quality stock photo that meets these criteria, it’s worth the cost to hire a professional to shoot some photos for you.
Video seems to be the way of the future, as far as online media consumption is concerned: Cisco predicts that by 2019, 80% of global internet traffic will be for video. We’re drawn to video because we’re hardwired to notice movement, regardless of the content. Use this to your advantage as a marketer, whether through live action video, cinemagraphs, animations, or gifs.
Fortunately, you don’t need a ton of fancy equipment to shoot good videos for your brand. Most modern smartphones are more than capable of shooting high -quality video. However, because there’s a fine line between DIY and unprofessional, here are some examples of instances in which the DIY route works best:
If you do choose the DIY video route, whether you’re running a simple slideshow or a scripted production, the two most important elements are your audio and lighting.
Although your target audience may not even listen to the audio in your ad, you don’t want to turn off the viewers who do—and poor audio quality will send them running for the hills. The same goes for poor lighting. Don’t film your subject against a heavily backlit area, and don’t mix indoor and outdoor lighting.
Whenever you can, relate your graphics and illustrations to the main emotional motivator associated with your target audience. It’s tempting to use icons or stock illustrations that show a concept or idea, but your focus should always be on the emotion of the key message.
If you’re designing for social media ads, it’s a good idea to try a few different versions of your design—you never know what’s going to look best once you’ve compiled the full ad. Different platforms are always changing their requirements for images, too, so it’s helpful to have options in case your ad is rejected by the moderators.
It should go without saying, but a quality image isn’t pixelated or blurry. Start with the highest resolution you can find and scale it down, but don’t stretch a small image to be bigger.
Finally, every graphic should have a purpose. If a component isn’t working to achieve your core message, you don’t need it. Simplicity is king.
A final word about using visuals in your ad campaign: always test your images and other visual content on different devices before launching your campaign.
Every marketer, at some point, has had to deal with the horror of discovering that the spacing on their landing page is completely wrong on mobile, or they chose the wrong image dimensions for their Instagram ad. The last thing you want is to waste your money, or your client’s money, running an ad campaign that is dysfunctional or unprofessional.
Once you’ve determined a story for your campaign and picked the best visuals to communicate it, it’s time to monitor it closely over a week or two. Assuming your targeting selection and all technical details are in place, you should start seeing positive results rolling in.
Content marketer Neil Patel states that anytime a campaign goes viral, it’s because it generates a strong emotional response in consumers. If your campaign doesn’t gain the traction you were hoping for, revisit each step.
Did you hit the wrong emotional motivator? Is there a better story you could have chosen? Get a second opinion from a designer on your visuals: Do they enhance the story, or simply repeat what the text says?
Run an A/B test with different visuals to see which performs best. Better yet, run an A/B test on two entirely different narratives.
You may think you’ll have the most success in storytelling marketing with cold prospects, especially if your campaign goes viral. But here’s something to consider: appealing to the emotions of your already-loyal customers can actually have an ROI that’s three times greater than turning uncommitted customers (cold or warm prospects) into satisfied ones.
What this means for you is that even if your campaign doesn’t go viral, you may have every bit as powerful of an ROI if you’re using visual storytelling and authenticity in your retargeting campaign.
Be authentic, know your audience’s emotional desires, and create a story using words and visuals that tells the story succinctly, and yours could be the next viral marketing campaign.
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