Visual storytelling has become an absolute buzzword in digital marketing and beyond. It’s one of those terms that grew in popularity because it appears so tangible and familiar. Most of us can relate to stories and we can all very well remember exceptional presentations, advertisements, articles or speeches that took us on a journey or that had a little wow-effect.
In business communication, the term refers to a strategic and purposeful method conveying a strong message with visual experiences. But just because it became such a trendy term spread across various business functions, everyone seemed to interpret it slightly different in practice so that the definition became somewhat blurry over time. Too often the concept is misused assuming that one can transform plain content into a captivating story just by adding visual elements to it. In fact, the true value of visual storytelling doesn’t derive solely from appealing to the sense of sight in a text-heavy context. It is much more the quality of the narration and the composition of the selected visual elements that will take it from ordinary content to eye-catching, coherent and insightful message.
The traditional concept of stories is as old as humankind but the hype around visual storytelling developed from a necessity to engage jaded, digitally distracted audiences whose attention is a scarce resource. Since these characteristics became the normal state for a society in the era of information overload, it is hardly surprising that the concept of visual storytelling appeals to various business functions from marketing, internal communications, sales, research & development or human resources.
All these areas have slightly different communication requirements or objectives when referring to visual storytelling. From facilitating training or e-learning and visualizing data to creating emotional customer journeys for advertising - the nature of the content or the selected medium may vary but the common ground and primary purpose of visual storytelling in business remains effective communication.
It doesn’t have to be built on the traditional framework of a story with a protagonist going through beginning, climax and end. Equally it also doesn’t have to create tension before it reveals a resolution. But without doubt, it is not just adding icons to a powerpoint presentation.
Visual storytelling should be defined as a method that uses visualization tools to attract attention, to simplify complex concepts and to convey a strong message that will stick in the viewer’s memory. These “tools“ can be any visual aid such as infographics, photography, maps, data-visualizations, interactive elements or videos & motion graphics.
As a common ground for any of these tools or mediums, we have defined the following 3 key principles for effective visual communication or visual storytelling in a business context.
To stand out, information, data or any visual piece of communication needs to be presented in a way that it attracts attention and curiosity. Even if the “end-user“ is not external to the organization, visual attractiveness tremendously facilitates adoption and sharing of knowledge and information. Graphics and animations help to set valuable reference points for our brains to recall or process memory in the future.
It needs to quickly deliver the main message without to overwhelm or request deep analysis from the viewer. Especially if communication is meant to serve managerial purposes it should allow for an immediate big picture understanding enabling the viewer to draw conclusions without to require additional resources.
Every time visual communication is used to reduce complexity or to translate large amounts of written content into engaging digestible chunks of information, one runs the risk of over-simplifying or altering the source context. Therefore it is vital that visual storytelling is based on thorough research and understanding.