Visual Storytelling in Content Marketing

visual storytelling

visual storytelling in content marketing
Look at these cute dogs. Doesn’t the image make you wonder what led up to this tender moment? That’s the power of visual storytelling — your mind instantly gravitates to the image and it stays with you.

Doesn’t this image make you want to read on to see what happened between the 2?

Well, you can make up your own story about the dogs, what I’m going to talk about is the power of visual storytelling and how you should use it to drive traffic to your site.

The power of visual storytelling

Let’s dive right in, but if you need help creating images, check out this post.

Recently, Getty Images and NewsCred got together and published a guide to visual storytelling. I’ve included at the end of this post, an infographic based on that research crafted by CJG Digital Marketing.

In their guide, Getty and NewsCred find 4 principles underpinning visual storytelling:

  1. Authenticity
  2. Archetype
  3. Sensory
  4. Relevency

Let’s go!


Whether it’s visual or text-based, authenticity is critical for marketing success.

Here’s what Karl Moore had to say about authenticity in an article on Forbes:

The authentic self is a goal for all four generations alive today: Seniors, Boomers, Xers, but most especially, Millennials. It can mean something different for each generation, and it evolves over time. We believe that Millennials are the most critical – they are the future. The better you are at being an authentic leader, the more your Millennials employees will appreciate you.

We’ve heard time and time again that the postmodern worldview is increasingly shaped by the influence of technology and social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… the plethora of social media has made it harder to fake it. People can learn about others much easier in this day and age and put their stories to the test. Before any scheduled meeting, strangers can (and do) simply Google your name and have instant access to your information, from your LinkedIn profile to other more random information about you. I am amazed what people I have never met can bring up in our first meeting. Being authentic, these days, has much to do with the self you portray both online and offline – do they match up, or is one, presumably your on-line one, merely a persona?

Authenticity, as a corporation, means you expose your true self and share authentic content. Don’t try to be something you’re not and don’t expect your community to engage with inauthentic content.

Authenticity, whether in visual storytelling or text storytelling, means you present a consistent brand across online and offline sources. That you don’t just talk the talk, but live it.

A good example is McDonald’s. Through its various charitable efforts, McDonald’s is authentic when it tells a story of community involvement and it’s efforts to be a good corporate citizen. In fact, McDonald’s would do well to play this up more in its visual storytelling.

Now contrast that with Coke, which uses sappy visual storytelling such as its role in family gatherings. This doesn’t ring as true as Coke, as  a company, does little to support the story other than exist.


visual storytelling
Click to enlarge

Carl Jung originally proposed the concept of archetypes as a foundational principle in human behavior that are part of society.

He proposed the 12 archetypes — as shown in this image crafted by Tanglewood, where they go on to say:

Carl Jung thought that archetypes are not things that we learn about during our life, but rather are embedded in us from birth, coming from our society’s collective unconsciousness. He claimed that the meanings of these archetypes are “imprinted, hardwired into our psyches, and influence the characters we love in art, literature, religion and films.

Visual storytelling that employees one or more of these archetypes translates well to viewers and resonates with them.

Which of these archetypes do you see in the opening visual for this post?

The lover?

The carer?

The innocent?

It’s not important that we all see the same archetype, just that the image evokes at least one of them.

The hero archetype is typical of movies and TV, but think about its use in content marketing — such as the Maxwell House commercials of homecoming where the prodigal son returns unexpectedly and becomes the hero of the holiday.


Almost by definition, visual storytelling is sensory.

That’s why it’s so much more effective in cutting through clutter than other visuals or text.

But, look what happens when we combine plain old sensory with emotional engagement — the images and story stay with you.

Check out this ad showing how a homeless vet becomes a person you might see in the office next door.

To complete the hero archetype, which adds to the emotional sensory elements, the video ends with words of his transformation inside after the external transformation.


Cultural relevancy requires sensitivity to cultural norms as well as awareness of what’s going on in the greater world.

visual storytelling
Click to enlarge

As an example, consider the Red Cross poster produced to help protect people from injury around pools. Notice all the “not cool” behaviors are attributed to children of color, while “cool” behaviors come from white children.

I’m certain the Red Cross intention wasn’t to instruct us to stay away from children of color, but to demonstrate appropriate versus dangerous behaviors around the pool. Inadvertently or unconsciously, whoever created the poster included elements that didn’t match cultural relevance.

Meanwhile, including this image in this post is also an element of visual storytelling as it’s very topical given the reaction against the poster.

Final thoughts

The infographic ends with recommendations for creating effective visuals for storytelling. I’d like to add my own recommendations.

  1. Effective visualizations change over time. For instance, we used to add only a header image to a blog post — and that image was aligned right with the opening paragraph instead of being centered above other content. Now, a blog post should contain 3-5 images, if possible, to break up the text and make it more inviting to read.
  2. Humor, especially visual humor, is tricky as it can easily be misinterpreted. Be careful.
  3. Be careful of sizing. Uploading images appropriately sized saves time when loading them and improves the reader’s experience. Here’s a tool to help with sizing.
  4. With all the tools out there, avoid stock images to improve branding.
  5. Never use images without attribution and stay within “fair use” laws. Google is starting to crack down on sites that violate these rules by reducing their page ranks.

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visual storytelling