Striking Visual Storytelling Rules to Set Your Brand Apart

March 19, 2020

visual storytelling

Do you want your visuals to set your brand apart from the competition?

Then you need to make sure that they tell a story. 

Rather than creating photos, videos, and graphics simply to add visual aids to your content, you need to engage in visual storytelling to make sure your imagery is giving off the appropriate messaging.

Why is visual storytelling important?

Before you get started, it’s a good idea to understand some key visual storytelling rules to make sure you’re putting the right emphasis on your graphics going forward. 

And it’s important because it can help complex subjects become much easier to understand. Not everyone learns the same way, and providing different visuals to help explain a concept is a great way to improve comprehension.

Plus, when it comes to creating marketing graphics for your audience, it helps when those visuals appear to have a bit more back story than imagery with less thought put into it.

Let’s look at it this way. Taylor Swift is famous for using her visuals, whether it’s a music video or a promotional photo or graphic to tell another story. There are hidden meanings everywhere. While that doesn’t mean your brand needs to be digging as deep as that to create subliminal messages in your marketing graphics, it does help to explain why audiences love a good visual story.

Before you run off to create a visual story in your next ad campaign, let’s go over some basic rules of being a good visual storyteller.

1. Show, don’t tell

Visual data storytelling isn’t like your show and tell days in grade school, when you’d show off an object from home and explain what it is and why you brought it. Instead, your visual should be doing the telling all on its own.

There are so many ways to let your visuals run the show. Find relevant stock photos, replace short text headings with icons that convey their meaning, incorporate data visualizations to demonstrate stats and figures, and more.

Take a look at this pictogram below:  

countries visited pictogram


While text is used in the title to let viewers know what the photos mean, the rest of the story is told in visuals. We can see from the contrasting suitcase colors the approximate number of countries the average citizen has visited. Consider other ways you can incorporate visuals into your creations, whether it’s a video, graphic or presentation.

2. Make the context clear

Your audience should understand the setting or the message of your visual because of the context your subject is in. This can range from anything like the colors you choose – after all, colors have different meanings – to the filter you use on a photo.

This is already perfectly done in settings like comic strips, as we see below: 

color choice in a comicSource

The context is obvious. The character is sitting in her home throughout the first two windows, then the setting shifts to outside. Consider this same concept in any type of visual you’re creating. You want the context, whether it’s the setting or a feeling your audience should grasp, to be easily understandable.

3. Movement is everything

Whether your piece of content is a video or an animated graphic, the way each element moves can tell a story all on its own. What moves first? Is someone pointing or making a gesture to an area of the screen? Incorporating movement into your imagery is the perfect way to provide a visual narrative for your audience.

Take a look at this animated infographic to get an idea: 

hack a drought infographic


Each point within the infographic has its own animated elements, so that as you read through, from point one all the way to point seven, each small section tells its own story.

4. Use visual hierarchy

Visual hierarchy shows a viewer what they’re supposed to look at first, second, third and so on. In a graphic or cover page, this means the heading should be in the largest font, with each subsequent subheading in a gradually smaller font.

Take this blog header for example: 

visual cta button example


The first thing you look at is the header in the largest font, then the subheader in the smaller, italicized font, then finally the button. That’s exactly what you need to keep in mind when creating visuals with a story. The order your audience looks at each piece of text or imagery within your content depends on both size and placement.

5. Follow a storyline

This is easy if you’re creating a video or presentation, but requires a bit more finesse if you’re just creating graphics for an ad campaign or promotion. You want your visual story to have a beginning, a climax, and an end. There needs to be conflict. Rising action and falling action.

This is how you tell a good story, and your visuals need to do the same: 

infographic creation steps infographic


It’s easy to follow a storyline in an infographic like the example above, especially when walking your audience through a step-by-step process. Make sure that the flow in your visuals is obvious so your viewers know the proper order to digest your information.

6. Use people

While you can have fun with inanimate objects and icons, people relate to people. Using real people in photos or videos, or even incorporating illustrated characters into a graphic design, is a great way to connect with your audience. 

step-by-step for infographic design


The above infographic incorporates several characters making actions within the design. This helps to relate more to the viewer as they’re able to see these concepts being done by characters. 

If you use stock photos within a slideshow or even as blog post graphics, opting for stock photos that have people in them are also much more powerful than stock photos without.

7. Create hidden meanings and metaphors

Back to our Taylor Swift example, every audience loves a good metaphor or hidden meaning. Think about how you can use visual tropes instead of creating clear cut context and settings.

taylor swift music videoSource

This is an example from one of Taylor Swift’s music videos where she creates a visual trope alluding to a scene from the popular movie Wolf of Wall Street.

wolf of wall street screencap


See the resemblance? She’s making a statement by building a comparison to this iconic scene from a popular movie. Creating references to pop culture within your graphics can help give your audience a greater understanding of what you’re trying to say without actually using any words.

8. Focus

While creating hidden meanings and visual allusions can give your story new depth, you don’t want to lose sight of your overall goals and objectives in your visual narrative. Focus on the point, the subject you’re trying to teach or the product/service you’re trying to promote. 

This is especially important in advertising visuals. You don’t want to cram a ton of different ideas, products or services into a single ad visual. Rather, your visual should focus on a single entity, like in this example below. 

yeti ad


While Yeti sells various types of coolers and similar products, this ad visual focuses on a single product, their thermoses. This helps to avoid overwhelming ad viewers and will entice clicks from people who are interested in the featured product.

9. Teach something

In the end, the entire point of using these visual storytelling techniques is to creatively teach your audience something. If you create online courses, blog content, or ad campaigns, you want to help your audience learn something new.

Take a look at this graphic below all about wine around the world: 

wine around the world infographic


If someone sits and digests all of the information within this graphic, they’re going to learn a thing or two about wine. For example, many people might think Italy would be the biggest money maker in the wine world, but they’re actually in fourth place.

Whether you include data visualizations like in the example above, use photos or icons to convey your point, or create flowcharts and illustrations, you want to make sure you’re teaching something through your visuals.

Get started with your own visual storytelling

What is your biggest challenge with visual storytelling? Following these rules and understanding basic visual storytelling techniques is a great way to revamp your strategy. 

Keep your visual storytelling game strong by becoming an expert in all things graphic design. Take your visuals to the next level and keep learning today. 

Striking Visual Storytelling Rules to Set Your Brand Apart If you want to capture your audience's attention, you'd be smart to use the most striking visual storytelling techniques to make your content pop. Learn just what to do to engage and entice your audience in this guide.
Chloe West Chloe is a Content Marketing Manager at Visme, an online graphic design software. She loves to write about digital marketing and design and find new ways to engage audiences through content. Chloe is based in Charleston, SC, where she loves exploring her city with her son.

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