How visual storytelling is changing the way brands earn attention

You must be flexible, adaptable and raise the storytelling bar if you want to keep pace. Here’s where to start.

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“You eat with your eyes.” 

I know, I know. I promise I’m not casting judgement on you, I’m just stating a fact. Long before food ever hits your tongue, you make a decision to eat based on what you saw. The familiarity, the color, the cook, the accoutrements, the packaging all played a role in earning your attention and ultimately earning its spot in your tummy.

I’m not a chef by any means, but I am a lover of food and know my way around a kitchen. I’m also a dad of two hard-to-please kiddos that on any given day will find a reason to not eat the food I made. “This microscopic green speck of chive has made this entire Dutch oven of soup TOTALLY INEDIBLE! And when can I have dessert?” I have learned through much trial and error that a variety of vehicles is the key to success in getting kids to try new things. Nod if this sounds familiar. The “blend your veggies and bake them into meatballs” trick, the “roll it up in a tortilla and call it a fun wrap” trick, the “arrange colorful vegetables into a flower in your bento box” trick, the “no, I promise that shrimp is just chicken” trick. I can go on.

[RELATED: Join us Sept. 21 for our Brand Journalism Virtual Workshop—and take charge of your own story]

Forgive me for comparing your brand’s audience to a six-year-old child, but frankly they’re not all that different. This decade and the rise of visual social media platforms brought with it a fractured audience that can get their content fix in any way they prefer. Six second videos—check; gorgeous photography with an array of filters to boot—check; long-form video tutorials that go deeper than you ever thought possible—check; serialized audio storytelling—check; side-by-side video responses that skirt the line between original content and deconstructed co-creation—check. There’s literally something for everyone.

I know what you’re thinking. “But Ryan, every marketer knows one of the most important rules in marketing is you can’t be all things to all people.” Yes, that remains true. Knowing what your brand stands for and its purpose is paramount in successful marketing campaigns. But deciding how to tell that story is where the rules of a new era apply. Brands in this modern era must be elastic. Ready to bend and shift itself into any and all platforms. Dialing up and down its values and brand attributes to meet the expectations of a hungry audience. And most important, taking every opportunity to truly earn your eyeballs when the moment counts.

To some, horizontal segmentation is the scourge of an attention deficit culture and a symptom of “lazy marketing.” But to me, it raises the bar for great storytelling. That’s what we came here for, right? Don’t tell me your product is on sale, tell me why it was made. Don’t tell me it will fix my problems, but show me the person whose problems it fixed. I want the story. If you don’t tell me how you made that incredible commercial with the Rock bench pressing a smart car, I’ll just look it up myself.

As editors and influencers continue to push visual storytelling even further, brands must be careful to not get left behind. Here are a couple of questions to help you keep pace.

Does your brand have influence over culture? If you can’t answer that question, you just found a good place to start. Given the speed of culture, if you are not relevant then you are dead, so finding your ownable story is an imperative.

Second, where are your best storytellers? Hint, they are closer than you think. Your customers, the people who love your brand, often, are the most qualified to capture the hearts and minds of others through great storytelling. Give them the platform to create, unfettered from transactional push marketing. McCormick adopted this strategy during the pandemic when it created a series called “Cook with Us” where audiences were cooking out of their own pantry. This led to a partnership with Tabitha Brown, a food influencer known for her vegan recipes on TikTok. It started with a Facebook live where fans joined virtually to learn how to make a garlic lovers’ pasta with McCormick products and more recently helped her launch her own seasoning brand called Sunshine All Purpose Seasoning that sold out within an hour.

Audiences are bombarded with choices. Every day and every moment they are choosing what they will consume among myriad of options. If you want to earn their attention, win them over with your visual storytelling. Because, never forget, they eat with their eyes.

This article is in partnership with imre.

Ryan Jordan is executive creative director of imre.

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