INSIDER: The Power of Visual Storytelling

September 1, 2014

Natasha Ashton, JD/MBA Candidate

Industry-leading companies have embraced the art of visual storytelling resulting in improved consumer relationships and, thus, improved end-goals, such as sales and profits. Just as visuals have shaped humans thought and communication for thousands of years and like the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words,” visuals are re-forming modern media and adding value to the interactions between people and companies.

The Power of Visual Storytelling: How to Use Visuals, Videos, and Social Media to Market Your Brandby Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio, explains how to best leverage social media and real-time marketing to form one’s own visual storybook. This book teaches real-estate professionals to capitalize on the inherent tendency of the human mind to visualize messages as well as the recent evolution of visual social media.

The e-newsletter that announces each issue of the Keller Center Research Report includes eye-catching photos and active links to the journal articles to capture your attention and engage you as a reader. In a world where business people receive “piles” of emails each day, we set a goal to beat the click through rates of industry averages.

Using key performance email marketing metrics as a benchmark, we are pleased to report competitive levels of engagement among our Keller Center Research Report readers.Book Cover: The Power of Visual Storytelling


THINK POINT #1: Significance of Visuals and Visual Storytelling

Visual storytelling is defined as “the use of images, videos, infographics, and other visuals on social media platforms to craft a graphical story around key brand values and offerings.” Visual storytelling is a result of the evolutionary process behind social media. This evolution began in the late 1990’s when blogging platforms quickly moved toward MySpace and, eventually, the myriad social media platforms present today.

Questions like, what will the rise in social media mean for real-estate professionals or will the visuals really make a difference when compared to text alternatives, could be asked. According to data and research, we can conclude that the answer is “yes.”

Ninety percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are transmitted to the brain 60,000 times faster than text (Eagling 2014). According to MPG Advertising (2014) for 67 percent of consumers, clear and detailed images carry more weight than product information, descriptions and customer ratings. For instance, a Facebook post that includes photographs results in a 37 percent increase in engagement. Furthermore, page traffic grows an average of 12 percent for publishers who use infographics versus those that do not (Alexander 2012). According to a study conducted by EyeViewDigital (2014), conversion can be increased by 80 percent when video is used on a landing page.

This research demonstrates the necessity for real-estate professionals to master the available social-media platforms and to leverage appropriate visuals to improve online traffic, increase prospects and conversion, and successfully market their brand.

Two key metrics provide perspective on the target audience’s level of engagement: open rates and click-through rates. Useful for observing trends, the open rate is measured by the number of times an email message is opened. The open rate can be measured as gross or unique. While the gross open rate(which represents the number of times an email is opened either by original recipients or others to whom the email has been forwarded) is an interesting metric, the unique open rate narrows this definition to include just one opened email per one recipient. Thus, the unique open rate tells us how well we are reaching our subscriber audience. Open rates are not the only significant measure of subscriber engagement. In fact, the click-through rate measures the percentage of email messages that captured at least one click from a recipient. As a result, the click-through suggests a level-deeper engagement

THINK POINT #2: Types of Visuals and Their Advantages

Well-composed photos are not a foreign concept to companies. Photography represents a good start for a company’s visual storytelling. Companies tend to use these photos for websites, ads, news media and retail. Using realistic photographs is an excellent way to connect with consumers and communicate sincerity, because consumers desire realistic and mission-aligned images.

User-generated visuals are also useful for communicating sincerity with users. Collaborative storytelling that involves the company and consumers deepens their relationship and in return can lead to improved brand loyalty and referrals. Additionally, user contributions can shed light on motivations and interests of individual and mass consumers, which can later be incorporated into internally created visuals.

Graphs are helpful to simplistically and easily communicate a more technical product or message. Often, visualization of data makes the information easier to understand and share with others.

Other types of visuals can be used for capturing audience attention and interest. Photo collages can sometimes communicate more of a story than a single image. Photos with text overlays are an enhancement of a traditional image. This photo-text approach allows more control over the interpretation of visuals as well as the message communicated prevents important captions from being overlooked. Postcards and ecards are a unique modernization of a traditional message medium. Word photos, memes, cartoons, GIFs, and infographics can be used to communicate messages with inspiring, humorous, or informative themes.

Videos and presentations take storytelling a step further by communicating an entire process or product in an easy-to-follow and entertaining format. This would be best used if a single image would not be representative or informative enough for consumers

THINK POINT #3: Key Elements of Visual Storytelling

Design is all about embracing the visual imagery. Think about creating a unique visual that is stunning or inspiring to consumers. Authors, Gioglio and Walter, suggest collaborating with talented artists and photographers to feature remarkable imagery.

A single piece of content should not be used for every platform or outlet in which a company markets itself. Each platform has distinct features that foster different types of company and consumer engagement. Personalization, an element of visual storytelling, can help with the process by tailoring visual content to the specific platforms utilized. Additionally, adapting content to these outlets will prevent redundancy. Most consumers connect to companies and professionals through multiple social-media platforms. Seeing the exact same images across platforms will cause disinterest and a decline in engagement. Maintaining a consistent theme throughout distinct content will tell a story without boring one’s consumer base.

Usefulness, another element of visual storytelling, adds value beyond mere marketing information, prompting more interest, engagement, and loyalty from consumers. Adding tips, advice, and “how-tos” through visual content can be a great way to engage consumers rather than just promoting one’s services. Measuring the engagement of this useful content can help professionals identify motivations and needs of consumers, leading to further refined visual storytelling.

Personality is important in conveying a human element of visual storytelling. Consumers who are humans don’t want to connect to a big corporate entity. To bridge the gap between companies or professionals and consumers, avoiding a “buy this now” lead is imperative. Using a friend approach is much more effective. Sharing content should be similar to how a friend or loved one might recommend a product or service. Additionally, spotlighting user-generated content will nurture a level of trust, friendliness, and growing relationships that cannot be matched by professional content.

Visual storytelling takes photos and videos beyond random segmented ads. Promoting content tied together by a theme tells the story of significance in the minds and hearts of consumers. A story can be inspired from a variety of sources, such as, core values, use of company services, holidays, or relevant events.

Another element of visual storytelling such as share-worthiness drives referrals, prospects, and sales. Creating and promoting content that compels followers and friends to share, retweet, post, or pin will exponentially expand the number of people touched and inspired by a professional’s visual story.

The impact of visual content can be amplified by real-time engagement. Daily engagements are essential for connecting consistently with consumers. Maintaining a library of relevant content is the best way of keeping up with daily demand for interaction. However, real-time amplification also applies to current events. Current events must be utilized only if they can be aligned with one’s strengths and core values. Tailoring visual stories to recent events promotes relevancy and personality. The one contention is that a tragedy should never be seen as an opportunity to market a brand. Marketing and exploiting a tragic event will alienate consumers and damage a brand’s reputation. However, heartfelt sympathies or inspiring messages during such events will build relationship and brand loyalty.

THINK POINT #4: Platforms for Visual Storytelling

Pinterest is a pin-board site where users share images on boards based on particular themes. Using catchy board titles, attractive images, and strong themes to tie pins together will attract consumers to your pins.

Youtube is the second largest search engine in the world after Google (Bullas 2014). Because Google owns Youtube, using appropriate titles, key words, and video descriptions is an optimum way to leverage the world’s largest search engine. The site allows for visual content in the form of videos, among other things. Users, particularly marketing professionals, can create entire YouTube pages with customizable banner titles, introductory trailer videos, and video lists. Additionally, users can incorporate hyperlinks directly into videos, allowing traffic to be driven directly to company websites and other social media pages. The key to leveraging this platform is to entertain. While some videos may be informational or a response to consumer questions, videos should be entertaining and not a sales pitch. Additionally, limiting the length of one’s video, targeting specific topics, and getting creative will generate and maintain consumer interest.Stock graphic represenatation of social media channels

Facebook currently has 1 billion users and more than 77 percent of business-to- consumer (B2C) companies and 43 percent of business-to-business (B2B) companies acquired customers through Facebook (Jorgensen 2012). Facebook offers the perfect platform to share photos as well as videos, user-generated content, and visual contests for consumers, generating conversation, which then prompts consumer likes, comments and shares.

Twitter, a microblogging platform, has recently allowed easy incorporation of images with each microblog, or tweet. According to a study conducted by the Anderson School of Business at UCLA, 76 percent of content shared on Twitter included an image. The key to mastering story telling on Twitter is to develop a theme and a voice that tailors every image and message accordingly. Without presuming that a follower is going to a company’s Twitter page to read previous tweets, each tweet message should easily stand-alone. Tweets should also be fresh, consistent, and should show the more casual, relaxed, side of one’s brand.

Instagram is all about images with 40 million photos posted on Instagram daily and about 8500 likes and 1000 comments occur every second. Professionals can create a page that humanizes the brand through photos. Additionally, using a hashtag as the page’s banner notifies consumers on the best way to tag a company or brand in photos, allowing companies to effortlessly leverage user-generated content.

Tumblr is a blogging platform intended for short, simple, visual inspiration. The platform’s key differentiation is the ease of reblogging and the simplicity of one’s page. Vine similarly leverages simple re-shareable visuals, but in the form of 6-second videos.

Slideshare allows for online sharing of presentations and other content, such as webinars, word and PDF files. Content is shared and tagged on Slideshare, and embedded into blogs and websites. This platform is primarily used and most effective in B2B interactions and professional communities.

Google+ is now the second largest, social media platform and has 80 percent unique users (Sullivan 2013). Like YouTube, this platform leverages the world’s largest and most used search engine. The platform facilitates brand pages that incorporate the networking features of LinkedIn and the usability of Facebook. This platform allows for community features as well as video streaming. Google+ is better positioned for visual interest with a significantly expanded cover image and the ability to filter which segments of followers get which visual content.

THINK POINT #5: Implementing Your Story

The first step in taking visual storytelling from theory to reality is setting a goal. A mindless stream of content does not fulfill an overarching strategy. Having a clear understanding of the role visual storytelling is to play in a professional’s business will make all subsequent platform and image decisions more effective and efficient.

The next step is auditing and analyzing one’s current social-media use and content. Track which platforms, types of visuals, and times a day you are receiving the most engagement. Additionally, listen to what consumers are asking for or discussing on these platforms to gauge what needs are and are not being met with one’s own and competitor’s content. Once the consumer demand is identified, determine the platforms, content mix, and frequency to use based on the audit of current efforts.

Professionals need to plan for the unexpected when implementing a visual story. Cross-functionality of marketing and public relations will allow professionals to promote current content and cope with market changes, customer requests and complaints.

Finally, professionals should be constantly creating and obtaining unique, stunning visuals for consumer engagement. This engagement also requires company feedback and response when users engage in the visual content in order to keep the conversation going.


Real estate professionals can and should leverage social-media platforms to humanize their branding efforts and connect with consumers. Utilization of visual storytelling will drive consumer engagement with the brand, encouraging traffic, referrals, and ultimately loyalty and revenues.

Real estate professionals can and should leverage social-media platforms to humanize their branding efforts and connect with consumers. Utilization of visual storytelling will drive consumer engagement with the brand, encouraging traffic, referrals, and ultimately loyalty and revenues.

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Recommended Reading

Walter, Ekaterina and Jessica Gioglio (2014),The Power of Visual Storytelling: How to Use Visuals, Videos, and Social Media to Market Your Brand,New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education.

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Eagling, N. (2014), “Why Every SEO Strategy Needs Infographics,” WebMarketingGroup, (May 7, 2014), [available at].

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About the Author

Natasha Ashton
MBA Candidate, Baylor University

Natasha Ashton is a graduate student from Fort Worth, TX. She received her BA in Public Relations with a minor in Business Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington. She is currently pursuing a JD/MBA at Baylor Law School and the Hankamer School of Business. While in school, she interned with Mission Waco Legal Aid with a focus on research, case analysis, and client interfacing. With her cross-functional education and skillsets, she plans to transition into business transactional law.