The Last Word: Now Is the Time to Tell a Visual Story

The Last Word: Now Is the Time to Tell a Visual Story


If you’ve earned a living in the photo or digital imaging business, then you’ve lived your life surrounded by images. You’ve been attuned to the work of skilled photographers and the equipment that has produced both valued commercial pictures and appreciated works of art.

You’ve likely embraced the category personally, too, and become something of a minor expert in the process of capturing and sharing personal images. You have been at the epicenter of the revolution that put digital technology in the hands of the masses, and you’ve watched still images move, literally, to video. To you, images and imaging have been central to how you’ve lived and experienced your life.

Marketing professionals have always embraced images, too. Selected pictures and supporting graphics for a print advertising campaign could make or break a new product coming to market, or clearly define a brand. Generations of Volkswagens thrived with the support of extraordinarily well-done shots of new cars in their advertising campaigns, while the classic image of the Marlboro Man sold billions of cigarettes (while simultaneously fanning the flames of a serious public-health crisis).
Never, however, has the marketing industry relied more on visuals to help convey a story. Here’s how this came to be.

The arrival of social media technology sent those who work in communications into a legitimate tizzy. Everyone in the business knew well that this new subset of our category had to be embraced. So they took to every channel available to get the word out about their life and, soon after, their company and client. And to convey their story, they used words. Blogs led the charge by having interesting, informative and opinionated points of view—and allowed for interactive dialog. That dialog, however, was supported by two-directional text.

Soon after, Facebook and Twitter gained steam, took off and dominated virtually every square inch of the globe, posing an interesting marketing opportunity for forward-looking organizations. So, experts in these organizations went with gusto and did what they do best—used more words to tell their story. They typed, often in snippets of 140 characters or less, and sometimes over and over in a day. They used words to deliver their message and tell their story. While groundbreaking, it wasn’t the pinnacle of engagement. That’s what the studies show: if you want to be truly effective, convey your story through a combination of words and powerful imagery.

The one commonality of these channels—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.—is that they relied on text-based content. The words you used mattered, as they always do, but often the number of words you used mattered, too.

That’s not the case any longer. The category has evolved; it’s “come full circle” is what I say often in meetings. Ten to fifteen years ago, a PR agency complemented its core services by offering marketing communications deliverables, like brochures and direct mail. The category paused in the years between as that business declined while marketers wrapped their arms around the strange, new topic of social media. Now, however, social marketing has matured, and we are right in the middle of it.

It’s the time in history to tell—and sell—your story visually. Craft your messages and deliver them to your audience in a way that you know how, but complement the content with point-driving visuals. Your audience is asking for it, and the current generation of photographers, videographers and graphic designers has the opportunity to play a central role in this trend. Marketing professionals are going to market with eye-catching photography, creative graphics and intriguing and comprehensive storytelling infographics. In addition, marketers who are smart, savvy and, in general, in touch with what is happening in the minds of their audience are asking for video. And, all of these deliverables are complementing the core programs that are content/copy-based.

Do you need validation that now is the time to tell a visual story? If so, think of the growth of YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram, and the volume of images being shared every second on those platforms alone. And think of the ways the shared images are easily captured and shared via mobile devices with both still and video capabilities. Think, too, of the volume of followers, friends and fans of the world’s largest brands—and understand that these are the folks clamoring for visual content.

I’ve had the good fortune of earning a living in the photo and digital imaging category. I’m proud to have been witness to the arrival of the technologies that allow stories to be told visually. I hope you agree, but I say now is our time to prosper.

Scott Signore is the CEO of Matter Communications. After holding senior positions at various public relations agencies, he founded Matter Communications in 2003 with a goal of creating a results-based PR firm that would have a direct impact on clients’ businesses. Matter has grown to 50+ employees and more than 40 clients, and its annual revenue exceeds $6 million.