MAGLR BLOG / 18 October 2019

Visual storytelling brings your story to life

We all love stories. Remember when our parents used to read us a story before bedtime? Now we are binge-watching our favourite film or series on Netflix. The earliest form of storytelling through oral tradition was to convey information, entertainment and values from sender to receiver. And in the current digital landscape, storytelling offers numerous opportunities for winning, captivating and retaining the attention of audiences.

With the shift in the media landscape from traditional to digital channels, brands and companies are increasingly applying (visual) storytelling in their communication. Because you can convey a message or theme better with stories. And by adding images and media, you can strengthen the imagination of the audience. Experience and emotion come in to play. Storytelling in content marketing is therefore a powerful tool to win and retain the attention of audiences. Moreover, we tell stories to surprise, not to sell.

Once upon a time...

Since the beginning of humanity, stories have been used to convey messages. The basic characteristics of a story are described by philosopher Aristotle around 335 BC;

Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Stories are well-designed structures.

According to Aristotle, emotion and humor also are a crucial element for your story to grab and surprise the audience. According to him, humor is the way to break predictability. Stories are best if they are short & powerful and when they are honest, because Shakespeare once said; ‘’No legacy is so rich as honesty’’.

Our wonderful brain

Why is storytelling so effective? You can thank the functioning of our brain. Seven areas in our brains become active during the processing of stories. For example, with extensively written stories, fantasies are simulated while reading. This ensures that the brain remembers the story better. But it also applies to the stories that we hear or see.

Source: YouTube

This animation is from an experiment from Heider and Simmel (1944). They showed this video to people who then had to describe what they saw. What Heider and Simmel discovered is that a narrative arose from this abstract film with moving geometric shapes. Viewers often described characters with emotions, motivations and a purpose in these forms. People tend to think in narratives and our brain wants to be able to make a connection between cause and effect. And if we are involved with the story, this can lead to action. Stories cause emotional reactions that allow people to take actions based on the emotion they experience.

Show, don’t tell

The power of visual storytelling lies in stimulating the senses. The use of text, image, video, animation and audio to appeal to our imagination. Our brain loves images because it is much easier to digest and remember than just text. Visual images ensure that information is remembered better and faster. In addition, the attention of the recipient remains optimal because the brain is not only processing text. Sometimes words aren't necessary at all. At the same time, visuals easily cross language barriers to convey a message, regardless of the recipients' language or background. We all speak the same language, a visual language.

With visual storytelling in content marketing you tell a story as a brand or company with the use of appropriate and descriptive images, infographics, animations and videos. And that story can be told through one or more expressions through different channels. What's important, is that the coherence of these expressions must always be consistent. Meaning: the same design (i.e. corporate identity), tone-of-voice and sticking to one message or theme in an omnichannel approach. That way, the audience can understand the message, get involved, retell it and ultimately share it among themselves.

Source: YouTube

Listen up, speak up

The application of visual storytelling in the digital landscape is reflected in all kinds of forms. The most popular form at the moment is the Stories feature on social media. But we're also seeing increasing use of video formats such as vlogs or (mini) series. In the digital world, the traditional division of roles between "broadcaster" and "listener" has therefore gradually disappeared. On social media, you are both a send and a receiver at the same time. Everyone is on stage, or everyone is sitting in the room and is fully involved. The dialogue that follows, ensures that the essence of your story and its message are preserved.

What's your story? 

How do you tell a story as a company? In which way do you inform or convince the audience with content? Remember that visual storytelling makes a major contribution to engaging and engaging people with what you have to say. People remember 80% of what they see compared to 20% of what they read. And 83% of "human learning" is done visually. No wonder video content is so popular in transferring information nowadays. So if you want to start with visual storytelling, a few pointers:

  1. Stick with the plot
    A story has a beginning, middle and an end that together form a plot (theme or message). The story does not necessarily have to follow a chronological storyline, but the plot must remain clear to the audience.

  2. Recognizable
    Ensure that (elements of) stories are always consistent in tone-of-voice, structure and design. This way, the receiver recognizes and understands the coherence of all content regarding the entire story.

  3. A picture says more than a thousand words
    The way we consume content has changed. Use a well-thought-out mix of text, image and other media to keep the reader's attention.

  4. Make it snackable!
    First impressions count. Depending on the amount of content you put in one message, make sure the message is clear at a glance. This way, it is not only easy to scan but it also arouses the curiosity of the reader.

  5. Play with colour
    Colours can trigger emotions, this is called ‘colour psychology’. Wrong colours can, for example, have a repellent effect, but the right colours can also reinforce emotions in a story.

  6. Leave room for imagination
    Sometimes you don't have to tell everything. The omission of information or image can also evoke the imagination to fill the gap with the association of the reader himself.

  7. Symbolism
    Is it possible to replace the text with images or symbols? Please do! Symbolism works well to convey different information instead of using words. Think for example of clouds for sadness or dark times or a light bulb for a new idea.

  8. Pick your campfire
    In the old days, stories were told around a campfire. Nowadays, you have a wide choice of digital channels to convey your message. Therefore, carefully choose the right channels that match the type of visual content. Does your content only consist of visual images? Then use Instagram for example.

Inspiration examples

An ode to the emoji
MaglrStories - Ode to the Emoji


A view on despair
'A view on despair' - data visualisation about suicide numbers by Studio Terp


The Boat | SBS
'The Boat', an interactive graphic novel about escape after the Vietnam War.

Ready to give your story a visual enhancement? With Maglr you can create interactive content that will grab the attention of your audience. Log in or start a free trial.

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