This is how visual storytelling works

Visual storytelling, a nice buzzword turns the reality check. It is noticeable that it is less new than you would think. Rather, it is an established instrument. I’ll show you how to use it successfully for your practice.

Visual storytelling from yesterday to today

You can go to any Stone Age cave. As soon as you discover cave paintings, you are confronted with the first known evidence for visual storytelling. The narration with images and the same understanding is deep in our DNA. One would have to consult an expert to get an answer to the question of why.

I suppose it has something to do with the fact that characters have not been part of the basic configuration of the beginnings of human history. Communication took place with hands and feet, as you know from your last holiday in Italy, just visually.


The first films were silent films. Of course, it was not like that voluntarily. There was simply no useful way to synchronously record image and sound. So you left it and played a little music to the current pictures.

Silent films are the purest modern form of visual storytelling. Since the images had to do without sound, the storytellers had no choice but to make the pictures as linguistically as possible.

And that’s ultimately what visual storytelling is all about. Tell a story that is supported by visuals, pictures and videos. The word “supported” may be a bit too weak. Basically, the visuals should actually tell the story and in the best case get along completely without a textual context.

But you must not imagine what’s happening like a photo novel without bubbles, because visual storytelling works far more subtle than you are used to from the BRAVO. Good visual storytelling comes with a single image.

Modern platforms are fully committed to visual storytelling

Which brings us to the old wisdom “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Modern forms and platforms for visual storytellers, such as Instagram, Pinterest or Snapchat, have not invented storytelling with visuals, but offer the ancient narrative technique only a contemporary tool.

Pinterest, it is not much more visual. (Screenshot: Dr. Web)

The success of these services is therefore not surprising. And this is exactly what you should take advantage of. Use visual narrative forms wherever it makes sense. This may not work with your medicine product’s leaflet, but there’s hardly a better, more promising way to market products and services.

When social media is part of your marketing mix, the question of using images does not arise. Depending on the channel, such as Instagram, you can not post without pictures. So if you use Instagram for your company’s marketing, then you’ll already know the power of the images. But do you use the “right” pictures?

The right visuals for storytelling

A good visual for modern storytelling usually requires one or a combination of these elements:

  • context
  • authentic representation of persons / personality
  • tension
  • Background information
  • clear visual language

Let’s take a closer look at the individual elements.


With context, I refer to the picture elements that do not at first glance represent the focus of the picture. Context can be the representation of a particular cultural background or the use of a particular color palette. In general, context means all that supports the statement of the visual without words and, more or less automatically, directs it in a certain direction.

Authentic representation of persons and personality

If you look at modern advertising, then you will find that there is the super-perfect representation of people only in perfume advertising. And, honestly, does not that seem ridiculous?

Today, images that portray people authentically are more successful. The sooner the viewer identifies with the depicted person and the situation, the more successful the picture will be.

Yes, posed and styled no. (Photo:

In terms of brand communication, this also means that you should not focus on your brand, but on the people behind the brand or the customers who benefit from your brand. The narrated stories can be downright microscopic, representations of individual life situations, such as an employee checking fresh coffee beans or the customer enjoying a cup of coffee on the lake shore.

If you yourself are the brand, you represent yourself in this way as down-to-earth, quite normal type dar. That is sympathetic. Superheroes like people only in movies.

The more personally you approach the subject, the closer you approach the viewer, the more personable you can appear. People like you and me work better as superman, which does not exist in reality.


Tension always works. Of course you can not always serve with excitement. Rather, it depends heavily on the product or service, to what extent you can succeed.

Not everyone is a Volvo:

Background information

Wherever possible, take a look behind the scenes. Let the potential customers look behind the factory gates, behind the scenes, in the creative or production process. This satisfies the strong urge of curiosity and also conveys confidence because more of the value creation process becomes visible.

You could, for example, accompany an employee on the way to work with the camera and show what his tasks are. With that you have also covered the authentic representation of persons.

Clear picture language

Artistic photos may be quite beautiful and radiate a special aesthetic. In a gallery, one would par excellence on the artist’s different approaches to interpretation and each other with a glass of prosecco to certify his intellectual abilities. So you are not allowed to work in visual storytelling.

Do not leave room for interpretation where there is more than one interpretation. Rather, your visuals must clearly and unambiguously convey your message, as quickly as possible.

Of course, you should rely on photographic techniques that increase the attention or direct the eye specifically to certain image elements. Do not play around, but rely on established techniques, such as the rule of thirds.

Rule of thirds (Photo: Moondigger, Wikimedia | License: CC by SA 2.5)

Statistical data analysis: elements that work safely

Stock photo provider Getty Images has published in its online magazine Curve a post titled “The Power of Visual Storytelling.” Based on the evaluation of the buying habits of Getty customers, author Sarah Lawrence presents trends and developments in image usage.

As a result, Lawrence highlights four factors that are nowadays always defining a good visual. The following elements therefore always work. We already had “authenticity” above. Getty found that stock customers nowadays buy rather imperfect, but authentic personals and not those with perfectly lit and cosmetically styled models.

According to Getty, “cultural references” are also a growing trend. I would put this all under authenticity. Because where there are many multicultural families, this should also be reflected in visual storytelling, if only to be real.

Archetypal representation: Urinstincts awake. (Photo:

There is also an increasing demand for pictures showing people doing manual work, especially for more precision work. Getty attributes this to the fact that people want to go back a long time when many products were still hand made and the relationship between creator and customer was closer.

The demand for cane material showing classic archetypes, such as the devoted family man or the caring mother, remains high.

(Post picture: Depositphotos)