The power of visual storytelling

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We’ve all seen the statistics, and there’s no doubt that content marketing is vastly more effective when images or video are added.

Brands that use visual content have found that it encourages greater engagement with their customers. This is very understandable, as visual storytelling is something that goes back to caveman days. Visuals help us tell our stories quickly with impact and emotion. But they have to be the right visuals. And when the visual is a powerful one, be it an image or video, the effect is magnified.

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Powerful visuals + evoke emotions = Deeper engagement

Powerful visuals evoke emotions, driving a deeper engagement and more profound change in behavior. So what makes an image or video powerful, so it causes an emotional reaction and encourages this deeper level of engagement that a content marketer needs to be successful?

At Getty Images, we spend a great deal of time asking ourselves  - what makes a powerful visual?

Of course the craft of the image matters – composition, lighting, style etc. But there are other factors that might not be so obvious and perhaps most people never think about.

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Four factors that make a powerful visual:

1. Authenticity

The consumer wants to believe that the people they are seeing are real… what they’re doing and how they’re acting is real.  A nice example of this is the realness of Jennifer Lawrence - which fans of the Oscars loved - versus the varnished, old-Hollywood look and feel of Anne Hathaway. This real-world trend shows up in our subject-based archive as well.

At Getty Images, we've seen this trend play out with a change in the type of imagery we've been selling over the past five years. Our most popular 2007 baby versus 2012 baby shows the latter is clearly more candid. It’s not the perfect moment, but it is a real moment. And our 2007 woman versus 2012 woman shows quite a change, not just in her look, but in her attitude.

Browse a selection of images portraying female authenticity.

This is the kind of change we’ve seen in just five years. The visual language changes faster today than ever before thanks to YouTube, Instagram and Facebook – we can no longer think in decades – i.e. The 50’s housewife, the 80’s business man. You have to keep up or you will seem dated.

Dove is an example of a marketer that has nailed authenticity and benefitted from it.  H&M is another example, with the use of Jennie Runk, the plus-size model to demonstrate the range of sizes in its beachwear campaign. And MasterCard – real people, real moments. The hair isn’t perfect, the lighting isn’t perfect. But it works.


2. Cultural Relevancy

Diversity and inclusiveness are issues that are very culturally relevant today. Of course not everybody is on board with these or any social shifts, but if you’re a content marketer it’s usually good business not to be stuck in the past. 

Even mainstream advertisers like Cheerios are willing to accept any negative reactions to achieve a deeper emotional connection. One of the more high-profile reactions to the commercial and the backlash was a customer-created Tumblr to highlight a more positive, authentic view of mixed-race families. That risk is clearly worth it when you create this kind of relationship with the consumer. It’s also not surprising that cultural relevancy and authenticity go hand in hand.

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3. Sensory Currency

This is a very strong trend right now. As technology takes over more and more of our lives, we’ve seen a desire for things that are ‘real’ like human contact and old-time, hands-on activities and professions. This trend combines nostalgia and a new appreciation for traditional skills, and seeing handmade products re-establishes the connection between maker and consumer.


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4. Classic Storytelling Archetypes

Archetypes are classic characters that have been used to tell stories for hundreds, if not thousands of years - and the 12 classic archetypes are still just as powerful of a storytelling tool today.

Examples we see quite often are the hero archetype and more specifically, a Goddess of the Hunt. Recent cultural examples of this include The Hunger Games, or Disney's Brave.

And then there’s the caregiver. Quite often the caregiver archetype today isn’t a woman at all, but the father as seen in this advertisement for Chase Private Client.  This is quite a shift socially – another example of cultural relevance.

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View a selection of images representing the classic storytelling archetypes.

Key takeaways

Powerful visuals evoke deeper emotions and result in a deeper engagement with your content. That’s why as a content marketer, knowing how to identify emotionally powerful images is so important. Content marketing is about telling a story and creating a closer connection to the consumer, and powerful visuals, whether they’re still images or video, make that easier and more effective.


Four key factors for powerful visuals:

  • Use authentic visuals
  • Be culturally relevant to your audience
  • Use visuals that reflect the human experience
  • Use visual storytelling tools like archetypal characters

To browse a selection of images which reflect the four key factors for powerful visuals, click here

Watch Getty Images' Senior Creative Planning Manager, Pamela Grossman describe the four key factors for visual storytelling at the 2013 Newscred Content Marketing summit here.

Learn more about the power of visual storytelling and content marketing  - read now

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