Today’s digital landscape is rapidly evolving into a visual space, a shift that is exciting for many but has left-brain thinkers scrambling to brush up their skills.  As consumers are rapidly surrounded by increased and varied information, attention spans dwindle and content increasingly needs to be condensed; infographics and data visualization prevail and video continues to dominate. So, how do we cut through the noise? And, more importantly, how do we keep up?

Below are five things to consider when exploring visual storytelling:

1. Define Objectives, Know Your Audience

First, start by defining your objectives and your audience. Who are you trying to reach with this visualization, video or graphic, and what action do you want people to take? What issues are important to them? Where do they talk online and what are they sharing? Answering these questions will help you define what type of story you want to develop and will provide you with a starting point.

2. Research

The next step is to do more in-depth research. This could include consumer reports, open data provided by local government or analysis of social conversation. This research and data will become the backbone of the story.

It is also important to continually consume and explore a variety of media types such as video, television, radio, animation, interactive art and graphic design to expand your “visual library.” Don’t be afraid to look outside of your industry for new ways to convey information. Step outside of your comfort zone in order to try new things that may unlock ideas. Visit a museum, pick up a science periodical or spark conversation with a stranger to ensure that you have a cross pollination of ideas, which will allow you to approach visual problems in fresh and creative ways.

3. Building the Story

It’s at this stage where research is leveraged to tell your story. The key is to keep it simple and to build the story around a main argument, fact or theme.

For example, an animated video by Chipotle, and winner of the TED Initiatives “Ads Worth Spreading” challenge, touches on some animal treatment issues in the meat industry that are of concern to consumers right now. This story explains to viewers how Chipotle is returning to a more natural approach, or “back to the start.” The video was successful because Chipotle leveraged insights to position the company in a way that resolves its customers’ need to know they are consuming products from a company that cares too.

4. The Medium is the Message

Now that you know what you want to say and who to say it to, you should consider the medium in which you tell your story.

In the words of Marshall Mcluhan, “the medium is the message.” Whether you want to create a video or infographic, the medium you choose will determine the ways in which that message is perceived and experienced. Your choice of medium should also be grounded in the action you want your audience to take. Infographics may be appealing, but research may reveal that they aren’t relevant to your particular audience. Continually ask and explore the types of content your audience is sharing.

An example of how medium can impact a story was produced by GE in collaboration with Ben Fry of Fathom. Their goal was to take the company’s annual reports from 1892 to 2011 and visualize the history of GE. They considered a variety of formats and approaches, agreeing on an interactive data visualization.   This decision has resulted in a visual story that not only addresses the company’s history but major national and world events as well. If the company chose to visualize these reports in a different manner, the result would be different and potentially less effective.

It’s also possible to choose the wrong medium which can make your story ambiguous and even confusing. In a recent post by Cole Nussbaumer, she discusses how text is sometimes overlooked as the visual takes precedence, explaining that text should still be considered if it will make the point of the story clear.

5. Sharing

Choosing the right platform for sharing your content is just as important as choosing the right medium. Continually refer back to the research stage where you determined exactly who your audience is and where they are sharing content. You may even want to consider a multi-channel approach to ensure multiple touch points. This can include amplification across social, owned properties, paid and traditional media.

You don’t need to be a designer or videographer to be a good visual storyteller. You don’t have to even be a “creative type.” What you do need is an understanding of what goes into a good story, which can then be developed into something visual. By setting objectives and listening to your audience, conducting research and by expanding your “visual library,” you will be able to create visual content that will resonate with the audience you are trying to reach.

Doodle image from BigStock.

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