When Image Is Everything, Brands Need Timely, Authentic Creative

Visual storytelling has historically been confined to the images that media and entertainment companies place on front pages, magazine covers and TV screens. That's no longer the case, though. An entire generation has grown up with a combination of camera and computer in their pockets, giving them the power to share their personal stories through original or repurposed visual content. The rise of social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat has only made it easier for consumers to simultaneously experience and broadcast life's moments.

This kind of visual storytelling is not a trend, but an evolution in how consumers communicate with one another. Naturally, brands need to keep pace if they want to be part of these consumers' lives. Yet the opportunities to appear in a feed are fleeting, often so short that brands must make an immediate impact or else go ignored. To fully take advantage of this new paradigm, brands must embrace a combination of authenticity, emotion, and experimentation.

Remain Authentic
Within these new channels, the creative itself is the star and must be optimized around the consumer's mindset. Brands have to appear authentic to both themselves and the delivery channel. In other words, their message can't look or feel like advertising.

Achieving this authenticity requires brands to be more humble than they've perhaps been in the past. Rather than push their message, they must be unobtrusive. One emerging technique is for a brand to collaborate with a photographer with a large following on a visual channel like Instagram, subtly working the brand into the photographer's images. This may require advertisers to cede some control of how their brand is represented, but the goal is to fit into the channel. Authenticity is only achieved when the brand's presence makes sense.

Emphasize Emotion
When a brand feels authentic, it can then earn a strong emotional response from the consumer. With such a small window of opportunity, achieving this immediate connection is far more important than it has been in the past.

It's crucial to consider how people arrive at emotions, and how that translates across the country and around the world. A single visual can't tell a brand's story the whole world over, and an image that elicits an emotional response in England may not achieve the same result in the U.S. or Germany. It's the company's and the communicator's job to find creative that delivers the desired reaction in each relevant market.

Experiment Regularly
Of course, the landscape will change over time as well. Working with established Instagram photographers may be massively popular right now, but that's no indicator of success in six months.

These visual platforms evolve constantly, as do the devices consumers use to access them. Improved camera resolution, increased creative controls and emerging apps will all change how consumers communicate. Therein lies the need to constantly experiment with new avenues of communicating, embracing emerging channels and new ways of reaching their audience. They key is to meet consumers where they are, rather than getting caught up trying to replicate old media style messaging.

Above all else, brands need to remember that visual storytelling is now the norm. By embracing authenticity and cultivating emotional connections, brands can play a role in consumers' lives.

This article is a part of a series exploring communications and media trends in honor of the second annual Communications Week, a week-long series of events celebrating the communications industry, held from October 19-23, 2015. Follow @CommsWeekNY

Post by Greg Bayer, GM, Offset by Shutterstock. You can follow Offset by Shutterstock on Twitter at @offsetimages