Visual Learning Lab

Need some tips on reaching your audience through compelling visuals? Explore our Visual Learning Lab for guidance that will help you on your next project. Also, you can view the evolution of visual storytelling with our interactive timeline and register for upcoming webinars on the subject.

  1. click to beginclick to begin

    Scroll down to learn how to tell your story.
  2. 40,000 B.C.

    Prehistoric Storytelling

    Caveman Drawings

    People have been visually telling stories for thousands of years. Today, we are able to see stories that were painted on cave walls and ceilings long ago. Now, we see this type of visual creativity in several channels, such as advertising, videos and print.

  3. 1439

    Printing Press

    The Printing Press

    In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg introduced the first movable type printing press in Europe. By 1450, the printing press was in full swing. It is considered one of the most important contributions in history. Gutenberg’s invention revolutionized the world by making the spread of information easier.

  4. 1754

    Political Cartoon

    The First Political Cartoon

    Benjamin Franklin had many impressive contributions on his resume, but people tend to forget that he invented the first political cartoon. The “Join or Die” cartoon was published in The Philadelphia Gazette during the beginning phase of the French and Indian War. The purpose of the cartoon was to illustrate that the colonies and Great Britain must unite to win the French and Indian War.

  5. 1775

    Direct Mail

    The First Post Office

    To add to his accomplishments, Benjamin Franklin was appointed Postmaster General in 1775. During the Revolutionary War, the circulation of letters and intelligence was essential to winning the war. Since that time, people have used mail to share stories with friends and family, raise awareness of political issues and candidates, and fundraise on behalf of their organization.

  6. 1941

    The First TV Ad

    The First TV Ad

    The first TV commercial aired in the United States on July 1, 1941. It was a 10-second ad for Bulova that premiered before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies. The ad consisted of a graphic with accompanying voiceover stating a catchy phrase. There wasn't much to this first ad, but since then, TV advertising has become a powerful channel to tell the story of products, people and movements.

  7. 1952

    I Like Ike

    The First Televised Presidential Campaign Ads

    In 1952, the use of television “spot” advertising in presidential elections didn’t exist. However, Dwight Eisenhower’s campaign set the precedent when they aired the “Eisenhower Answers America” and “I Like Ike” ads. With the use of animation by Walt Disney Studios and a catchy tune, the “I Like Ike” ad was able to show that Eisenhower was in touch with the people and, as a result, it built more trust in the man who would soon become President.

  8. 1994

    First Web Ad

    The First Online Banner Ad

    The internet is now one of the most prominent channels to promote companies, organizations, candidates and causes. Online users see banner ads on sites every day. Did you know that AT&T created the first noticeable online banner ad? A catchy ad was created and directed the user to a microsite that promoted other sites. Today, banner ads are seen across various platforms on websites, search engines, and social media. (Source)

  9. 1999

    First Online Campaign Fundraising Site

    The First Political Fundraising Website

    The first online political fundraising campaign effort was conducted by Bill Bradley in the lead-up to the 2000 presidential race. While his campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, Bradley raised over $1 million by the end of the 1999 and changed how campaign financing was conducted forever.

  10. 2004–Present

    Social Media

    Social Media

    Social media channels have given us the opportunity to visually promote products, an organization’s mission, stories, etc. Mark Zuckerburg revolutionized the world when he created Facebook in 2004. Today, social media channels are creating innovative ways to advertise, tell stories and engage with your followers.

The How-Tos

What are visual stories and why do we respond to them? Visual stories have been a language in the making over several years. Today, it's used as a business tool and implemented on many channels (social media, video, print, etc.). Ninety percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text (Hubspot). Make your next story a success by following our tips below!

Create a Plan graphic

Know what story you are telling and how you are going to tell it. Determine the channels where the stories will be placed (video, social media, advertising, etc.) and research what’s needed for each. Here are some pointers on creating your plan:

Be Authentic

In order to craft a compelling story, you must be authentic. Create the brand’s personality through images, color and design, while avoiding image overload. Always show real, candid video clips or photos. People are smart and will identify stock footage immediately.

Stimulate the Five Senses

A powerful image is pleasing to the eye, but it stimulates the other four senses as well. Your images must encourage action, create a feeling and instill modernity.

Stay Relevant

Your story must use images that align with your brand’s values, while remaining sensitive to current cultural issues and techniques. Make sure your imagery speaks to your targeted audience and is relevant. Source: The Content Marketing Institute.

Audience graphic

Identifying your audience is probably the most important step after you define your objectives. The questions you must ask yourself are:

  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What action(s) do you want people to take?
  • What issues are important to your audience?
  • Where do they talk online and what are they sharing?

Answering these questions will help you determine what type of story you want to develop. Source: Edelman

Elements of Story graphic

Due to an Internet audience’s short attention span, your story must be short, clear and evoke emotion. Ideally, your audience feels they’re in the shoes of your protagonist so it’s important that he or she is a real person and fits within a branding archetype (e.g., hero, regular person). View other types of archetypes used in storytelling here.

Your message and call-to-action must be crystal clear to your audience. Tell them what action you want them to take (signing a petition, send an email, etc.) This is essential in an advocacy campaign. And most importantly, your ask must be easy for the user. The action must require as few clicks or inputs as possible to take that action. Creating a long process for the desired action will create less incentive for a person to act.

Choosing the Right Tactic graphic

Identifying the right medium — or better yet, media — for your story is critical to your campaign’s success. Your audience, message and goals should guide you toward a specific set of tactics that will ultimately be most effective for communicating your story. In addition, when it comes to choosing the right tactic, your organization should ensure you have the ability, expertise, and resources to create a truly engaging piece of visual content.

A compelling visual storytelling campaign can use the following tactics to share a message:

  • Photos
  • Images
  • Art
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Interactive webpages or microsites
  • Interactive data visualizations

If the hero of your story has a great narrative and is a strong storyteller, then video is likely your best option. Video is also often a great option when your story involves taking physical action. Have you found a way to explain a complex or misunderstood process in simple terms? If not, an infographic might be ideal.

In many cases, more than one visual component can be used. For example, if you choose video, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create complimentary images or infographics, but the most attention and resources should be given to the most compelling component. You also have to match your tactic to the delivery system. See “Reaching Your Constituents” for more.

Constituents graphic

A successful visual story is really only half the battle; you also need to reach your audience. Not only do you need to join them where they already are, but you have to make sure that your message breaks through the clutter of countless other individuals and organizations fighting for a share of their time.

Deciding on which platforms you should share your story is a key element to reaching your constituents. Options may include:

  • Social Media
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • LinkedIn
    • Instagram
    • YouTube
    • Snapchat
  • Websites
  • Pop-up ads
  • Blogs
  • Newspapers
  • Industry publications
  • Television
  • Magazines and newsletters
  • In person via events or meetings

Most importantly, figure out where your key audience goes and leverage those places for your story.

Another key factor in determining which channel(s) to connect with your audience include scope and scale. That is, how many people are you trying to reach and how spread out is your audience on these platforms? If you’re trying to reach a handful of people, in-person storytelling might be your best bet. A nationwide public campaign will require a platform with large reach. Audience demographics, story tone, shareability and how long you want your story in the spotlight can all factor into the decision-making process.

Many are reluctant to post content multiple times, but you might want to re-share your story across multiple platforms and with new twists or angles to your tale. Remember, not everyone will see your story the first time around, and interested parties might find a new component to your story that suddenly spurs them to action.

Sometimes, you can reach your desired audience organically through earned media, your established social media community or your own communication platforms like your organization’s website. You can also supplement organic reach by paying for reach through traditional and online advertising.

ROI graphic

Visual storytelling takes significant resources, and as a result it should be measured. Digital visual storytelling is best suited for measuring ROI because you have numerous analytics available, such as:

  • Views, impressions and reach
  • Clicks and web traffic
  • Actions taken
  • Advocates acquired

But one of the big issues with key performance indicators (KPIs) is that they usually don’t tell you much without proper context. In addition, you can hit your KPI targets, but still fail to achieve your campaign goals or make an impact. Successful measurement for storytelling should not just focus on easy, quantifiable metrics, but its qualitative success as determined by conversations with influencers, sentiment analysis or surveys of your audience.

Measuring clicks and readership are activities, but you really want to focus on outcomes. Did people take action? Did the campaign result in changed perception, increased awareness, changes in attitudes or behavior? Have relationships been strengthened?

Sometimes, the greatest impact from a campaign can be measured on the smallest scale. Did you move someone from a passive observer to a passionate advocate who now shares your story with others? That kind of effect can be more powerful than thousands of views or clicks, so don’t forget to factor those measures in when assessing your visual storytelling campaign.