Marketing Best Practices

Visual Storytelling UX: Why Stories Need Design

Justin Lafferty By Justin Lafferty June 21, 2016

A gourmet meal loses a bit of luster glopped onto a styrofoam plate. The same can happen to great content presented with an ineffectual user experience.

Great presentation is as important as a powerful storyline, especially as more and more people engage with your content across multiple devices.

Having well-designed content will make people stay longer, remember your brand, and come back for more. However, no matter how clean your design is, bad content will turn readers away in a hurry. If content quality isn’t an issue, your brand’s story could be in need of a UX makeover.

Appearance Matters

Readers and customers know the difference between bland and enticing presentation. According to Xerox, adding colorful visuals to content boosts readership by 80 percent.

It’s not just reading — well-designed content featuring proper images motivates people to share your message on social media. BuzzSumo found that articles with an image every 75-100 words got more than double the social shares, compared to articles with fewer images.

Here’s the full chart, showing social shares and image placement.

Visual Storytelling

Platforms are making it easier for publishers and marketers to present content in a visually-pleasing way without needing to hire an art department. Smaller businesses don’t need a photographer or videographer on staff to really tell visual stories. The quality of stock images has risen over the years.

For many companies, customers are already generating great images and video — telling their own story about the brand. If stock photos have failed you and you’re not handy with a camera, looking into user-generated content can also help spruce up a brand story.

Find the Right Format

Consider Facebook’s Instant Articles: a major trade-off for publishers. While publishers relinquish some control over their content, utilizing Instant Articles allows that content to be smooth and clean on mobile. Facebook notes that Instant Articles load 10x faster than standard mobile web stories and readers are 70 percent less likely to abandon the article — proving how vital clean design is to the user experience.

User Experience

These aren’t just for publishers like Vox or The Washington Post. Recently, Intel became the first brand to use Facebook’s Instant Articles, via its tech-focused publication iQ.

As Facebook builds out better analytics for this product, as well as more ways to monetize Instant Articles, brands will add it to their storytelling repertoire. It’s native advertising taken to the max.

The success of Facebook’s Instant Articles shows that people want their content to look great, be easy to read and load quickly. Even if you’re not looking into Instant Articles, you can look at ways to make your brand stories more user-friendly.

More brands and C-level executives are flocking to blogging platforms like Medium as a way to present stories more cleanly. Website builders such as Squarespace can help brands go from boring to engaging.

Brands are enacting innovative techniques to earn someone’s attention, creating content through avenues such as interactive video, gamification and branching narratives. If the blog post isn’t working for you, try a video or slideshow.

The best brand storytelling isn’t a hard sell about the company, but rather offering the brand as a platform for a compelling narrative.

Check out Patagonia, an outdoor retailer. While their home page features product placement, they know their end customer is likely passionate about the environment.

Content Marketing User Experience

Patagonia produced a short film about the power of industrial hemp, and the way the video is featured on the company’s prime real estate is beautiful.

Most People Won’t See Your Big Finish

No matter how great the written content is, most of your readers will tune out or get distracted by something else before they reach the conclusion.

When Slate wanted to find out how long their readers scroll, they tapped Chartboost to do a study.

While many people don’t bother scrolling at all, most readers got about halfway down the page before bailing.

The highest percentage of completion? Those who saw photo and video content.

Visual UX

The takeaway is that great content, by itself, is not enough. Readers need some kind of visual to keep their interest.

Jerry Cao, a UX content strategist at the wireframing and prototyping app UXPin, offered some tips for effective storytelling design in a post on The Next Web. His advice? Don’t be complex for the sake of complexity, and listen to what your readers want.

“An engaging story doesn’t have to be complex or elaborate. In some cases, you can tell a cohesive story with just one image,” Cao wrote. “If your story can be told with a single image, then don’t use twenty. But if your story needs twenty visuals to work well and be understood, then definitely don’t try to do it in eight. It’s all about making your story as detailed or simple as it needs to be: no more, no less.”

The first question you need to ask before composing your brand story is this: “What do my readers/fans/customers want to see?” Writing a brand story to serve the brand leads to low pageviews, a disinterested consumer base and a frustrated CMO. Composing your narrative with the user in mind will only help your cause.


About the Author

Justin Lafferty is the founder and CEO of On Base Marketing and the former editor of SocialTimes. Follow him on Twitter: @JLafferty21 and @OnBaseMarketing.

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