visual storytelling

Shark Tank Case Studies of Good (and Bad) Brand Stories

Shark Tank  is a great place to check out good (and bad) brand stories that show how a product works, what problem is solves and why it was created.

Shark Tank is a great place to check out good (and bad) brand stories that show how a product works, what problem is solves and why it was created.

Shark Tank affords entrepreneurs a high-profile opportunity to seek a business-building investment. The popular TV show also serves as a case study for telling a compelling brand story.

Entrepreneurs typically enter the “shark tank” by showing how their product works and describing the problem it solves. In conversation with the investor-sharks, entrepreneurs share their back story, relevant financial information and the channel where their product is sold. In other words, they tell their brand story.

Sometimes, the brand stories click. Other times, they flop. The best brand stories hang together – from brand promise to value proposition. The worst brand stories break down because they aren’t convincing or fall apart under questioning.

Too often the concept of brand story is conflated with slippery marketing goo. Brand stories focus on why a product is wonderful and neglect explaining why it’s useful. Brand stories should avoid turning products into heroes and concentrate instead on demonstrating how a product can make users heroes.

Like any engaging story, a brand story needs to strike a chord with its intended audience. On an episode of Shark Tank, three Clemson University entrepreneurs told how as beer drinkers they grew tired of lugging heavy ice chests to events, so they invented a sleek, lightweight container that fits perfectly around a six-pack. For extra appeal, they add an exterior with logos from universities or sports teams. Their brand story featured an affordable, reusable and customized cooler you carry with a shoulder strap. [Mark Cuban invested in the company.] 

On the same episode, two entrepreneurs displayed their patented door block, designed to thwart a forced entry. They demonstrated how it worked by repeatedly kicking and ramming a door without it flying open. Even though the demonstration was impressive, the entrepreneurs went away empty-handed because the sharks viewed the price-point as too high to attract a mass audience. This was a case study of a brand story that didn’t prove its value proposition.

Interestingly, the door-block entrepreneurs mentioned off-handedly a recent purchase order from a school district looking for an affordable way of securing vulnerable classrooms from intruders. This throwaway mention would have enriched their brand story much more than the exhaustive demonstration of how the door block works by showing an unanticipated, scalable use.

Back stories can be critical to brand stories by humanizing products and their inventors. Back stories can illuminate how an entrepreneur came up with his or her idea or what expertise they bring to their nascent business. We live in a time when consumers, especially young consumers, want to associate with a brand. Back stories are gateways to such associations.

Brand stories are important because they convey values, not just value propositions. The sharks frequently decide whether to invest in a new product based on the values of the entrepreneur. Consumers make a similar judgment.

Nike’s embrace of Colin Kaepernick and Patagonia’s longstanding commitment to public lands protection are examples of value-forward brand storytelling.

Authenticity is critical for a brand story to resonate. You cannot assume consumers are gullible. Treat consumers as an invited audience into your brand living room to share real information. In sharing, steer clear of hype, hyperbole and self-aggrandizement. Save that, if you must, for the 30-second TV ad. Best advice, leave your ego back at your garage or wherever your startup started.

Emotive content fits better in brand storytelling than almost any other marketing tool. Who hasn’t bought a pair of TOMS shoes because the for-profit company posing as a charity donates a pair to children in poor countries. TOMS has taken pains to flesh out its brand promise with 360-degree videos of its shoes being delivered to delighted children in Central America. It wouldn’t be surprising if some asylum-seeking families at the US border have children with well-worn TOMS shoes.

The best brand stories – like the ones that capture investments on Shark Tank – are fulsome. They don’t stop with the “what” of a product; they continue with the “why” and the “how.” Entrepreneurs need to be prepared to go deep. Websites allow layered storytelling that can accommodate more complex and complete stories. So can videos.

It goes without saying that brand storytelling on Shark Tank is visual. There aren’t any fact sheets, backgrounders or instruction manuals. It is an entrepreneur facing a skeptical audience waiting to be impressed. What the product does is important. How the entrepreneur explains what it does is more important. Did I mention videos?

Shark Tank, for better or worse, is ubiquitous on television, so tune in and check out visual brand storytelling at its best – and often at its worst. The winners are the ones with a clear demonstration of worth and an equally clear picture of value.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Infographics are Eye-Grabbing Pictures of Information

‘Infographics’ is a seemingly new word to describe pictures of information, but the concept dates back to the days of cave-dwellers and is as common as a subway map. Infographics capture eyeballs and can be easier-than-you-think to create.

‘Infographics’ is a seemingly new word to describe pictures of information, but the concept dates back to the days of cave-dwellers and is as common as a subway map. Infographics capture eyeballs and can be easier-than-you-think to create.

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Marketers and PR professionals frequently refer to “infographics.” You may not recognize the word, but you most likely have seen more than one of them.

In the simplest explanation, infographics are pictures of information. They can include charts, illustrations, photographs and text designed to convey information in a more visual way than a series of dense paragraphs.

Infographics is a new coinage for an ancient idea. Cave drawings may have been the first infographics by showing through pictures significant events or achievements. Mapmakers have produced infographics for centuries that show continents, oceans, mountain ranges, rivers, trails and, more recently, highways. Public transit maps showing routes and stops are a perfect example of an infographic.

The surge in interest in infographics is tied to social media viewing habits. Infographics attract more clicks and are far more likely to be read than messages consisting of only text. Busy (or distracted) people want to acquire information as easily as possible without digging through dense prose. Infographics appeal because they package information so skimmers can pick out key facts and easily follow a short visual narrative. Viewers like infographics because they are easy to share.

Communicators should like infographics because they demand a disciplined approach to what you are trying to say – and forcing you to say it in more than words that you tap out on your laptop.

Like any other communication tool, the secret sauce of infographics is saying something worthwhile, then figuring out how to visualize what you are saying. That starts with your storyline. Yes, infographics are just another storytelling technique. Begin with an eye-catching piece of data to grab attention. Make sure your narrative is logical for your audience to follow.

Once you have a story to tell, think about how to illustrate your key points to keep the story moving. Use stick figures or scribbles to develop your basic design. If you need inspiration, Google infographics, look at some examples and select the styles that work best for your story. 

Some communicators shun infographics, despite their proven effectiveness, because they don’t know how to create them. That’s understandable, but very curable. There are plenty of tools that can walk you through their creation. If you have a teenager or young adult, they could whip one out with ease. You may have someone on your staff who can take your rough draft and turn it into a splendid infographic. There are plenty of graphic designers who will do it for you at a reasonable price. 

Have a point of view on how you want your infographic to work and look. At the same time, be open to other ideas about how to show your story. There is no formula for the perfect infographic. New ideas are being explored everyday – from squares instead of scrolls to 3D illustrations.

The constants in infographics include using color that is consonant with your branding, readable typefaces, social media sharing buttons, mobile optimization and a clear call to action. The design you put into your infographic should be repeated in other communications, so you have a consistent visual identity. 

To achieve its objective, your infographic needs to be promoted and shared. LinkedIn is an excellent platform, along with Facebook and Twitter. Instagram can be the right choice if your target is younger eyeballs. Don’t forget to post the infographic on your website or write about it in your blog.

Still not convinced? Read this infographic developed by Spiralytics about how infographics can benefit your business.

 

Photography, The Photo Ark and Great Visual Storytelling

Joel Satore has dedicated his life to capturing intimate, face-to-face portraits of animals that reflect the biodiversity of earth, as well as the dangers of animal extinction. His visual storytelling is strikingly artful, compelling to view and an example of how to show what you mean and feel in a way that connects with a wide audience. [ © Photo by Joel Satore/National Geographic ]

Joel Satore has dedicated his life to capturing intimate, face-to-face portraits of animals that reflect the biodiversity of earth, as well as the dangers of animal extinction. His visual storytelling is strikingly artful, compelling to view and an example of how to show what you mean and feel in a way that connects with a wide audience. [© Photo by Joel Satore/National Geographic]

The power of photography is indisputable. The art of photography involves harnessing that power to tell a story.

There is no better visual storytelling example than Joel Sartore and The National Geographic’s Photo Ark. “Species are disappearing at an alarming rate, but together we can help. The National Geographic Photo Ark is using the power of photography to inspire people to help save species at risk before it’s too late.”

Photo Ark’s founder, Sartore so far has photographed 8,485 different species of animals in 40 countries. Each photograph is an intimate, face-to-face portrait of familiar and not-so-familiar animals. His goal is to capture 12,000 species in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries to illustrate the earth’s fragile biodiversity.

Of his lifelong project, Sartore says, “I want people to care, to fall in love, to take action.” 

Few storytellers are as devoted as Sartore, but his project provides useful lessons to any visual storyteller:

Captivating Title
Photo Ark sparks immediate recognition of the original ark and its mission to save animals during the great flood. The title taps into our memory banks of books with illustrations of animals scrambling up the ark’s plank. We know what we are in for before we see Sartore’s first photograph.

Photographs can evoke emotional responses, but people have to take notice of the photographs to have an emotional response. A captivating title is like a finger pointing in the right direction.

Visual Story Template
Like any story, a visual story needs a plot and architecture that captures and directs the interest of viewers. Sartore’s plot centers on a staggering number of photographs with either a simple white or black background featuring an animal looking straight at the viewer. There is an inescapable connection, like looking at a photograph of a family member. The one-on-one scale of each photograph doesn’t favor larger animals over smaller ones such as insects. They all seem equal and equally important, which is the underlying theme of Sartore’s story.

Pictures with a purpose tell stories. Visual storytelling does not consist of random photographs strung together like a personal scrapbook. Visual storytelling requires forethought, consistency and competence. It requires a visual template that gives the photographs a harmonious meaning.

You can view 400 mesmerizing animal portraits in Joel Sartore’s photo album titled  The Photo Ark . Purchasing the book is one way to support Sartore’s efforts to raise awareness of endangered species and what can be done to avoid animal extinction.  https://www.joelsartore.com/gallery/the-photo-ark/

You can view 400 mesmerizing animal portraits in Joel Sartore’s photo album titled The Photo Ark. Purchasing the book is one way to support Sartore’s efforts to raise awareness of endangered species and what can be done to avoid animal extinction.
https://www.joelsartore.com/gallery/the-photo-ark/

Visual Depth
Photographs can convey depth better than text, especially to contemporary eyes that skim over pages of words. Sartore’s photographs gleam with color. The animals are expressive. You can stare at the photographs and see details a casual glance would overlook. The photographs have a mesmerizing effect. The detailed photographs convey respect for the animals and make each one appear special and worth saving.

Visual depth results from quality photography, which is more possible because of ubiquitously affordable high-quality cameras, even on your cellphone. However, seeking out relevant detail demands commitment by the photographer to look for it and find ways to capture it. Committed photographers aren’t satisfied with the first shot they take. They look for fresh angles, the best light and shots that advance a storyline. 

Tapping into Emotions as a Call to Action
Photographs activate our sense of sight, which may be the most direct link to our emotional selves. Photographs may make us cry. They also can relieve tension by clearly showing how to accomplish a difficult task. Sartore’s Photo Ark is intended to inspire action to save endangered species by showing why they are worth saving. His still-life photographs burst with emotional energy by putting viewers cheek-to-beak with animals Sartore illuminates as irreplaceable.

Photographs, photo essays and visual stories are almost pre-programmed to get an emotional response and can be molded into a call to action based on that emotional response. That’s why fundraising appeals for abandoned animals, disabled soldiers and malnourished children make their pitches through heart-tugging photography and videography. Words can only go so far in making people act. Photographs can make people go all the way.

Photographic Subplots
The Photo Ark conveys a significant subplot. Sartore’s photographic gallery of species wouldn’t be possible if the shots were taken in the wild. By capturing animals, especially endangered ones, in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, Sartore is underscoring the importance of their conservation efforts. One of his photographs is of a frog – the last of its species known to exist on earth. The frog would have slipped into oblivion if not for his photograph of it for posterity.

Photography can tell stories that go well beyond the pictures. The secondary stories can be subtle or blunt. They are often told as a story about the visual story.

This blog is essentially a story about a visual storyteller, his work and how his example can be emulated. 60 Minutes followed around Sartore to tell the story of how he engages with the animals he photographs.

The Everyday Power of Photography
Most of us won’t be on a lifelong photographic quest. But that doesn’t mean we can’t commit to a lifetime of using the power of photography to tell our stories, whether it’s in the form of visually compelling PowerPoints, origin stories or marketing campaigns.

Developing a visual story requires a different kind of thought process than sitting down at your computer and typing. But the thought process is actually a familiar one. It draws on our imagination and visual recollection. We need to see our story through our own eyes, then figure out how to tell it like we see it.

Even though sight is a very personal sensation, seeing a story can be a collaborative endeavor. Multiple insights can enrich a visual template, add meaningful detail and infuse emotion. It is the embodiment of seeing a story through the eyes of your audience. It expands the realm of curiosity and possibility. 

The excuse that “I’m not a photographer” is not true. If you can see, you are taking mental photographs all the time. You know what moves you. You may not know how to take great photographs, but don’t let that stop you from aspiring to tell a great visual story.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Earning Clicks and Much More

If you want to be heard, be seen.

If you want to be heard, be seen.

Images improve the chances of connecting your customers with your content. If you catch their eye, you can earn a click.

However, images can do much more than just earn clicks. They can deliver useful information, answer common questions and provide clear explanations. 

Visual content works because our brains are wired to process images much faster than words. That's why a good picture is worth more than a 1,000 words.

Images have other virtues, too. They can simplify, symbolize and sequence information in ways that are familiar, comfortable and nearly automatic. It takes far less effort to look at a picture than to read a paragraph.

Capitalizing on visual content requires the same care, thought and editing as writing an effective paragraph. Sticking a picture into the middle of a mound of words won't cut it. We use the phrase "information design" to describe the process of determining how to meld words and images into a cohesive communications unit.

Here are some tips about finding and using visual content successfully:

1  All pictures aren't created equal. You need to choose pictures that grab attention and tell your story. We have moved past the Polaroid era and people expect higher quality imagery, which they see everyday, all day on television and the Internet. If you can't discriminate between a good picture and a bad one, get help so what you choose does the job.

2  You don't have to be a world-class photographer. Some of the most powerful pictures are ones taken in the moment on smartphones. The pictures you want to use should be judged by their effect on your customers, not based on the credentials of who shot them. 

3  Images don't have to be pictures. Some of the best, most shareable visual content comes in the form of charts and infographics, which are cleverly packaged and logically sequenced information delivery vehicles. Charts are especially good ways to show contrast. Infographics work well to explain a complicated piece of information in a simple, digestible fashion. They also are powerful ways to show causal relationships.

4  Video counts as visual content. Video gets discounted because of a perception that it is too hard and too expensive to develop. That's yesterday's news. Short videos can be easy to produce and are an effective way to show how something works or share a testimonial.

5  Seek and use customer content. A great way to generate images is to ask your customers to send them to you. You may receive a lot of unusable stuff, but all it takes is a few gems to add value to your communications. Customer-generated content is also a great way to engage your customer base.

6  Little pictures matter as much as big ones. No question a large, dramatic picture can be spellbinding. But smaller pictures can be appealing, too, such as photographs of the staff member who writes a blog. Think both big and small when you search and select images.

7  Don't overlook the element of surprise. Pictures, unlike words, can make people do a double-take. Visual surprises pull the eye toward them because they conflict with our sense of the familiar. They cause us to take a second look, which increases your chance of getting someone to spend more time with your content.

8  Be careful with stock photos. Stock photography can be a short-cut to getting a relevant, eye-fetching picture. It also can be a can of worms. First off, make sure you purchase the stock image you use for the purpose or purposes you intend. Second, be mindful of whether a competitor has used the image, which can be very embarrassing. Finally, stock pictures are just that. They are generic, not specific. If you are going for authenticity, look somewhere else than the online galleries of stock photography.

9  Insert personality into your visual content. Selfies are popular because they are personal. Inserting some personality into your pictures, charts or infographics underscores authenticity and can reinforce your branding. Be careful not to inject a tone that is inconsistent with your message.

10  Leverage familiar patterns. Infomercials can be effective by relying on tried-and-true patterns, such as "before" and "after." Visuals that are basically doodles work because most people doodle. A familiar picture with an odd twist can be turned into a meme that results in shares and comments online. Be a good observer and follow your own visual instincts.