The power of the story remains the single most compelling draw on the human psyche since primitive times. Its ability to enchant, engage and inform is literally hardwired into our brains, giving order and cognition to the seeming disarray of impressions. And what’s true for cognition is equally true within marketing; perhaps even more so, since one of the most critical components of marketing is the ability to tap into a shared human experience.

But what happens when the narrative outlook dominates over actual content? In the digital age, it might be simple enough for the cynic to dismiss visual content—the ever-present meme, social media’s virally replicated images—as so much sound and fury, signifying nothing. And yet, recent research indicates that online articles that contain images get almost 95 percent more views than standard text articles. It’s simple enough to attest this to a function of cognition to equate objects with visual signifiers; after all, 90 percent of the information transmitted to the brain is visual. But when trying to appeal your brand to the consumer’s increasingly shrewd and dismissive judgement, you’re going to need a little more than a cache of stock images in order to effectively illustrate that same shared human experience.

Visual dominance in the age of content

Recent studies indicate that photo and video posts on Pinterest regularly draw more traffic than Google+, StumbleUpon and Twitter combined. That’s well and good for the social media junkie, but for the marketer who is just as reliant on crafting a compelling description of their brand as much as they are on eye-catching graphics or packaging, exactly what does that mean?

It means that humans are dominated as much by images as they are by words. There’s no doubt that images should play a critical role in developing a brand narrative; but when it comes to adequately informing consumers of the ultimate value of your brand, they should ultimately enhance your descriptions and not distract from the overall content.

Does visual dominance hinder or enhance content?

Calvin Klein advertising in the ‘90s was ultimately successful on one hand based on its ability to combine the ideals of sex appeal, provocation and timelessness that had little bearing with the actual product being advertised. On the other hand, its campaign was just as easily dismissed and parodized because its narrative was so far removed from the day to day lives of the average consumer to seem both absurd, unattainable and ultimately—pretentious. And given that the digital spectrum is just as marked by both authenticity as it is by user experience, the average social media user—who likely resembles neither Kate Moss nor Mark Wahlberg—is not going to be so easily persuaded by provocation or flashiness as much as they are by identification and empathy. And that means a narrative that is driven as much by description and information as much as it is by visual components.

Tips on effective storytelling

Showing the human side of your brand—be it your average customer, your chief marketing guru or your junior copywriter—is one substantial way of establishing empathy with your demographic. It draws on the human component, allowing your audience to feel like they’re as much a part of your product development as your marketing outreach. Sharing a life story—your brand’s history, your milestones, your failures—is critical to achieving an identity with your clientele.

Another is real life testimonials. The average consumer might be endlessly fascinated by the daily wardrobe changes of any Kardashian; but when it comes to day to day purchases, they’re not likely to be running into them at their nearby outlet any time soon. In fact, the average consumer is just as likely to purchase a product based on the recommendation of their cousin

Donna than any celebrity endorsement—if not more so. In the digital age, real life empathy is worth more than a thousand high profile acknowledgements. A picture may be worth a thousand words—but a picture without words tells nothing. And in a digital age when everyone has a story to tell, you need to ensure your story is just as compelling as your appearance. Losing both means nothing more than a loss of identity.