You’ve got a brand — and your brand has a story. Don’t just tell a story with words — tell a story in pictures.
Fortunately, platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook have made visual storytelling easy.
But how can you create images that work — and how can you combine them in a way that’s easy to understand and remember?
Brands have asked me to tell a story with images throughout my career as a graphic designer and creative director.
I love to tell stories this way because storytelling with images is so effective.
I’ve designed hundreds of magazine pages, web pages, ads, emails, (and more) that hooked people’s attention with pictures and words.
Why should you tell your story in pictures?
Images communicate fast.
Our brains process images in 13 milliseconds (or less). Source: MIT
Let’s put that speed to work for you!
Images are the first thing we notice when we’re absorbing information. It’s images before words.
But when you pair images with words, you get your viewer’s brain firing on all cylinders. Their visual cortex and their verbal processing centers light up!
But it’s not just a matter of finding pretty pictures and pairing them up with brand fonts and brand colors. That’s not a bad place to start — but it’s just the first step.
In order to truly tell a story, we need to be strategic. With a little bit of pre-planning, you’ll tell a story in pictures and keep your brand at the forefront of people’s minds.
Here’s how to get started.
Step 1: Build your story arc
Before you put a single pixel on your screen, map out how you’ll tell a story in pictures, step-by-step.
The typical story arc is:
When you’re using Pinterest Story Pins, Instagram Stories, or any series of images that share information, I recommend using a specific framework so you can not only tell a story in pictures — you can keep viewers engaged and encourage them to take action.
Here’s the simple story framework:
- Summary + call to action
Using this framework will help you tell a story in pictures that grab attention from the first image!
Let’s look at each component:
The number one job of your first image is to make your viewer want to click through to the next one.
To draw your viewer in and encourage her to interact with your visual content, use the first image to:
- Make a bold promise
- Share surprising facts
- Begin a story
Here’s what a hook image looks like in close up:
The goal of your hook is to get people swiping!
It’s similar to the goal for the first sentence of your blog post, podcast, or video.
(I wrote a whole chapter about writing strong first sentences in my book Master Content Marketing: I’m kind of a fan of how powerful they can be.)
In the next 3-5 images, deliver your information. Tell a story in pictures that move your viewer through your information.
To do this, break your information up into small chunks so it’s easy to follow. Find a graphic or a photo that illustrates each component of you’re sharing.
Here are a few delivery images from a story about writing strong headlines fast:
3. Summary and call to action
In the last image, summarize what you’ve shared. By doing this, you’ll reinforce what you’ve taught them.
You can summarize in a short list, a series of graphics, or both.
End with a call to action. What does that look like? A call to action is any of these:
- Ask the viewer to share your content
- State your website URL
- Share the name of your book, course, or business
Here are two images from my story about writing headlines.
The first one quickly summarizes the information shared. The second one is a prompt that encourages people to buy my books, where they can learn more about creating strong content marketing.
Step 2: Gather your photos or graphics
Your Pinterest Story pins, Instagram Story, or any image sequence you’re putting together needs to look consistent across the series.
No consistency? Your story will look hodgepodge and distracting.
How can you gather a group of images that look related?
I have two tips:
For photos, find a group of photos that communicate the concept you want to share in your story. Crop them similarly. Apply the same photo filter to all.
This jumbled group of photos:
Become this cohesive group of photos when you crop them similarly and apply a black and white filter.
This is a quick way to make an unrelated group of photos look consistent.
For graphics, look for a group of graphics within a collection. Apply similar color treatments to all.
PicMonkey makes this easy. Their graphics collections feature multiple images and editable colors. You can find the perfect graphic and edit its colors in just a few clicks.
Step 3: Make your story swipeable
What is that je ne sais quoi that makes you want to swipe-swipe-swipe through a story?
I have a theory …
It’s a combination of powerful content that you want to absorb and connector graphics.
What are “connector graphics?”
They’re graphic elements that span the entire story. They make your story hang together as a visual “unit” that’s cohesive and unified. They give your separate story images a beautiful visual harmony.
It’s easier to show you than to try to explain it, so take a look at this example:
See how there’s a consistent background image that leads you from story image to story image? These connector graphics keep fingers swiping!
Remember, when you’re applying a graphic treatment to your story images, you want to brand them so they look like they come from your business. That means:
- Use your brand colors for image backgrounds
- Use your brand fonts
- Use your logo where possible
Bonus! Cohesive branding is a “connector graphic” that will make all your story elements look related. So add a small (but readable) version of your logo, and use consistent visual brand elements in the same place on each of your story images.
Instagram Stories vs Pinterest Story Pins: which is better?
Each platform has its advantages and you want to build your presence where your audience resides, of course. But there’s one more important difference to keep in mind — the lifetime of your visual story.
- Pinterest is a search-based platform where you can share content and continue to get results from it for weeks, months, and years.
- Instagram and Facebook Stories disappear after 24 hours.
On the one hand, disappearing stories might be just your style. There’s less risk if you know that whatever you create is going to evaporate into thin air in a day!
But … going to all that effort only to have it disappear can be frustrating.
One workaround to disappearing stories on Instagram and Facebook?
Create multiple images and share them in your story and in your feed. Your story will still disappear, but that group of images you shared in your feed will keep working for you months and years from now.
How to tell a story in pictures: Ideas you can use for Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook
Let’s get started using a series of images — paired with text — to tell your brand story!
Pinterest Story Pin tips
As of this writing, the Pinterest Story pin creator gives you the tools you need to practically create your story pins from scratch. Get best practices and specifications for Pinterest Story pins here.
To create a winning Pinterest Story pin, you’ll need:
- Your story arc: hook, delivery, summary and call to action
- A group of 5-20 images total
- Text that describes and summarizes your story. This is a description paired with a bulleted list and it will appear to the right of your story on desktop and at the end of your story on mobile.
- Tags related to your topic: as of this writing you can use up to ten tags to help people find your story on Pinterest.
At the time of publication, Pinterest doesn’t allow you to link to a page on your website from your story pin. This makes your call-to-action pin and your cohesive branding even more important.
Be sure to make your business name clear and tell people where they can connect to learn more.
Want to see the Pinterest Story Pins I created for this post? Here you go:
Instagram and Facebook Story tips
To create a winning Instagram or Facebook Story, you’ll need:
- Your story arc: hook, delivery, summary and call to action
- A group of 3-7 images
- Short text to add to your story
- Ideas for hashtags related to your topic
As mentioned above, Facebook and Instagram stories are designed to disappear after a day. If you’re new to story creation, these platforms might be easier to try first because whatever you create will evaporate!
But … that means if you create a masterpiece of visual storytelling, that’s going to disappear, too.
That’s why I like using a combination of a search-based story platform like Pinterest and a disappearing story platform like Instagram or Facebook.
You can recycle the same story images to be used on more than one platform. PicMonkey’s Smart Resize tool, a paid feature, makes this a snap:
Tell a story in pictures to draw attention to your brand
As the internet becomes more visual with easy passing day, it’s easier (and faster) to tell a story in pictures.
Even Google is getting into the game with a new story feature which you’ll begin seeing in search engine results soon:
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a trained designer to take advantage of how visual marketing draws attention to your business.
Just follow this simple process:
1. Build a story arc. Here’s the framework:
- Summary + call to action
2. Deliver your information. Keep in mind you need to:
- Use cohesive images or graphics
- Brand your story images
- Use connector graphics so the final story is swipe-friendly
3. Add a summary and a call to action. Remember:
- It’s smart to reinforce the information you share with a “summary” slide at the end so they can apply what they learned
- Add a prompt for viewers to take the next step: visit your site, buy your product, sign up for your emails list, or share the story