Visuals Can’t Do It All; You Still Need the Right Words

Dan O'SullivanThe Writing Life, VideoLeave a Comment

Adam Villone is a veteran writer/producer/director/creative director with experience in everything from concept development and script writing to producing and directing video and live events. We’re thrilled to have him on board to help our clients tell their stories through video and other visual media.

Adam will take it from here … 

Adam Villone with Callie Blue.

Visual storytelling may have started as crude drawings on cave walls thousands of years ago, but in today’s connected world, it’s the primary method for delivering content.

Does that mean copywriters are destined for extinction? Not exactly.

Still, if you read the relevant research — and there’s a lot out there — you might think copywriters’ days are numbered. Here’s a sampling:

  • 90% of the information the brain absorbs is visual.(1)
  • Visual information is processed 60,000 times faster than text.(2)
  • Visuals improve learning by up to 400%.(3)
  • Video will account for 82% of all consumer internet traffic by 2020.(4)
  • 92% of consumers prefer brand information in story form.(5)

On the brighter side, most of the published data is in written form. And while copywriters might find it unsettling that the data overwhelmingly reinforces why clients are pushing for more visual content, they shouldn’t despair.

Although a picture may be worth a thousand words, there will always be a need for a few well-written words. After all, combining visuals and text has been shown to increase comprehension by as much as 89%.(6)

Spread the Word

The right words matter, on screen and off. In my experience, nothing ends up on a screen that doesn’t begin with the written word in some way, even if it’s as basic as a creative brief, concept pitch or content outline. And it’s rare for any visual story to be totally devoid of words — especially in marketing communications, where viewer attention spans and limited budgets have a direct impact on creative and production.

Visuals may carry the storyline, but the right words help viewers interpret and understand the content. They may be short and simple for titles and transitions. Or fully animated lines of text and graphics in explainer videos or infographics. Or a voiceover that complements the images and provides the narrative foundation for the story. Even in a testimonial or informational video, where the interviewer’s questions may never be heard, on-camera subjects can be “directed” to use key words and messages by the way they’re written into the questions.

There’s no one-size-fits-all method for writing for visual formats; a PowerPoint presentation is different than a documentary script, just as writing for the spoken word is quite different than writing a product manual. The writing skills needed to work with the various visual formats can be learned.

No matter the form or method of delivery, though, there will always be a need for good storytellers. And while computer screens may be the newest version of cave walls, writers know that the stories best remembered are those told in pictures and words.

Sources:
(1) Several sources: 3M Corporation, 2001; Visual Storytelling Institute, www.visualstorytell.com; Visual Teaching Alliance, www.VisualTeachingAlliance.com; Dr. David Hyerle, 2001,Thinking Maps.
(2) Thermopylae Sciences and Technology, 2014, Humans Process Visual Data Better, www.t-sciences.com.
(3) Best Practices Foundation, 2014, Data Visualization; 3M Corporation, 2001.
(4) Cisco Whitepaper, 2015: Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2015-2020.
(5) OneSpot, 2014, The Science of Storytelling, www.onespot.com.
(6) Shift eLearning, 2001, Robert E. Horn, Stanford Univ., National Science Foundation paper: Visual Language and Converging Technologies; www.shiftelearning.com.

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