Ekaterina Walter Interview – Author of Visual Storytelling
I just finished reading The Power of Visual Storytelling: How to Use Visuals, Video, and Social Media to Market Your Brand, and was impressed with how co-authors Ekaterina Walter & Jessica Gioglio recommend brands incorporate visuals into their marketing. I chatted with Ekaterina Walters, by telephone, and I’m sharing the audio and the transcript of that interview today.
Definitely listen to how small brands can create visual content easily, share it across the web, and use visuals to communicate what they stand for.
Ekaterina Walter Interview Audio
Here is the full 30-minute interview, followed by short clips of it below:
“the human attention span officially dropped below the attention span of a goldfish”— Click to Tweet
“the most successful brands continue to drive back to the same message: what they stand for, what their purpose is” — Click to Tweet
“web posts with visuals drive up to 180% more engagement than those without” — Click to Tweet
“tactics without strategy is worse than doing nothing at all” — Click to Tweet
Full Interview Transcript with Timestamps
0:00:00 MARIA: Welcome, everyone. This is Maria Peagler with Socialmediaonlineclasses.com. And today I have with me Ekaterina Walter. She is an innovator, a business and marketing innovator, international speaker and author of two books. The first one is the Wall Street Journal Bestseller, Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg. And she is co-author of her latest book, The Power of Visual Storytelling: How to Use Visuals, Videos and Social Media to Market Your Brand. Welcome, Ekaterina.
00:00:41 EKATERINA: Great to be here. Thanks for inviting me, Maria.
00:00:44 MARIA: Absolutely. Ekaterina, I read your book over the weekend and I was fascinated with the whole process that you describe. And I just think that the timing is perfect for all the visual content that we are seeing across the web. Tell me how you came to co-author this book.
00:01:04 EKATERINA: *laughs* Well, it all began several years ago when I published an article in Fast Company in my column, and the title was The Rise of Visual Social Media. And it talked about sort of the importance and the tactics and the strategy. And several publishers actually came up to me or contacted me and said we would love to actually see the book of that. And I said I am actually in the process of writing my first one, so let’s talk later. So it was really quite fascinating.
And my first book is more around business innovation and sort of business culture and business principals. But I’m a marketer at heart, so I’m very passionate about making sure you build a relationship with your customers in the right way. Because a lot of things we do we don’t necessarily do it right. And so I always wanted to talk about how do we tell our story, our brand story. And the visual topic just started to rise. A lot of people started to talk about it. And the reason for that was just the fact that we were living in the age of infobesity. Brands are not used to the fact that there is so much information, not only produced but consumed every single day, every single hour online. And it’s now suddenly a two way conversation and it’s customer-centric versus brand-centric.
And so in this whole age of sort of overwhelming, drowning in information, the question became how does a brand stand out. So for us marketers, no matter what you do, whatever marketing strategies you talk about, brand strategies, community-building strategies, et cetera, et cetera, one of the questions that we need to ask is how to target the hearts of consumers in the right way. And to be able to do that they have to discover you. They have to discover and consume your information, your content. They’ll have to connect with you, start conversations with you. And one of the ways to really stand down besides advocacy, right, besides the peer recommendations which is, well, I’m looking for a new car, which one should I buy, what music do you recommend, et cetera, et cetera, sort of your immediate niche community, one of the ways to stand out is visual. Just because we humans are wired like this.
We’re wired to process visuals better than text. As a matter of fact, the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster. 60,000 times faster than text! And language only existed for 5,000 years-ish. But we drew for millennia. So the question becomes with that, how do you tap into that natural human element of drawing attention and standing out from the noise, especially now that the human attention span officially dropped below the attention span of a goldfish.
00:04:14 MARIA: *laughs*: Yeah.
00:04:15 EKATERINA: A goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds, us humans now, scientists say this year we’re between three and eight seconds. And that’s the reason why all the visual networks like Vine and six second videos, 15 second videos and Instagram, all these networks like that are popping up is because that’s what we’re vying for as marketers, is that attention span.
So I just wanted to talk about things I learned on the job when I worked in Fortune 500 companies and what I see in the market. And Jess has also done a lot of stuff, Jessica Gioglio, my co-author, with Dunkin’ Donuts. Because people are passionate about that brand and they also do a lot of cool stuff with visuals. So I just wanted to put out a book that talks about not just road maps and how to build that, but tips, tools, tricks, case studies.
00:05:14 MARIA: Fantastic. And I loved that term that you used, infobesity. Because there is just so much out there now that it really is hard to capture people’s attention when you’re competing with so many other brands and that diminishing attention span. I’m wondering, Ekaterina, how did you find that visual content affected the visibility or the reach and engagement for a brand’s blogs and social media marketing.
00:05:52 EKATERINA: The data is actually quite staggering, Maria, so I’ll give you just a couple of data points. So, for example, did you know that web posts with visuals drive up to 180% more engagement than those without.
00:06:06 MARIA: Wow.
00:06:07 EKATERINA: Viewers spend 100% more time on web pages with videos. If you use infographics the traffic to your site will probably increase an average of 12%. If you’re putting out a press release, if you add video, the traffic on average will go up 45, 48%.
And I can literally keep going, because what started to happen is people—and it’s not just images, right, we’re talking about visual storytelling, not just for images, but for different formats like video, which is highly consumable. Cartoons, memes, infographics, animated GIF files. The list goes on and on. So the business case, not just psychologically why people prefer images or videos over other formats, but also the business case for using this very snackable, very visual content is there.
And you notice now, we’re living in this age of the news feed, and everywhere we go there’s always a news feed blinking at us and always going, passing by so fast. And you notice, even you as a person, that the content that you need to pick out is the content that’s actually accompanied by a visual piece, right? A quote, an image, something that draws back to the whole point of, for example, an article that you posted, et cetera.
00:07:40 MARIA: Right, right. Ekaterina, I’m curious about the title of your book, Visual Storytelling. How do you differentiate that versus just using a visual on social media. How are those two different?
00:07:57 EKATERINA: Actually, I think the question becomes how does that drive back to a story about who you are, what you do, what you believe in. So the way I sort of define visual storytelling—or Jess and I define it in the book—is use of images, videos, infographics, presentations and, basically, other visuals on social media platforms to craft a graphical story around key brand values and offerings.
So there’s definitely some, what I call, micro-content that you’re going to create maybe that’s more of a one-off. But I think the most successful brands, they continue to drive back the same message around what they stand for, what their purpose is. Because as a marketer, your goal is to create a movement around your brand. Around your brand and product, around people who work with you and for you. You are more than just your product. So the question that comes, what does encompass that brand and how do you really tell a story around it? So, to me, when you create it in those one-off pieces, the question you need to ask yourself is how does that tie back to the bigger story you want to tell, to that movement you want to create, to that purpose that you share with your customers and employees and vendors and partners that work with and for you, right. So how do you build that community in the right way? And the only way you do that is for continuity.
00:09:35 MARIA: And that really leads into what you call in the book your visual road map, which I absolutely just could not, I could not get enough of that. Could you explain what your visual road map is?
00:09:52 EKATERINA: Yes. So the road map is your course. What is it that you’re trying to build and what is it that you’re trying to do. And I think a lot of times, again, people go into oh, well I have to have presence here, I have to do this and that. But I think a lot of it, the tactics without strategy, is worse than doing nothing at all is something that Lee even said and we’re quoting him in the book.
I think you always start with sort of setting your goals and figuring out what is it that you are here to do. And then you move into auditing and analyzing. So what are your current efforts? How are you tracking the data? And how are you really analyzing that data to glean the right insights? Are you listening to customer conversations and getting their insights? Then you summarize that order, then you start figuring out what things really work for you.
And then from there you shape your visual story. What’s the company goals and what are the supporting themes around the visual story? What’s the company voice and personality? What’s the company-customer conversational themes? And then from there you determine your visual content mix and you talk about things like formats and frequency and how you allocate content themes and pair it up with different types of media.
And then there’s always an element of planning for the unexpected around brand and product marketing, public relations, customer service. You want to make sure that you sort of leave wiggle room in your road map and strategy.
And then from there you go into distribution and engage them in strategy and then, also crafting and sourcing your different types of visuals. So this is definitely something that, as you start thinking about it and looking at it, those are the key, critical elements of your road map. And then, obviously, at the end you never forget to make sure that you measure. So the measurement is the last piece that’s definitely critical. And the reason is because unless you actually know what works for you, what doesn’t, what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, it’s hard for you to then take that, those insights and then translate it into something that makes sense and allows you to reshape and maybe re-evaluate that strategy and road map as you move along.
00:12:27 MARIA: And one of the things that I really liked about the concept of your visual road map was that you tied it to business goals. What are the goals for your brand and how can you do that with a visual story. And I find a lot of times our clients here at Socialmediaonlineclasses.com, when they’re doing their social media marketing, like I said, they feel like they need to be somewhere, but they don’t really know what to expect or how to really tie that back to their business goals. So I thought that was a particularly strong point of the visual road map.
00:13:04 EKATERINA: You’re absolutely right, Maria. But thank you, I appreciate your kind words. But yes, you’re absolutely right. Unless you know where you’ve been, where you’re going and why you’re going there it’s hard to actually shape a meaningful strategy.
Exclusive Members-Only Lessons
Members — login to learn how small brands can do a BETTER job than large brands in using visual content, plus her favorite tools for creating visuals.
Not a member? Start learning today by becoming a Socialmediaonlineclasses member. Get started below:
In this part of our interview, Ekaterina describes how small brands can do a BETTER job than large brands in using visual content, plus her favorite tools for creating visuals:
00:13:16 MARIA: Now how would you visualize the visual storytelling approach being different than that for a large brand like a Dunkin’ Donuts?
00:13:27 EKATERINA: Well, it’s interesting. You look at some large brands, like Dunkin’, and you say the strategy needs to be different. Possibly. But interestingly, a lot of the elements are all about putting out your passion into the community. Connecting with your community around different touch points. And those touch points, the most important ones, are around passions, right? So what is your passion for? Is it for coffee or is it for dessert or is it for reading books? It doesn’t really matter, right?
But small businesses are actually the best for this. Why? Because they know their communities. They know their customers. And most of the time better than big brands, because they know them by name, they know where they live, they know how often they come in, even without looking at, potentially, some online data. Just because they’re ingrained in the communities so much more than big businesses.
And the reason why companies like Dunkin’ Donuts are successful with their constant engagement strategies is because of that passion. So the question that small businesses need to ask themselves is what are the shared passions that they have with their customers. How do you spark conversation and build conversation around that? And then you build content around this. And there’s not many differences of how a small or large business would do it. It’s just really that element of knowing your community. And then you could create fun cartoons, you can engage with your customers in interesting ways.
For example, what Dunkin’ Donuts does is they have a passionate employee community, as well. So one day their employees decided that they want to go out and pick up pink and orange and white nail polish and paint their nails in the colors of the brand. This tactic wouldn’t be any different if you were a baking shop and your employees are so passionate about your coming up Valentine’s Day new cupcake recipe and you decide to do something fun internally. Create a video of your employees actually putting this together. Or again, the same, nail art. Or maybe sharing additional recipes with women in your community who are looking forward to baking something unique for Valentine’s Day. And you do that in a visual way.
So it’s not so much as B2B or B2C or large brand versus small brand. It all comes down to P2P, which is person-to-person and, honestly, passion-to-passion. What are those passion points that you’re sharing and how do you open your (unintelligible) and tell the community this is why we love what we do. This is why we do it and this is the reason we want to connect with you. And then you build a relationship from there.
00:16:31 MARIA: I love the Dunkin’ Donut nail polish story.
00:16:34 EKATERINA: It’s really fun. *laughs*
00:16:36 MARIA: I’m going to have to remember that the next time I get a pedicure. I want these colors and it’s going to go on Instagram.
00:16:43 EKATERINA: There you go, there you go.
00:16:45 MARIA: Yeah, yeah. So Ekaterina. Everybody these days seems to have too much to do. I can hear our clients saying gosh, I’m not a graphic designer, I’ve already got enough to do. But creating a great visual story doesn’t have to be hugely time-consuming. And there’s some really great tools out there that can help you do this. What are some of the best time-saving tools or fun tools that you recommend for creating and sharing visual content.
00:17:19 EKATERINA: So in the book we actually explore a variety of them. There’s a lot of them. And that is not just around image with text and overlays. There’s photo collages, there’s infographics, there’s GIFs, there’s memes. There’s a lot of different formats.
But some of my favorite ones are Canva. Canva is a great tool. It’s free and what I like about it is it’s flexible enough where you can create your own postcard, your own image. There’s different layouts. Your own presentations. And what you do is you bring in different visuals and then you do sort of a text overlay on top of that or you pair up multiple images and then you create your own postcards. Literally, without having zero, without having any artistic experience.
So basically, somebody like me with zero artistic skills could actually go and create something very pretty. One thing I do do, though, Maria, is I go out and wherever I am, whether it’s the beach or in the forest, somewhere, I take a lot of different images with the idea in mind that I will be using them as potential backgrounds for quotes, statistics, any text overlays or I will pair them up in a particular way. But again, I’m not a professional photographer, so a lot of stuff I’m putting out is just something that I threw together on the tools like Canva.
You know, there are some additional tools like PicMonkey and Over and Pintomatic. There’s also tools for infographics, though. I think infographics are special in that you actually need to spend some time in making sure that the data is presented in the right way.
00:19:13 MARIA: Yeah
00:19:13 EKATERINA: So Visual.ly and Infoactive, Infogram. For GIFs there is Giffing Tool, GifBoom, Cinemagram. And Vine is great to do sort of shorter animations. And there’s fun ones for memes. For example, there’s MemeGenerator.net. You can have fun with things like that. So that’s something that I use. And then for iPhone there is a number of applications, as well, that allow you to actually do things like photo collages or really cool tools that help you actually filter, not just Instagram-like filters, but allow you to, you know, if you have a picture of a really cool sky it allows you to really bring dramatic colors out. And so there’s a number of custom filtering options that you can get for some of these sort of iPhone applications. And some of them are VSCO Cam for the filters. PicFrame for putting collages, several pictures in one.
There is Over, which is text overlay as well. There’s also TimeLapse, which is like speeding up time in a video, which is a lot of fun. So there’s a lot of tools out there, you just need to explore them.
00:20:34 MARIA: Yeah, it’s a great time to be creating visual content. It’s really never been easier.
00:20:38 EKATERINA: Absolutely agree with you.
00:20:40 MARIA: I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule, Ekaterina. Picking out the 20% of tactics that are going to generate 80% of your results. So if you were to apply the 80/20 rule to visual storytelling for small brands, what would that 20% be for visual storytelling?
00:21:17 EKATERINA: One of the important things that you need to ask yourself, actually, before you can answer that question—because it’s a generic question—is which 20% is bringing you 80% or ROI. And since every business is different, what you need to figure out is maybe with a little bit of data. That’s also sometimes available for some of the communities for free that come sort of with the native applications.
But you need to figure out what is the content that does well. But for that you need to try different things out. So do not be afraid to play with content. The worst your community could say, ah, that’s all flat, we didn’t like it or comment on it or share it much, right? But to figure out what content really resonates and which ones people spark conversations, which ones people really pick up and run with, you need to try out different things. So first you try out different things.
Second of all, look at the data and figure out what performs well for you. And from there that’s then when you can answer your question. So, honestly, I cannot answer the question for you or for those business owners that are on the phone right now. Just because they need to answer it themselves.
But what I will say though, Maria, is prioritize brutally. Especially if you’re a small business. You cannot afford, you don’t have teams and teams in your marketing department. So what you need to figure out is prioritize everything. Meaning you do not have to be on every single social network. Just because there’s Instagram and Tumblr and Vine and Pinterest doesn’t mean you have to be there.
What you could do, though, is first you start figuring out where your audience really hangs out. Where are they, what’s the best place to connect with them. And just prioritize that. Just have one community on one network, or maybe two, the ones that really provide that engagement level for you that you’re looking for. And the rest, and also don’t forget, face-to-face is also a great social network.
00:23:18 MARIA: That’s always the best social network.
00:23:21 EKATERINA: Absolutely.
00:23:21 MARIA: Absolutely. Is that face-to-face time. And if listeners are interested in finding out what that best social network is going to be for them, our social media strategy class—which actually is free—that’s something that you can take and you don’t need to be a premium member of Social Media Online Classes. You can go through that class and find out what your best social network is going to be. And Ekaterina, my last question for you is the same one that I ask in all of my interviews. What’s the one question that I should have asked you but didn’t.
00:23:57 EKATERINA: *laughs* Wow. Gosh, there’s a lot of questions you can ask. One is what’s the weather looking like in Portland today.
00:24:07 MARIA: *laughs*
00:24:08 EKATERINA: Because it’s been raining for the past week and I want sunshine to come back. You know, I don’t know. I think every question is sort of custom to what the audience wants to know. But I think we’ve covered a lot when it comes to marketing for visual today, for sure
00:24:30 MARIA: Okay, awesome. And where can people buy the book, Ekaterina?
00:24:35 EKATERINA: Anywhere. It’s available on Amazon, it’s available in stores, Barnes & Noble. Online, offline. If you want more information they can find more information on my website, EkaterinaWalter.com. But otherwise it should be pretty easy.
00:24:51 MARIA: Ekaterina Walter, thank you for being with us today.
* denotes members-only content