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You Can’t Picture This

Published on July 7, 2017, at 6:45 p.m.
by Brie Carter.

Snap. A picture is taken through the lens of someone’s eyes and through the lens of a camera, but they depict separate images. The lens of a camera communicates what a place looks like, but a camera can’t articulate the way a branch abruptly brushed someone’s arm on a hike in Meteora, Greece. It also forgets to tell the viewer that the humidity was once so heavy it beaded water droplets down someone’s leg. It misses out on the other four senses: taste, feel, touch and smell.

According to Digital Marketing Philippines, the human brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than it would for someone to decode a written text. Visual storytelling has been, and still is being, used to build consumer relationships. This technique of visual storytelling has developed over time, changing its focal point throughout the years. What will be its next step?

Lauren Mulcahy, a junior at The University of Alabama, recently switched from a smartphone to a flip phone. Her reasoning for this change? To savor moments in their entirety instead of being wrapped up in documenting where she is or what she is doing.

“The point of a picture is to entice and grab the viewer’s attention,” Mulcahy said.

According to Mulcahy, pictures weren’t meant to tell the whole story. They are supposed to be used for their own purpose of initial teasing.

So why try to give the viewer the entire experience? A person can’t fully understand what is happening with a simple picture. A picture shows the same view a person is directly seeing, but it cannot show the surrounding environment.

As the saying goes, a picture can’t really capture the whole story. Mulcahy notes that a picture limits the full experience. It’s just a glimpse of what an experience can feel like.

“I want other people to experience things fully, but I want them to come on their own terms. They should find their realization [of not being caught up in a picture] and see what’s inhibiting their full experience or moment,” Mulcahy said.

Photo by Flikr. A man putting his camera to the side to walk.

This is where public relations can step in. Pictures portray messages and whatever message a company decides to send can attract or detract consumers. Digital Marketing Philippines says that 70 percent of the information we intake is from our sight. The remaining 30 percent comes from the other four senses, leaving visual storytelling a vital part in relating to the public. This is why it is important to know what message is being sent.

Pictures today are used for advertisements and communication campaigns to reach consumers. Eric Neel, a deputy editor at ESPN Digital/Print Enterprise, says for companies, promotion is important and it should be done through connection. A company can connect with the consumer by telling a story through a picture that relates and moves them.

“Photos are ‘perfect’ now,” Neel said. “Everyone knows they are tailored at the right angle. Part of their response is knowing that the business has doctored the picture to make it look perfect.”

Neel added that people now expect a perfect image. Contrary to their expectation, it has gotten to a point where they also see it as a cliché. They know it’s a fantasy. PR professionals can begin the next step of visual storytelling by demanding attention but not giving away the jewels within the picture.

“Part of what you want to do is anticipate how you can position the experience and not the fantasy. You want to stand out by being authentic and not manipulative,” Neel said.

Neel states that it’s important to use a picture’s sense — one that an experience can’t give — the powerful sense of longing. Once this sense is triggered, the viewer arrives at the tipping point, the point where engagement turns into action. The promoter should use the consumers’ fear of missing out to their advantage. Convince them that there is more to the picture and they have to be a part of the experience to discover the rest.

A picture doesn’t have the ability to bring a comprehensive message about an experience. Returning to our opening example, a picture tells us a hike in Meteora, Greece, was taken at the monk monasteries. But it couldn’t communicate the sense of a grounding connection with nature when the leaves crunched beneath people’s feet. It forgot to tell the viewer that standing on rocks in the sky can make hands shake with wonder.

Photo by Flikr. Leaves beneath a pair of boots.

Public relation has the ability to tie in the other 30 percent of the remaining four senses that people use for interpretation. When sight, taste, feel, touch and smell are combined, they paint the picture worth more than a thousand words. Synergy changes the brain from loading to complete.

When communicating, promote curiosity. Tease to invite. Give a little less to get a little more. Don’t simply settle for sight. Use all senses to tease the viewers’ curiosity into a sense of longing. A picture is meant to pique interest, and PR is meant to take the lead and promote an experience.

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