Just finished reading Jonathan Gottschall’s book “The Storytelling Animal.” With all the hype these days about virtual reality – Deloitte Global predicts it will reach its first billion dollar year in 2016, with about $700 million in hardware sales, and the remainder from content – I really liked Gottschall’s observation that at the end of the day our storytelling mind is the ultimate virtual reality technology that specializes in simulating human problems. We do it by either consuming an active story in the present time and mirroring ourselves in the narrative – if the story is that good. Or by rewinding back a past event extracting meanings/lessons from that story about how to respond in future contexts.

From that perspective, VR today, like movies are is in essence, a pre-cooked meal using a richer medium that feeds you the visual narrative. Whereas books are like coming back from the grocery store and processing the ingredients into a personal visual imagery. Every book reader will conjure her own imagery world based on her subjective experiences and beliefs – that form that individual “theater of the mind.”

But don’t worry, ‎visual storytelling vehicles like movies, AR/VR, infographics, videos and images – even though they provide you with the producer’s visual universe where the story takes place in, our storytelling mind is still in control.

True, for every artistic choice; a close-up, color template or soundtrack– there is always a personal story the marketer is leveraging in order to convey a genuine narrative. Yet, for us the audience who is watching the finished product (regardless of how immersive the medium is), this personal story is in most cases hidden. So we’re left with creating our own interpretations based on our prior personal experiences and beliefs.

This twilight zone between the visual content’s original message and our own experiences is the stage for a myriad of observations and alternate narrative universes.

Layering storytelling onto Schramm’s 1950’s classic model of Communication, we come up with:

Story Model of Communication

It’s up to us as adept visual storymakers (aka marketers) to craft an engaging story by interpreting our personal field of experience that is comprised of our passions, subjective experiences, and beliefs. And as you can see from the above chart, the story needs to traverse the overcrowded “noise chasm,” overcoming competing stories, and find a common ground where audience’ needs and a business narrative overlap to create resonance.

To do it right, your story needs to carry a single message, attached to a vivid visual that will hit your audience’s emotional nerve – from the widest normative level down to personally meaningful sizzles. Identifying that emotional resonance with your audience is not easy, it takes careful research but once you hit it, you the savvy visual storymaker can transform your audiences into revved-up storytellers that will share your story on your behalf.

Furthermore, your audience by adding their personal voice to your story they become story makers by their own right – the hallmark of a successful viral story propagation.

So to answer this post’s title: Are you a Storymaker or a Storyteller? The answer is always BOTH. Our mind is constantly processing and broadcasting stories to make sense of the world around us.

Ready to unlock the power of visual storytelling and boost your marketing results? Schedule a conversation with the Visual Storytelling Institute about your Visual Storytelling Workshop today!

This post originally appeared on Visual Storytelling Institute.

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