Creating Experiences Through Visual Storytelling
Femi Odugbemi is a well-respected global icon in the filmmaking ecosystem. He was among the lineup of speakers at the just concluded Experiential Marketers Association of Nigeria (EXMAN) Brand Experience Summit held last week. In this scintillating piece, Mr. Odugbemi explores the art and science of creating experiences through visual storytelling. Read below:
I have been asked to share briefly on CREATING EXPERIENCES THROUGH VISUAL STORYTELLING. Permit me to somewhat reframe that as an exploration into how storytelling can offer more immersive and memorable brand experiences. In our increasingly digital world, where consumers are bombarded with advertisements and messages, it is crucial for brands to find new and unique ways to engage with audiences. Experiential marketing provides that platform by offering immersive experiences that captivate and connect with consumers on a deeper level. At the heart of it lies storytelling. Why? Because Stories carry the power to evoke emotions, foster brand loyalty, and leave a lasting impression. By weaving a compelling narrative into their campaigns, brands can communicate their values, evoke curiosity, and create meaningful connections with consumers. It is within this realm of storytelling that experiential marketing truly shines.
Visual storytelling in the context of experiential marketing refers to the strategic use of visual elements to engage and immerse consumers in a brand’s narrative or message. It involves the art of combining images, videos, graphics, and other visual components to create a compelling and memorable brand experience. Experiential marketing aims to create immersive and interactive brand experiences that go beyond traditional advertising methods. Visual storytelling 2 within this framework takes advantage of the power of visuals to captivate and emotionally connect with consumers. It leverages the human brain’s preference for visual information processing, making it an effective tool to evoke emotions. Through visual storytelling, experiential marketers can transport consumers into a brand’s world, allowing them to experience its essence and immerse in its narrative. It goes beyond simply conveying information by creating a sensory and emotional connection. By leveraging visuals, brands can create a multisensory experience that engages sight, sound, and even touch, elevating the overall brand encounter.
Visual storytelling can take various forms. It could involve creating visually stunning installations, interactive displays, or immersive environments that align with the brand’s identity and message. These experiences often incorporate elements like lighting, colors, textures, and technology to enhance the visual impact and create a captivating ambiance. When executed effectively, it enables consumers to forge a personal connection with the brand, forming memories and associations that extend beyond the encounter itself. This connection can translate into long-term brand advocacy, increased brand awareness, and ultimately, improved business outcomes.
Globally, the biggest and strongest brands have successfully incorporated immersive storytelling in their marketing strategies across different mediums:
NIKE is well known for creating interactive installations and pop-up experiences that engage participants in the brand’s narrative. For example, their “Just Do It” campaign featured a virtual reality experience where participants could step into the shoes of athletes and experience their triumphs and challenges.
Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign personalized Coca-Cola bottles with individual names and it became a sensation, encouraging people to share their stories and experiences.
Airbnb has successfully created immersive installations and pop-up experiences that celebrate the diversity of cultures and experiences offered by their accommodations. Their “Night At” campaign allowed participants to spend a night in unique locations, such as underwater or in a floating house, creating memorable and story-worthy experiences.
Red Bull organized extreme sports competitions and music festivals that engage participants and create a sense of adventure and excitement. The Red Bull’s “Stratos” campaign, where Felix Baumgartner jumped from the edge of space, was a groundbreaking experiential marketing event that captured global attention and told an awe-inspiring story.
Google incorporated augmented reality and interactive displays to engage participants and provide unique experiences. For example, their “Google Art 3 Project” allowed users to explore famous artworks virtually, providing a storytelling journey through art history.
These are just a few examples of big brands that have successfully integrated storytelling into their experiential marketing strategies. These immersive and memorable experiences connect their consumers on a deeper level. It is however because the storytelling tools that these brands employ extend to capture a narrative of cultural representation and identity. They define a ‘story world’ with which the consumer identifies and aligns. So my first point is that the real algorithm of effective immersive storytelling is in locating correctly the story world within which the cultural context, language, symbolism, and emotional needs of the consumer is authentically represented and showcased. That ‘story world’ is where the emotional architecture of the consumer is understood, his/her ambitions realized and life challenges litigated.
Nigeria, a culturally diverse country, is actually home only to three distinct story worlds that shape the fabric of its society and define the stories that matter to its people. These worlds are populated not merely by where they are but by how they think. Yet each of us is a tapestry of all three worlds and our ‘stories’ intersect these worlds. Rural Nigeria, urban Nigeria and diasporic Nigeria may inhabit different physical spaces and often unique challenges, but these communities remain interconnected through shared bonds of family ties, folktales, stories, traditional events, and spiritual beliefs. It is from the significance of these connections and their contribution to the rich tapestry of Nigerian culture that the most affective stories and characters emerge.
Rural Nigerians form the bedrock of the nation’s cultural heritage. These communities reside in villages and often rely on subsistence agriculture and traditional occupations. Folktales play a pivotal role in preserving their oral traditions, passing down wisdom from generation to generation. These tales encompass vivid narratives of legendary heroes, mythical creatures, and moral lessons that shape the values and beliefs of rural Nigerians. Additionally, traditional events like weddings and naming ceremonies act as social anchors, fostering community cohesion and reinforcing cultural practices that have endured for centuries.
Urban Nigerians, residing in bustling cities and metropolitan areas, represent the vibrant and evolving face of the nation. They navigate the complexities of modernity, yet their connection to the rural roots remains strong. Urban Nigerians actively engage with folktales, either through storytelling sessions or the adaptation of these narratives in contemporary forms such as books, 4 movies, and theater. Despite the fast-paced urban lifestyle, traditional events like weddings and naming ceremonies remain cherished occasions, serving as reminders of their heritage and opportunities to reconnect with their roots. These events often blend traditional customs with contemporary influences, reflecting the fusion of old and new in Nigerian society.
Diasporic Nigerians, scattered across the globe, maintain a deep sense of attachment to their homeland. Despite physical distance, they remain intricately linked to Nigerian culture through various means. Folktales provide a powerful means of preserving cultural identity within diasporic communities, ensuring that younger generations understand and appreciate their heritage. Traditional events, albeit modified to suit their new environments, become crucial markers of belonging and serve as platforms to celebrate and transmit Nigerian customs to future generations. Furthermore, spiritual beliefs and practices rooted in the metaphysical continue to anchor diasporic Nigerians, providing solace and connection to their cultural roots.
The story worlds of rural Nigerians, urban Nigerians, and diasporic Nigerians form an interconnected tapestry that binds our people together. Deploying the understanding of that interconnected ‘story world’ in visual storytelling for brands is first and foremost our most powerful way to create an authentic connection. Here are some ways to incorporate this understanding into brand storytelling:
1. Authentic Representation: We need to ensure that the visual storytelling accurately represents the diversity and richness of these story worlds. Our visuality can showcase the beauty of rural landscapes, the vibrancy of urban settings, and the global reach of diasporic communities. It is about imagery that reflects the traditions, cultural practices, and values shared across these communities.
2. Cultural Symbolisms: We need to better incorporate symbols, motifs, and traditional elements that are recognizable and meaningful to Nigerians. This can include patterns, colors, traditional attires, and iconic imagery from folktales or spiritual beliefs. By utilizing these visual cues, brands can evoke a sense of familiarity and pride among consumers.
3. Emotional Connection: We can focus into the emotions and experiences that unite Nigerians across different story worlds. Highlight themes of family, community, resilience, and the importance of cultural heritage. This can be 5 achieved through evocative imagery and narratives that capture the essence of shared values and aspirations.
4. Storytelling through Events: Many brands already are doing this but it is worth underlining that our traditional events like weddings, naming ceremonies, and festivals create compelling narratives. Especially when showcase these events as moments of connection, and cultural pride. It is how our brand play a role in enhancing these experiences and supporting the traditions that underpin them that builds empathy.
5. Collaborations and Partnerships: Brands need more than the pretty faces of actors and actresses to leverage the story world of consumers. We need to collaborate more with local artists, sculptures, painters, griots, photographers, filmmakers, and storytellers who intimately understand these story worlds.
By deploying this understanding of the interconnected Nigerian ‘story worlds,’ brands can create stronger visual imagery and stories. Here are a few of my humble ideas of places to look for storytelling narratives that take the best advantage of that understanding.
Cultural and traditional tales especially provide a wealth of captivating immersive experiences. Our diverse traditions offer a wealth of folklore, myths, and legends that can be mined through interactive displays, performances, and virtual experiences. Participants can immerse themselves in these vibrant narratives. We can recreate historical events, using augmented reality to overlay historical elements onto physical locations, or utilizing virtual reality to transport participants to significant periods in our past.
Nigeria’s natural wonders and wildlife present another opportunity for immersive experiences. Virtual safaris, interactive exhibits on conservation efforts, and augmented reality experiences can allow participants to interact with virtual wildlife and showcase the country’s incredible biodiversity while fostering a sense of environmental consciousness. Additionally, Nigeria’s thriving entrepreneurial spirit can be celebrated through immersive experiences that showcase the stories of successful Nigerian entrepreneurs. Interactive installations and virtual tours of successful businesses, and workshops with entrepreneurial role models can inspire and engage consumers, while promoting the country’s growing startup culture. Lastly, focusing on local legends, heroes, and icons can be both educational and inspiring. Interactive exhibits, multimedia presentations, and virtual reality experiences that allow 6 participants to step into the shoes of influential figures can highlight the remarkable contributions made by Nigerians across various fields.
Our wealth of literature and novels is also a place where brands can further enrich their visual storytelling in experiential marketing campaigns. Adapting popular Nigerian literature books or novels into visually engaging formats provides a powerful connection with the audience. Immersive installations, interactive exhibits, and virtual reality experiences that bring these stories to life can captivate readers and create a lasting impact. Identifying themes or elements from Nigerian literature that align with brand values or campaign objectives allows for the design of experiential marketing campaigns that immerse participants in those themes. Using visual storytelling techniques such as set designs, multimedia presentations, or interactive elements conveys the essence of the literature and fosters emotional connections. Collaborating with authors and publishers enhances the authenticity of experiential marketing campaigns. Partnerships can involve author-led events, book signings, or workshops, providing participants with opportunities to engage with the literature and gain insights directly from the creators. Focusing on iconic characters from Nigerian literature and creating interactive experiences around them sparks curiosity, encourages exploration, and generates memorable experiences that resonate with fans of the literature. Designing literary-inspired contests and challenges based on Nigerian literature books or novels encourages participants to unleash their creativity. By curating and showcasing their submissions as part of the experiential marketing campaign, the impact of the literature is highlighted, and community engagement is fostered.
The visual arts and performance arts are also powerful tools for experiential marketing campaigns. Visual art forms such as paintings, sculptures, crafts, and carvings can be incorporated as interactive installations, art exhibitions, or live demonstrations. Collaborating with artists to create custom artworks that align with brand messages or campaign themes fosters participant engagement and creativity. Fashion design can be integrated through fashion shows, pop-up shops, or interactive displays. Collaborating with fashion designers to create custom collections inspired by brand values or campaign messages provides participants with unique fashion journeys. Photography can create impactful visual storytelling. Photo exhibitions, interactive photo booths, or user-generated photography contests allow participants to engage with visual narratives and extend the reach of the campaign through social media. Performance arts, 7 including poetry, music, and dance, create dynamic and engaging experiences. Live poetry readings, music concerts, or dance performances that align with the campaign message or theme foster audience participation and a sense of connection with the brand.
Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, offers valuable opportunities for visual storytelling in experiential marketing campaigns. Let’s explore how brands can collaborate with Nollywood to enhance their storytelling. Product placement and integration in Nollywood productions help create brand awareness and generate positive associations through organic storytelling. Co-branded content, such as short films or web series, can be created in collaboration with Nollywood filmmakers to showcase the brand’s message or values. Leveraging the storytelling expertise of Nollywood engages the audience and generates excitement around the brand. Partnering with Nollywood film premieres and red carpet events allows brands to create experiential marketing activations that align with the film’s theme or storyline. This engagement directly with the audience generates buzz and memorable experiences. Collaborating with popular Nollywood celebrities for endorsements or creative collaborations amplifies the brand’s reach and engagement through the influence of these actors and actresses. Film-themed experiences, such as interactive installations, pop-up experiences, or themed events, immerse participants in the world of their favorite Nollywood films. Set designs, props, and interactive storytelling techniques bring the film’s narrative to life while promoting the brand.
Finally, technology deepens immersive storytelling in experiential marketing campaigns. Virtual Reality (VR) allows brands to transport audiences to new worlds, creating immersive experiences that engage participants with narratives and virtual environments. Augmented Reality (AR) overlays digital content onto the real world, enhancing storytelling by adding interactive elements to the physical environment. Mixed Reality (MR) merges virtual and real-world objects seamlessly, offering opportunities for dynamic storytelling experiences. Interactive displays, touchscreens, and gesture-based interfaces enable users to actively engage with storytelling content, making choices and exploring different story paths. Social media, websites, and mobile apps offer avenues for brands to share immersive storytelling experiences on a broader scale. Multimedia content, real-time interactions, and user-generated participation extend the reach of campaigns beyond physical spaces. By leveraging these technological tools, brands can deepen immersion, foster engagement, and create memorable 8 storytelling experiences that resonate with audiences in the realm of experiential marketing. It is this power of storytelling through history, culture, literature, art, cinema and technology that can offer a deeper level of connection with consumers on an immersive and deeper level, and with clarity of where and how their ‘storyworlds’ shape their emotional journeys.
Femi Odugbemi, fta. Founder/CEO, Zuri24 Media Lago