pinwallConsumer behavior is undergoing a significant shift. Social media conversations are transitioning from text to pictures, making images the new currency of social media engagement. With cameras in every phone and the entire web itself becoming a more visual place, consumers are increasingly beginning to communicate with pictures rather than words. It is as if, in many ways, we have circled back to the days of our ancestors. Instead of painting on caves, we have begun to Pin, Reblog, and Instagram our daily lives and our biggest aspirations. This happens for one simple reason: Images drive an emotional reaction with an immediacy that no other medium offers.

For smart, forward-looking brands, this transition holds the promise of something truly special – the ability to move a consumer from a transactional relationship to an emotional one. Emotional relationships help to humanize brands and form deeper and more durable connections between the consumer and the brand. A survey performed in late 2012 by rbb Public Relations found that these personal connections between consumers and brands payoff. 83% of consumers are willing to pay more for products when they feel an affinity to the brand.

Pinterest offers a particularly powerful platform for engaging consumers visually. Beyond its image-centric user interface, Pinterest is also a thematic rather than temporal platform. Facebook and Twitter are both time-centric. As new posts come in, older items get pushed down until they are essentially out of site. Pinterest, and its collection of boards and pins rely much less on time. While the order of pins on a board are influenced by time, numerous image posts can be seen simultaneously, diminishing the importance of time. In fact, unlike Facebook and Twitter which display a date next to every post, the contents of a board show no dates until you click into an individual pin. Rather than focus on time, Pinterest focuses on themes. Images are grouped together based on an overall theme. For consumers, this theme may be named “Products I Love” but for brands, this could just as well be “Our First Store.” The thematic nature of Pinterest makes posts much less fleeting and gives brands new forms of creative expression.

As a starting point, many brands have chosen to express their creativity using some variation on a “lifestyle” theme. The brand curates a selection of images interspersing products with images that reinforce the brand’s identity and the product’s context. For instance, REI, a retailer of outdoor adventure gear, has a board called “Wanderlust,” which mixes in products with inspiring pictures of places to use those products.

If lifestyle boards were version one of brands engaging consumers visually on Pinterest, storytelling will be version two. Whereas lifestyle boards display a loosely related assortment of images, storytelling boards will weave a narrative through the images to string together a tight story. Consider this as the difference between a stack of pictures and a coffee table book. Taken alone, the pictures are beautiful. Compiled with a narrative, the images leave a lasting impression.

For instance, many brands that are household names have rich and interesting histories that can be expressed visually. Porsche has taken steps towards this by creating a “Porsche history” board with strong visuals and detailed descriptions that give us some insights into the brand. Their relatively new “50 Years of 911” board holds great potential, but practically begs for 50 images with a clear connection to each of the 50 years and descriptions that help us understand the evolution of this iconic vehicle.

Of course, storytelling doesn’t have to be only about corporate history. From concept, to manufacturing, to real-life use cases, products have great stories waiting to be told. The visual web provides a fantastic opportunity to bring the product and brand backstory into the visual age. In doing so, brands can couple the richness of a written backstory with the emotional appeal of imagery.

Finally, brands shouldn’t ignore the role of user-generated imagery. Sites like Instagram for instance, provide creative brands an opportunity to encourage consumers to share their brand experiences visually. The resulting real-life stories provide a level of authenticity that brands simply cannot get from their own efforts.

Brands are already finding creative and innovative ways to share their stories visually. The increasing shift towards a more visual web is giving brands entirely new ways to form more emotional connections with their consumers. The visual story is an important part of capturing the attention and affinity of consumers. To be effective, these stories need a narrative that brings the images to life and communicates the brand’s identity. Experimentation, creativity, and planning are key, but above all keep your content relevant and keep your story real.