Visual Storytelling 101: How to Go Global as a Local Business

    May 26 2019

    Social media inherently makes our world smaller. The digital revolution has collectively provided us with the tools to connect with others and cultivate diverse audiences no matter where we're based. At PLANOLY, our mission is to be a part of this wave and empower small businesses to create and plan content with ease — And we've recently taken that mission one step further with the introduction of our new product StoriesEdit. With that said, we understand the challenges small businesses face when it comes to creating content that resonates on a global scale, but even still, there are a few brands who have cracked the code when it comes to sharing social media stories that resonate worldwide. Today's article highlights these examples and provides insight as to how to use visual storytelling to make your small business tell BIG stories.

    Small Business, Big Stories

    "A picture is worth a thousand words" appeals to virtually everyone, and has been made even more accessible thanks to social media. No matter the channel, compelling art, photos, and videos speak to the heart of the human experience, and while your business may be locally-oriented, this doesn't mean the content your business shares can't transcend to the masses. While most companies in this day and age have an e-commerce presence, what ultimately helps their product or service stand out are thoughtful visuals brought to life through rich brand storytelling. If you're a small business looking to build a truly global brand, below are a few things to think about when using visual storytelling to do this effectively.

    "Social media inherently makes our world smaller."
    Tweet this.

    Visual Content Creates Context

    For example, if you're a boutique based in Austin but want to appeal to consumers in coastal hubs like Los Angeles or New York, having strong visual content can help create more context for those who don't have access to your business IRL. Even if you're a local mainstay in your particular city, sharing content that ranges from the interior of your brand's storefront to the products themselves can help individuals outside of your immediate customer base understand your brand further. In turn, this allows them to be more incentivized to participate in the online community as a result of the inspiring and informative visual content your brand produces. Let's look at a couple of examples of small (but growing!) businesses that have done this well. First up is Chillhouse (@chillhouse).

    Helmed by influencer-entrepreneur Cyndi Ramirez (@cyndiramirez), Chillhouse was built through the lens of an influencer, and the content itself reflects that sensibility. In addition to eye-catching photos of Chillhouse's flagship location in NYC, the team has crafted a strategy that is mindful of its larger potential customer base by catering to those who love wellness, self-care, beauty, and culture. These photos range from pop culture memes to multimedia art from artists as well as branded design content that points to larger initiatives at the shop and through its editorial arm The Chill Times. This dynamic approach also extends to the company's Instagram Stories too, but the content overall is woven together through a larger brand narrative and visually through details like consistent color palettes and community reposts. Chillhouse is the perfect example of a local brand who has tapped into the significant potential to connect with a broader audience through captivating (and consistent) visual storytelling.

    Another relevant example to look at is General Store (@generalstore). The California-based shop operates two outposts in Venice and San Francisco but has amassed an Instagram following of 244k followers. Like Chillhouse, the General Store team has leaned into showcasing the store's gorgeous interiors and lifestyle product imagery that point to both the store and online inventory. Every so often, the team also posts "found" imagery of nature and other lifestyle images that complement the more direct promotional posts. Overall, the shop's content is tied together through a consistent "filtered" aesthetic that appeals to the rural, west coast lifestyle. This approach demonstrates that considering these subtle details can leave a lasting impression on a brand's immediate community while appealing to a broader customer base who identifies with the brand's visuals —and values.

    "Visual storytelling on social also allows your business to join global conversations."
    Tweet this.

    Visual Storytelling Shows Your POV as a Brand

    With the above point in mind, visual storytelling on social also allows your business to join global conversations. Whether that's through reposting viral memes or creating content that is responding to industry-wide discussions (like sustainability or social activism), consistent visual content helps to streamline your brand's aesthetic while also building and refining your brand's point of view. The Sill (@thesill) is an excellent example of a locally-oriented business that has tapped into the general love of plants but has used visual storytelling to craft a more profound message. Currently, the NYC- born brand has two shops in Manhattan along with a newly-opened location in Los Angeles, Coupling this with its astounding Instagram following of nearly 470k followers, the brand knows a thing or two about the importance of engaging with its broader community. The content itself primarily features stunning reposts from fellow plant-lovers in their spaces, on brand illustrations or plant memes, and moments from each of The Sill's in-store locations or initiatives. In this instance, The Sill uses visuals to draw its community into a bigger and more universal conversation around plant care and health. This approach is further supported by their dedicated Instagram Story Highlights including "Plant Myths" and "Plant Facts." As such, The Sill is a leading example of a small business using visuals as a portal to not only their physical retail locations but something that provides value for everyone in the plant community.

    Another example to look at in this capacity is Unique Markets (@uniquemarkets) which is helmed by serial entrepreneur and thought leader Sonja Rasula (@sonjarasula). At its core, Unique Markets is a destination that supports creatives and makers in a community-focused market environment with roots in Los Angeles (and a growing number of cities around the country). The company's content further serves as an extension of its passion for small businesses through diverse visual content from photos of each market, inspiring quote posts, and lifestyle imagery from the brand community. Yet the one consistent element that truly ties everything together is Sonja who is consistently present on the brand's feed. Coupling this with her vibrant personality and point of view on entrepreneurship, she genuinely gives the brand a "unique" face on social, and this approach further demonstrates the positive power that occurs when positioning a brand's high-profile founder as a gateway to connect with a new audience.

    Graphic Design Can Inspire Interaction

    Aside from the standard high-resolution photo or video, at PLANOLY we've tapped into the power of graphic design and its unique value in the visual content landscape. The rise of inspiring quotes or graphically-treated photography paved the way for StoriesEdit to empower businesses of all sizes to use design as a tool to seamlessly enhance their visual identity on social. For small businesses, this can be especially useful as graphic design content often enables a sense of interaction. From posting industry- related data to posing questions, utilizing visual content in this way can help small businesses spark a global conversation that not only connects but cultivates an opportunity for feedback from those they might not have access to normally.

    Let's examine Tia (@asktia). This women's healthcare company recently expanded beyond its mobile app with the introduction of its first clinic in NYC. And in looking at Tia's overall visual content strategy on social, the team is already taking advantage of the clinic's Instagram-worthy interiors to complement its primary use of bold graphic design. The purpose of these graphics ranges from inspiring to educating its audience on important questions around personal health to promoting special events at the clinic. And for those who aren't in the immediate vicinity, Tia has made it a point to create visually dynamic Instagram Stories that touch on a wide range of topics that provide value for women outside of the member community. With a complicated subject matter like healthcare, Tia proves that embracing visual creativity can inspire authentic connection (and important feedback) from women everywhere.

    Our last example features Celsious (@celsious_social), a modern laundromat based in Brooklyn. The company's ingenious concept alone inspires a ton of content opportunities, but the Celsious founders have used this visual playground to build on the brand's overarching mission of sustainability and community-building — especially with their consistent use of graphic design posts featuring quotes from the shop's loyal laundromat dwellers. Additionally, the brand also uses consistent graphics to point to special features within the space and fun tidbits on doing laundry, clothing materials, and more. Their strategy demonstrates an approachable and truly creative way to engage their existing local community while addressing a universal task that anyone can relate to.

    "Tapping into the power of your brand story can be a powerful baseline to refer back to."
    Tweet this.


    There are so many tools small businesses can utilize to create visual content that takes their brands beyond their respective city or neighborhood. However, one big takeaway we hope you carry with you from this article is that tapping into the power of your brand story (and the market you initially served) can be a powerful baseline to refer back to. This is especially true as you work to diversify your content in a way that is mindful of your overarching mission while also considering a broader audience. For more on visual solutions, check out our new app StoriesEdit along with articles here on the PLANOLY blog!


    You May Also Like