Visual storytelling is the secret ingredient to effective public relations for travel brands. Why? As one travel professional surveyed for our recent report with the Adventure Travel Trade Association, Visual Communication Trends and Challenges in Adventure Travel, summed it up, “we sell dreams, not products.”
Photos and videos of your destination, hotel or attraction help people envision themselves taking a break from their everyday lives and embarking on an adventure. Unlike any other medium, visual content has the power to spark a visceral reaction that makes potential travelers book a trip.
Images and videos help you engage viewers across platforms, whether they’re visiting your website, scrolling past a tweet or reading a news story. The statistics reinforcing the trend toward visual storytelling are staggering:
- Visual content is shared 3x faster than text.
- 70% of Instagram users have looked up a brand on Instagram.
- 65% of senior marketing executives say visual assets are core to telling their brands’ stories (and the majority say visual content’s importance will only continue to rise).
Travel is inherently visual, so embrace the opportunity. Your travel brand’s photos and videos should give viewers an insider’s perspective that entices them to book a trip, because they just can’t wait to see it for themselves. So how do you create and share irresistible content? Here are five ways to get more from your public relations and communications efforts with visual storytelling.
1. Tell Personal Stories.
How often do you see a friend’s vacation photos on social media and find yourself thinking, “I’d like to go there?” I’m guessing, a lot. In this situation, there are two factors pulling at your heartstrings/your wallet: visual content and word-of-mouth. It’s hard enough to ignore a great photo, but even harder when it’s being recommended by a familiar voice.
Whether your brand is sourcing user generated content (UGC) or hiring staff and freelance writers, photographers and videographers to tell stories (or all of the above), it’s important to maintain a personal, familiar tone. Check out this post on new hotels in Cleveland by Destination Cleveland Social Media Specialist Janey Schafer. It’s written in first person, and it highlights her personal experiences at three new Cleveland hotels. Plus, it includes photo collages like the one in the tweet below:
— DestinationCleveland (@TheCLE) May 5, 2016
Destination Cleveland has a rich visual media library, and regularly shares compelling photos, videos and gifs to engage its audience across platforms. The best part is, as a follower, you feel like you’re getting an insider’s perspective.
— DestinationCleveland (@TheCLE) May 12, 2016
The Takeaway: Infuse your visual storytelling with authenticity.
2. Be Spontaneous.
Any parent (or grownup who remembers what it’s like to be a kid with a strong attachment to a stuffed animal) can relate to the heart wrenching story of the well-loved bunny who was left behind at breakfast at Adare Manor Hotel.
When the Adare Manor social media team posted this photo in hopes of finding the bunny’s owner, they had no idea how fast it would spread, quickly gaining likes and shares.
“We got such a huge response that we thought we’d show the bunny’s journey and what his stay would be like,” Adare Manor spokeswoman Sarah Ormston told ABC News in a full feature on the bunny’s adventure.
From then on, the Adare Manor team captured and shared every step of the little guy’s stay, from his first night alone in the hotel to helping the concierge find his family to a moment of relaxation before heading home.
And now for the happy ending – the final photo of this accidental lonely traveler reunited with his equally cute owner, Kate!
Are you clapping or crying yet? I’ll take this story over The Velveteen Rabbit any day!
This series of photos is magical because it’s organic. It’s the real story of reuniting a little girl with a cherished friend. The truth is, stories like this probably happen all the time. But the team at Adare Manor Hotel had the brilliant idea to share that first photo, and embrace the momentum it created. By documenting every step of the bunny’s journey visually, they were able to share a story about the brand’s hospitality, highlight some of its features (like its lovely afternoon tea the bunny got to enjoy), and show that it’s a brand that truly cares about its customers. If they had said no to the idea because it wasn’t well planned or because it might not work and help the bunny find its owner, they would have missed an incredible opportunity that landed the hotel on ABC News and Facebook newsfeeds around the globe.
The Takeaway: When a great story is unfolding at your destination, hotel or attraction, capture it visually, get creative, and dare to be spontaneous.
3. Stay Ahead of the Curve.
Speed is critical in public relations. Travel brands that keep up with the pace of social media and the 24/7 news cycle will see a huge return on investment. Capturing and distributing high quality imagery can slow your team down, unless you have a streamlined image sharing process behind the scenes.
Take, for example, when LEGOLAND Florida hosted a Grand Opening celebration for its new on-site hotel. The public relations team prepared a press release before the event began, and all they needed was event photos to bring the story to life. The ten minute ceremony was packed with fantastic photo ops – mini figs parachuting from the sky, confetti explosions, speeches and more.
Three professional photographers worked together to capture the event from every angle. As soon as the event was over, photographer Chip Litherland edited the selects on site, and immediately uploaded them to LEGOLAND’s cloud-based visual media library hosted by Libris. From there, the PR team narrowed it down to a media-ready gallery of 15 photos, and added a link to the gallery and a download password for reporters to the press release.
The LEGOLAND team delivered their photos to media partners within hours, managing to beat most of the major news outlets.
“It’s great for a company like LEGOLAND to be able to shape how they want a particular PR event to go,” says Chip.
The Takeaway: Streamline your processes behind the scenes so you can work faster when news is breaking.
4. Tap into Your Viewer’s Emotions.
To capture the eyes of your audience, your content has to be visual. And to capture their hearts, that visual content has to resonate. When your content puts your viewer’s values in the spotlight, you have an opportunity to build an emotional connection.
In a famous TED Talk, Simon Sinek explains that people are loyal to brands because they believe their values are the same. He says, “it’s not what you do, it’s why you do it.”
With the campaign Holland, The Original Cool, the Holland Marketing Alliance (which includes the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Amsterdam Marketing, and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol) and Mustache Agency use video storytelling to connect with the values of Americans.
The central idea of the campaign is, “What you (Americans) consider cool, we call Holland. Come visit!”
Videos like the one above not only make you laugh, but also illustrate values, like tradition, innovation, artistry, creativity and freedom.
“You are proud to design your own world,” says a maker quoted in the video. “You can let your voice come out in Holland.”
This line packs a powerful punch: If you value freedom, the opportunity to be heard, the chance to design your own world, join us in Holland. Not a bad call-to-action.
The Takeaway: Use photos and videos to draw on the emotions of your viewers.
5. Create Visual Opportunities for Media Partners.
When you’re working with reporters, bloggers, social media influencers and any other media partners, it’s important to give them access to the whole package. In some cases, you might be delivering photos like we saw in the LEGOLAND story above. But in others, a media partner is experiencing your destination, hotel or attraction for themselves. It’s important to create unique behind the scenes opportunities for media partners, whether they are journalists on assignment or influencers you are sponsoring to cover your brand.
Carnival Cruise Line is a travel brand with a focus on visual content, as you can see by the photos, videos and gifs it shares on Twitter and its robust visual media library. When Carnival invited travel writer Jeff Bogle to take a voyage on the Carnival Sunshine, the brand invested in a comprehensive overview published by Family Vacation Critic. But, when Bogle noticed how fresh his salad was and asked the PR rep for a backstage pass, they also got a fantastic, highly visual behind the scenes piece about the ship’s kitchen.
— Jeff Bogle (@OWTK) May 10, 2016
The story is packed with photos that show an aspect of cruising most of us never get to see. And, as you scroll past photos of mouth watering pastries, you realize Bogle is smashing a common misconception about cruising that he himself once believed:
For years I looked down on cruising as a means of travel mainly because of my perception of the food on board. I already knew those judgments were cast foolishly by day two of our Sunshine trek but Carnival really blew me away during this rare peek inside the process of storing, preparing and serving meals to thousands all while barely touching land to restock. I mean, EVERYTHING is made fresh, from the 32,500 pastries per week to multiple soups daily to the chocolate covered strawberries which are being HAND DIPPED EVERY DAY!
It would have been easy for the PR rep to say no when Bogle asked to see the kitchen. Anyone in a PR position knows that any situation that is chaotic and difficult to control (which kitchens often are) is a recipe for disaster. At the same time, kitchens are visual – think of all the popular cooking, kitchen makeover and restaurant with the best [insert anything from donuts to pizza to burgers here] shows on television. Carnival’s PR person made the right decision to head down to the kitchen and give Bogle (also a photographer) permission to take photos to share with his audience.
The Takeaway: Create visual, unique, behind the scenes photo ops for your media partners.