instagram-storytellingSince its launch just four years ago, Instagram has provided more than 200 million active individuals and businesses with a fun, stylish way to capture and share their life’s moments in photos. With more than 20 billion images shared to date, the thriving community of users continues to inspire new and seasoned Instagramers with innovative storytelling -- from clever composition and photo editing tips and tricks to a continually evolving range of thematic content.

Add mobility and connectivity to photography’s already wide breadth of capabilities, and you’ve got a simple, yet powerful, tool that can help you create entire brand narratives with a single image. It is storytelling magic.

Marketers are taking their brands to another level with visually stunning stories and a willingness to defy conventions. Take cues -- and inspiration -- for your next campaign from the tactics some of Instagram’s most successful brand storytellers have used to engage their audience.

1) Define a one-sentence brand narrative to create cohesion.

“If I was going to say anything to somebody launching an Instagram account from a brand perspective, it would be to really define what your message is in one sentence -- and try to have every photo feed into that,” said Allison Butula, who manages PR, online marketing, and social media for Herschel Supply Co. Even shorter than a sentence, Herschel Supply's “well travelled” motto -- captured visually in every photo it posts -- has successfully inspired wanderlust in the hearts of thousands of Instagram users by conveying a vibrant sense of travel and exploration. Herschel sees every image as another chance to tell a story. And if it doesn’t continue the storyline, it doesn't make the cut. The team brings fans and followers into the story but encouraging users to tag their photos with hashtags #welltraveled and #herschelsupply. The brand selects images tagged to feature on its own feed.

Early mornings. Photo: @stevint #WellTravelled #HerschelSupply A photo posted by Herschel Supply Co (@herschelsupply) on

2) Think thematically to build community.

Neat freaks, rejoice! The orderly artist has never had a better platform to visually showcase their compulsive tendencies. Instagram’s square, box-like format practically begs designers, photographers, visual merchandizers, and artists of all kinds to find new ways to fill the screen. Enter #ThingsOrganizedNeatly -- the hashtag based on the popular Things Organized Neatly Tumblr curated by Austin Radcliffe. The tag represents a growing community of Instagramers who like to sort, arrange, and classify common objects in uncommon ways.

Brands are no stranger to the trend -- leveraging the exposure and buzz that more than 23,000 posts can create, and employing some of the theme’s top organizers to tidy up their own wares for a series of brand campaigns.

When luxury automobile maker Mercedes-Benz wanted to generate awareness and spark conversation prior to launching the new GLA compact SUV, they looked to Instagram’s already well-established communities to see what themes they might build from.

The brand's #GLAPacked campaign does just that. Using a custom floor mat in the shape of the GLA cargo area as the “box,” Mercedes ran a series of Instagram and Facebook ads showcasing auto-totable items organized by top Instagram influencers in ways that could fit inside the confines of the SUV. The ads, paired with the hashtag #GLAPacked, asked audiences, “What would you pack in your GLA?”. Even the beloved Maddie the Coonhound got in on the action, taking a dog nap amongst a spread of objects neatly organized and photographed by her owner, Instagram sensation Theron Humphrey.

3) Highlight the brand's versatility.

Most consumers have a breakfast-only mindset when it comes to yogurt. Top-selling Greek yogurt brand Chobani wanted to change that. By searching popular Chobani-associated hashtags -- #creationday and #chobani -- the brand’s creative team was able to tap into the conversations its fans were already having and the yogurt creations they were sharing to guide campaign efforts.

To begin steering people away from the age-old breakfast stereotype, Chobani chose to highlight its product’s versatility with a series of images featuring everything from savory appetizers and main dishes,to indulgent late night snacks and desserts -- with yogurt as the star ingredient.

Equal parts educational and aesthetically stimulating, the campaign not only provided followers with some really tasty eye candy (chocolate, peanut butter, and pretzel-sprinkled Chobani? Yes, please!), but also helped fans think outside the cup by illustrating new ways to savor the product -- night or day.

Late night date #happyspooning #chocolate #instagramcannes

A photo posted by Chobani (@chobani) on

4) Use a unique vantage point.

Offering followers a rare behind-the-scenes opportunity can help you tell your brand story from a different angle and provide a lot of added value. Using Instagram’s video capabilities, take your fans on a fast-paced trip through the corridors of your brand’s office or workspace. Film a proprietary process or product in the making. Include never-before-seen images or outtakes from a lookbook photo shoot. Reveal one of your company’s secrets for success from an unlikely vantage point. Or try out Hyperlapse, one of the newest tools brands are using to tell their story. It allows businesses to capture high-quality time-lapse videos (even while in motion).

Whether with new and exciting technology or Instagram’s original, built-in video features, brands now have even more opportunities to make an authentic connection point with their audience -- through visuals.

Originally published Nov 7, 2014 2:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017


Instagram Marketing