90° turn: Vertical storytelling

Thanks to smartphones, mobile Internet usage takes place in portrait format. Vertical storytelling is used to take stories shown on social media, etc., and fill them with content. Learn how to use this method for your marketing.

With vertical storytelling, the content adapts to consumption habits: On smartphones, portrait format is an asset.
© pierluigipalazzi / Adobe Stock

Vertical consumption calls for vertical content

Scroll through an online shop, follow your friends’ latest Facebook and Instagram stories, read a digital newspaper article, navigate through the city to the nearest restaurant, make a bank transfer – we rely less and less on our PC or laptop for all of these online activities and instead turn to smart handheld devices, primarily smartphones.

The consumption of digital and social media in particular is mobile. This is possible thanks to mobile-optimized websites and responsive design. But how do you hold your smartphone when you scroll through timelines and stories?

of the time it is in use, we hold a smartphone vertically

Only when consuming longer moving-image content on YouTube or via streaming services or playing mobile games do smartphone users rotate their device 90 degrees horizontally to benefit from the classic 16:9 format. As a rule, though, content is content is consumed in portrait format, meaning it is consumed vertically. The content format of the “story” that is now increasingly taking over channels for social media and social messaging presents itself in a way that is optimally adapted to this habit. For marketing activities, this means: Rotate things 90 degrees and rethink things to portrait format!

Why vertical storytelling to begin with?

The “story” format has become a trend. Content marketing has long since discovered Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook as a playing field for the telling of a brand’s story. Companies actually have plenty of good reasons to use this format for marketing that uses moving images for visual storytelling.

5 key benefits of vertical storytelling:

#1: Channels with stories still stand out from the regular news feed.

#2: Stories can be loaded up with interactive elements such as CTAs, links (swipe-up), surveys and gamification elements to engage the user and encourage him or her to interact.

#3: Direct interaction with users easily results in an active dialog.

#4: There are detailed insights available for use in evaluating success.

#5: Today, more than 50 percent of digital video consumption occurs via smartphone, especially among younger audiences particularly receptive to vertical storytelling.

Vertical storytelling as challenge

Still, the fact that anyone can use story formats on social-media channels to present their content leads to two effects:

  • Nobody gives a story much time to unfold. If it doesn’t quickly get to the point, the user is going to keep scrolling. Interesting content is just a swipe away.
  • No one is going to take the time to rotate his or her screen to consume content displayed in landscape format. The content must adapt to the user’s needs and behavior.

The 5 major challenges of vertical storytelling are:

  • to get the user’s interest in the content at first glance.
  • to captivate him or her him with riveting content for the duration of the story.
  • to convincingly communicate content relevant to him or her in a short period of time.
  • to make content so authentic that it prompts action.
  • to provide content quickly and in rapid succession.

Vertical storytelling faces even greater demands than traditional videos and video posts for social media. With an enormous range of stories on the various channels to choose from, it can be hard to hold your own against the competition and attract user interest. With the next story ready to begin just a swipe away, not only does the content have to be interesting enough to animate users to click, but it also has to arouse the user’s interest within just 1.7 seconds, as that is how long it would take the average viewer to have moved on already.

Tell your story: How does vertical storytelling work?

Social media stories thrive from the illusion of affording the viewer an authentic, genuine look “behind the scenes.” This is not just true of stories by stars, minor celebrities, influencers and individuals, but is also the ultimate maxim for creating brand stories for marketing purposes.

Share intimate insights, present exciting internal processes and respond to reactions and questions by fans and followers. Transparent behind-the-scenes insights and presentations of authentic situations from your company’s everyday work are not just a sign of openness and transparency toward potential customers – they are also an excellent tool for employer branding.

The trick here is to capture the most authentic, meaningful moment possible – although this also has the potential to reverberate for a long time and establish itself in the viewer’s memory. This is what makes strong images seem much more intense and long-lasting than the spoken word.

As a rule, brand content presented as social media content is planned, thought through and trimmed to a high-gloss finish. Vertical storytelling requires sacrificing these processes and production methods in favor of authenticity. Unpolished, moment-by-moment, live and spontaneous – that is the impression that must be preserved in spite of all the necessary planning.

Vertical storytelling is a social-media and social-messaging trend. Video and slideshow posts displayed in portrait format are not suitable for use on business websites. The makers and the people in charge of this content should be aware of the short-lived nature of the posts. The content has to capture the moment and touch a nerve within that moment. It must not be produced with the expectation that it will still work – or be taken into account at all – two weeks from now.

Familiarize yourself with functions and gimmicks such as filters, stickers, GIFs and survey tools that are available across the various platforms. These can enhance your stories, boost communication of a basic mood or create added value for the user.