John Horsley
John Horsley 23 October 2019

The Art of Vertical Storytelling

As consumers become more and more mobile-centric, the concept of vertical storytelling has gathered steam as a way of capturing audience attention in a smartphone-friendly format, whether text, pictures, sound or, most obviously, video. However, marketers gathered for the Festival of Marketing earlier this month heard that vertical storytelling is still often just an afterthought for many brands rather than something more strategic.

Vertical marketing was the topic for a panel discussion during day one of the Festival of Marketing in London. The discussion, moderated by Rich Kivell, Creative Strategist at Facebook, featured Jade Tomlin, creative director of Tribal + DDB, Gareth Leeding, creative director at We are Social Sport, and Stephanie Yeboah, an award-winning Blogger on plus-size style.

According to Leeding, the perception of vertical storytelling needs to change as many brands do not see the intrinsic value, instead opting for more traditional television, radio and magazine marketing.

Brand personality

A fact all three panellists agreed on was the ease with which vertical storytelling can be customised, adapted and catered to a very specific group of people who are investing their time following your brand, and the story you develop behind it.

For them, whether you are a brand or social media personality, vertical storytelling is key to making you stand out, capture audience attention and garner a following.

Yeboah, an influencer better known by her Instagram handle Nerd about Town, explained that vertical storytelling and social media are a great opportunity for brands and influencers to invite their followers in, leading to more personal interactions. In fact, for Yeboah, vertical storytelling allows her to promote her own personality, showcasing to her followers what they should expect from her content.

Be disruptive

At its core, vertical storytelling must be what Leeding described as ‘disruptive’ – you need to make people stop and watch, as most will just scroll past. For a well-run vertical campaign a brand must adopt the personality social media requires, while also getting their message across.

So, for brands who are reluctant to explore vertical video, Tomlin suggests that it is important to start small, building up a language and tone of voice on social media before finally seeing how vertical storytelling performs. Once these steps have been achieved, brands can begin to branch out with bigger budgets and resources allocated to this type of marketing.

However, too often marketing budgets are solely reserved for traditional marketing techniques, with the social and vertical budget left with the remaining money – or worse – the traditional marketing content simply repurposed for the brand’s social media campaigns.

User participation

For all three panellists simply repurposing existing content is a sure fire way for consumers to label a brand lazy. For them, social media is a personal space which needs to be treated with respect by brands. User participation needs to be encouraged, something which is becoming easier to achieve with the addition of polls, questions and the swipe-up feature on Instagram Stories.

As Yeboah points out, polls and questions allow her to get closer to her audience, learning what they like and dislike, while also catering to new followers; and while a brand is harder to manage, the basic idea remains.

Interestingly, Leeding articulated, people not brands should drive a campaign, insinuating that while brand recognition is important, being adaptable is more so. In fact, for Adidas, a client of We are Sport Social, the swipe-up feature on Instagram has taken 2 million individual people to their homepage, and the interactive nature of their Instagram stories means they are able to capture the 12-19-year-old demographic with ease.

3 steps to success

Naturally, while brands may see Adidas as an example to follow, adopting the same approach is not necessarily the correct course of action. The styles and actions employed need to vary depending on what the brand is trying to achieve, stressed Tomlin.

However, while each vertical storytelling campaign will be different, and the accompanying tactics used will vary, Leeding suggests three basic rules to follow when starting a vertical campaign:

  • 6-7 second video is the optimal amount of time to capture and maintain consumer attention.
  • Utilising creative swipe-ups will not only make your brand stand out, but also drive customers to where you want them to go.
  • And, finally, innovative ideas are needed to work around the fact most people will not have the sound on while watching.

If a brand achieves these three points, he believes they stand the best chance of achieving success.


It was clear from this panel discussion that vertical storytelling is definitely undervalued, even though it has a distinct benefit for brands and social media influencers.

Not only does it promote a brand story, something customers can easily relate to and find personal, it also pushes potential consumers to the brand website and beyond. With recent updates in how social media interaction works, brands can learn what their consumers like, dislike and respond well to, allowing them to access a ready-made market of consumers wanting to be captivated.

Of course, as with any marketing technique, vertical storytelling may not be for everyone, as it takes time, effort and a consistent upload schedule to create an image people can relate to and invest time in.

Nevertheless, if you do take the time, a vertical storytelling strategy, independent from traditional marketing, can be the most personalised and sure-fire way to access potential customers as well as existing ones.

Photo credits: ASV photography

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