Effectively communicating your brand story is an important element in the success of your business. When we think of brand story we often default to a narrative told with words. That’s one useful way to tell your story, one you shouldn’t overlook.
But using strategic web design as part of your brand storytelling is a powerful approach that you can harness to define and grow your company.
The truth is that web design, which includes everything from copywriting to visual elements to content choices – is a critical element in your brand story toolkit, whether you’re selling B2B or B2C.
Before we get into the specifics of web design as a storytelling tool though, let’s discuss exactly what we mean by brand storytelling.
What is brand storytelling?
The best brand storytelling leverages all the core elements of storytelling in general. So that’s where we’ll start.
Storytelling is the primary way that human beings make sense of the world and in doing so, find empathy for and connect with one another. When done well, storytelling is also a huge driver of emotion.
As humans we have an unending desire for story.
We use story at work to illustrate concepts and solve problems, we sit down after work and tell our friends and our families the stories of our days, of what went right and wrong.
We devour novels, plays, television shows, movies and songs in large part because they tell us a story about how the world is – or how it could be.
That last part is important. Your brand story should make a core argument for how your audience’s world will be better with your product or service. And that argument should be underpinned by the values your brand considers central.
For example, imagine a telecom company. Let’s say this company has a national customer base. The company’s core story could be that “our lives would be better if we spent less time rushing from place-to-place and instead took time out to connect with the people we care about”. That means sharing with them, that means being vulnerable with them – and that means talking to them, over long distances, using the services that the telecom offers.
There’s a core argument there (human connection is the most important thing in our lives) and an offer (our phone service which connects you to everyone in your life) that supports it.
Note there’s an emotional core to this argument and offer.
It resonates with the core elements of what makes us human. This offer could clearly form the basis for a brand story and help the company’s customers get a view into what the telecom company cares about, why they do what they do, and why they think it’s important.
In fact, you can probably imagine a lot of the stories the telecom company could tell in its national TV commercials, in print and in its retail stores.
But for now, let’s talk about web design and how you can (and should) use that to bring your brand story to life.
How to tell your brand story using web design
Your website is an absolutely critical marketing, branding and storytelling asset.
There’s a fair argument to be made it’s the single most important asset your business can invest in.
You can probably imagine doing business with a company back in 1999 even if it had a clumsy or non-existent website. A website was less essential back then and a poor one didn’t suggest problems with the company. But fast forward 20 years to today and a poor website is a deal breaker because it speaks to the lack of care and importance the company puts on its public face. It implies that its products and services might suffer from the same lack of care and attention. It says you don’t need to spend time here. Find another provider.
The reverse is also true. A thoughtfully built website, that takes care to not only present information efficiently but in a way that’s emotionally pleasing for users, gives your company an advantage. It expresses who you are to your audience and it tells them ‘this company is for you’.
If you can build your website with your brand story at the heart, if you can bring it to life in the content planning, web design and build, then you can make an extraordinary impact on your users. That’s the goal here. Something extraordinary.
Below are the key web design principles and methods by which you can tell your brand story through web design.
Your brand story should come from your goals, always
At Tiller, we always make sure our clients’ goals are the driving force for the storytelling we do on their website (or in any other marketing or branding activities for that matter). We make sure that everything we do and every decision we make ladders back up to the core strategic imperatives and goals we define with our clients. Everything else flows from that. Keep this in mind as you start to define your core brand story and only then think about how you’ll bring it to life on your website.
It’s about their problems, not your company
There will be a temptation to talk about your company’s offerings more than your customers’ problems and needs. You need to resist it. You should focus on the problem your customers are facing because that problem is the compelling hook that will draw them into your story. That problem is why they landed on your website to begin with and it’s the need you’ll satisfy for them. Once your customer can see themselves and their problems reflected in the story you’re telling on your site, they’ll be more receptive to your solution.
Accentuate your brand story values
If a customer sees their problem and a solution on your website, they will have a clear portal into your story. That’s a good start. But remember the power of the human elements at play here. Make sure your values, those beliefs that make clear why you’re in business at all, shine through.
It’s the difference between that telecom offering phone service and that telecom offering phone service because they believe human connection is critical to our well-being.
Have a point of view, a clear voice and the good sense to say things efficiently
Website users are savvier than ever. They pick up things quickly and they’re always multi-tasking. That means that your web copy should be lean and focused. You want to tell a clear story about what’s in it for your users without using a lot of unnecessary words or dumping extraneous information on them. Of course, you also want to tell it in your particular brand voice. And you want to give them a clear path through the website so they know exactly what the next step in your story is and how to get there.
Know what your singular offer is and how your story expresses it
That fictional telecom company we mentioned earlier knows what their story is. It’s not low rates (although they might have those too). It’s not the best coverage in rural areas (although that might be important to many of their customers). Their core story is that they enable you to connect with the people you love. And that’s it. Everything else is detail around that core story. That’s what they want to be known for – their one singular thing. Remember your brand story should stake out a singular place and occupy it completely. Consider all your content and decision-making with this lens: does this strengthen, weaken or obscure my story? If it’s the one of the latter two things, then dump it.
Give your users a path into your story and your website
Give your users a path into your story and your website. That means clear indications of what you want them to do as they scroll and scan your website and clear emotional and visual triggers about what kind of story you’re telling (Is it a human-centered story? A story about embracing new technology? Your site content should reflect that). Ultimately, engaging with your brand should be a simple process with easy-to-follow cues. Know the road you want your users to follow and map it out for them.
Be different, be special
In our post on brand strategy and our post that outlines a 15-step strategy for brand development, we spend considerable time focusing on how to differentiate your brand. This applies equally to your brand story and your web design. Make sure you lay out your differentiators clearly so your users know why you’re the company they need. And make sure when you do it, all the elements supporting and reinforcing those differentiators are working together harmoniously.
Honour your audience
Your story and your website are there to serve your audience. So your design, messaging and content – all the elements that make up your site – should serve that audience. They should reflect a knowledge of who you are trying to reach, what they care about, and what they need from your company. Ask yourself with any website design decision: ‘does my audience need this information?’ If the answer is yes, ask this follow-up: ‘is this the best way to present this information considering the story I am telling?’.
Build user trust with social proof
The most powerful stories told about your company will not be told by you. They’ll be told by your customers. Your site will be immeasurably more powerful as a marketing and sales tool, if you have testimonials and case studies – and stories! – from your customers.
Tell your story with different content types
Keep your website and story fresh by giving your users different types of content they can interact with and download. That could mean offering them educational resources, entertaining content that fits with your brand personality, an archive of blogs to read, video content, etc.
Executing on a regular content-creation calendar keeps your site fresh, reinforces your story and provides you assets for all sorts of marketing and sales activities.
Give your users a clear call-to-action
You may assume that if your users love your brand story, if they love your website, they’ll automatically take action by calling you or buying something. That’s not always true. They often need prompts to take action. And very specific prompts at that. Make sure your website is designed with clear CTAs at the appropriate points. For example, ‘get in touch’ is fairly weak as CTAs go. It’s not specific enough. ‘Book a call’ is better. It triggers your user to do something specific.
Of course, whether your users follow the CTAs you lay out for them is in large part tied to the story you’ve been telling them, whether it resonates with them at an emotional level and, most importantly, how well you’ve done bringing it to life with your website design.
If you stay true to the principles above, you’ll be well on your way to a site that will connect with your users – and convert them.