Using your website to tell a story


Brands have stories? Get out!
When I first got into marketing, I remember hearing several people refer to the idea of a “Brand story.” Having not given it much thought prior to that time, I thought that sounded a little funny. Stories are those things your mom used to read to you at bedtime, or the stuff movies are made out of. Brands don’t have stories! Or do they?

Turns out they totally do.

Why should you care?
Stories can be incredibly powerful. I’m not a psychologist, but I do know that something magical happens in our brains the moment we start to hear a story. For one, we begin to “suspend disbelief.” We drop most of our normal skepticism and doubt about what’s happening around us and open our minds to receive the experience. Furthermore, stories are incredibly memorable — primarily because they bring emotions, which will always be more memorable than cognitive thoughts. Think about it, you can’t remember where you ate dinner last Tuesday, but you know exactly what happened to Bambi’s mom even though it’s been years since you saw that movie. So if it’s true that brands have stories, then telling that story properly is one of the best things your company can learn to do. And where better to tell that story than on your website? I rest my case.

Stories have three components: characters, obstacles and resolutions. All three are important. For example, there is often a temptation to leave out the “obstacle” part of our stories, as if our life has been a series of marigolds and rainbows. But leaving out the obstacles is a mistake, because this is the part of the story that evokes empathy and understanding from our audience. Similarly, a story just doesn’t make sense without characters and it doesn’t change us without a resolution.

Your company actually is actually an inter-weaving of lots of different stories.

You have a story. Who are you? What are you like? What drove you to start your business? What obstacles have you faced along the way? What have you learned, and how is your business different/better for having overcome those obstacles?

Your employees have stories too. What kind of people are they? What do they believe in? What is it that your company is working on that was compelling enough to make them want to join you? There must be some passion there.. some cause that your company is furthering that drives your employees to come in to work (aside from the money)

And of course, your customers have stories. Who are they? What are they like? What was their life like before they encountered your service? Why is their life better now that they’ve worked with you? By telling your customers’ stories, you are inviting potential customers who are still in the “obstacle” phase of their story to choose your product/service to provide them with a “resolution.”

So what does that look like?

There are many ways to get your story to come out on your website, but one of my favorites is the currently-trendy “panel-based” design. I use the following example not because I want to make you throw up in your mouth, but because it’s the first one that came to mind that incorporates everything I’m talking about:

Yes, I know.. disgusting. But look at what they do well:

  • They’re telling the story about a couple who uses their product (characters)
  • They’re implying that they have an obstacle: feeling sad when they aren’t together
  • The resolution: hire “Couple” as your app and you will never feel lonely/estranged from your partner again

At the end, they issue a call to action to actually download the app, or at LEAST connect with them online so they can keep telling you their story (and hopefully convince you to someday download the app). You, as the protagonist in your own story, get to decide whether you want to choose their proposed ending to your story, or if you want to keep looking for a different resolution to your own feelings of loneliness.

One final point that I really like about this site: They keep the story simple at a first glance, but allow you to dive as deeply as you want. On the surface, there are only 7 panels/steps to this story. But at a few different points along the way, there’s a “jumping off” opportunity to dig in deeper. E.g. “watch the longer, more in-depth version of this short story” for those who aren’t sold at first.

Obviously, this is only a surface-level look at telling a story through your website, but I challenge you to think carefully about the story you’re trying to tell with your business — ESPECIALLY as you design the next iteration of your website.