Building a new website is a big, exciting project requiring significant time, money and brainpower. It takes months to do it right. When it’s done and launched, it’s worthy of a company-wide party. There is always internal excitement about a new website.
And yet so many companies do it bass ackwards.
They tackle this big, important project from the wrong angle. They focus too much on the tech, or too much on the design.
And they never even consider the words. Not just the website copy, but the brand story. Every great brand has a great story. Every great company knows why it exists and what it stands for.
Big-time venture capitalist Ben Horowitz has even claimed that your story is your strategy.
You can build a new website and add exciting new functionality and make it look pretty and hop on the latest design trends, but if the story isn’t buttoned up, your customers are going to see through it. Odds are, they’ll never verbalize it; they’ll just shrug and never come back.
Story-first is the way to go
Getting your story straight requires organizing your thinking into a cohesive narrative. If you don’t spend time up front doing this, the website process is very likely going to be chaotic and the website that results will not flow the way it should.
At the very least, having a tight brand story helps you to develop the website copy. Starting with the story is starting at a higher level, a strategic level. As marketers, we talk about strategy so much, and yet this is a strategic building block that gets glossed over. Once you have a buttoned up brand story, creating the website copy becomes much easier; it’s already half-written.
But it goes further than that. By a bunch.
The brand story is the concept behind the site’s architecture. Yes, you can—and often should—conduct UX research and focus groups to see how people are interacting with your current site and what’s important to them. But the story you’re telling, and the pacing and order in which you tell it, dictates the way the site is built. It informs the design, fusing with the story to create the overall content experience. It may even impact the technology you use.
Your brand story should take your customer or prospect on a journey to a better place. They’re struggling with something, along comes you, and you set them on a path to a better place.
This means they are the star of this story.
But it also means that you have to be credible as the potential catalyst for them to change their ways and reach new heights.
Building your brand story
Creating your brand story is an in-depth exercise. It requires examining what your company’s values are and how they connect you to your customers.
You have to question assumptions.
You have to think hard about why customers buy from you, and why they don’t.
You have to discuss, and maybe debate, what customers and prospects think about you, and what they don’t.
It requires putting your organizational ego aside.
When you’re done this work, you’ll have a clearer understanding of why you exist, what your purpose is, and how to connect that raison d’etre to your customer base.
What’s a website for?
It’s important to remember the website is not “the thing”—it’s a delivery channel for the thing, and the thing is your story.
Your website is a storytelling vehicle, and almost certainly your most important marketing asset because it feeds everything else you do.
A compelling brand story does two things to build trust with your audience:
- Demonstrates empathy. Show your would-be customer that you understand their needs and wants. Make it clear that you’re on their side and here to help. That’s the price of their attention.
- Signals authority. The best brand stories communicate confidence by showing you know what you’re talking about. This helps to answer the questions why now? and why you? Your website exists to validate your bona fides and make sure people realize that they need to pay attention to you. Marketers always talk about building brand loyalty, and this is where it starts: Authority leads to trust … which leads to customers … which lead to, ideally, brand loyalty.
Having a well-thought out, compelling brand story is the foundation for all of this. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.