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Telling your client's story

A client's story is way more impactful than lame marketing copy. Jonathan Longnecker, co-founder of FortySeven Media, stresses the importance of telling your client's story and explains how to do it

The story. For me it conjures up some old Disney movie that starts with an ancient, hand lettered book slowly opening up and a narrators voice beginning to tell the tale. You're getting ready to hear the amazing story of an individual, real or imagined, and it's going to be full of hope, mystery, good vs evil and triumph.

Why is it that we spend billions of dollars at the movies every year to go see other people's stories? Why is it that we follow a celebrities' (or weblebrities') every waking move? I think it's because we are fascinated with who other people are and how they came to be that way. Maybe we want to know that we have a chance to be as amazing as them. Maybe we need to know who to trust, or maybe it just helps us connect with other human beings.

Either way, we are fascinated by someone else's tale. So why is it that so many company's websites don't take the time to tell their own story? Surely it would be beneficial!

Too often a company's website says nothing about who they really are. Sure there's a boring mission statement filled with utter nonsense and maybe a team page. And of course the obligatory call to action or promotion. But many times none of these things are carefully crafted to fit within the larger context of the company's story.

Let's look at a few ways we can tell the tale:

Visuals

This is pretty obvious. We know that the right typeface, colour and design are important to the feel of a site. And feel plays a huge role in making sure you're not sending mixed messages. You wouldn't want to make a website selling high-end furniture look like a pawn shop, right?

Crafting a visual story is something designers have been doing sine the beginning. But we have to be careful. It's so easy to let our personal preferences get in the way of our client's story. As designers we have to make sure we take the time to understand our clients – who they really are, what they do, and what matters to them. Then we can begin to formulate a visual language that is specific to their needs.

Language

Speaking of language, the tone and style of your words matter! I believe that in it's simplest form we are designers of content. The prettiest shell won't change what it says. Calls to action, body copy and even small things such as error messages and button text should all be considered to ensure that a consistent story is being told. Back to our high end furniture example: You wouldn't use words like "SUPER SALE!" or "FINANCING AVAILABLE!" because that says the the furniture company is making cheap products and will go to any lengths to let you to buy one. Really the words we use should be implying things like exclusive, beautiful and quality.

Testimonials – the secret weapon

I believe all purchases we make are emotional. Sure, we do our research and weigh the pros and cons, but when it comes down to it that last impulse is emotional. Yes, the jeans are twice as expensive, but dang it they look good on me. Sold.

Another great way to tell your client's story is to let their clients do it for you. Personal testimonials from a real person are powerful – they let the user emotionally connect to an actual human being who has the same problem as them. They identify and start to take your client's services more seriously.

The way you let these testimonials be told is also important to the overall story. Should it be highly polished video or hand-held style and informal? Maybe audio or just some text? It all depends on who your client is and who they're trying to reach. But I will say this ... seeing a real person is always going to establish a stronger emotional connection.

Not telling the story – the paradox

Like I said at the beginning of the article – many sites don't tell a company's story. Or do they? You see, by not taking the time to tell their story I believe that they've actually told you quite a bit about themselves.

First, they don't really understand who they are. This can be bad for you if they have the wrong impression of themselves. I tell clients quite a bit that it's "hard to read the label when you're inside the bottle." And it's true. Ever tried to design your own website? So don't be so judgmental of them. Maybe they need an objective 3rd party (like you!) to help them figure it out.

Second, they don't understand how powerful their story can be. Other people's stories always seem more interesting than our own. Maybe they don't think they have one worth sharing. It's up to you to let them know that they do.

Finally, I think it can be an indicator of not wanting people to know who they are. I get this in certain circumstances. Maybe you want to look larger than you are and come across as a faceless corporation rather than human beings. Not that I agree with it, but it is what it is. We could do with a lot less of that, though.

By giving a user context – struggles, triumphs and motives – for a company's origins we make emotional connections and increase sales. Not to mention pave the way for a long term relationship. So get out there and start telling your client's stories. It'll make the web a better place.

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