Does your website tell a story? If not, it probably should.
Why is storytelling so important? Why has humanity, regardless of any sociological factor, chosen to use storytelling as a way to influence people? For the same reasons you should use storytelling to convince people to choose your brand — it is memorable and persuasive.
Stories are memorable
"Slow and steady wins the race." We all know what this phrase means and where it comes from. This is, of course, one of Aesop's fables used to illustrate the importance of consistency and determination over speed and carelessness.
If Aesop had chosen to just say, "Hey, taking your time is better than rushing," we probably wouldn't remember it quite as well. By tying his message to the story of a footrace between two seemingly mismatched opponents, we all remember his lesson and carry it with us. The story makes it memorable.
Stories must be persuasive
It is one thing for your message to be remembered, but you also want it to be persuasive. That is the point of advertising in the first place. Storytelling has been used to persuade people since the dawn of man.
Every religion in recorded history is made up of fables and parables used to teach and convert. Why not just tell followers to treat each other better or serve one another? The parables served as both a practical example of the desired behaviour and a way for listeners to connect emotionally with the material. We have been using that same formula ever since.
So how can your website tell a story? It doesn't have a narrative arc like a novel, film or TV show. It can, however, utilise the elements of storytelling in order to create a memorable and persuasive brand message. You simply need to create a brand character, a conflict and a motivation from which your brand acts....
01. Create a character
Which 'character' does your brand play in your story? Is your brand the hero, saving your customer from the clutches of some villainous foe? Is your brand the mentor, guiding the consumer on their quest for happiness and fulfilment? Is your brand the trickster, bringing levity and play to the seriousness of everyday life?
Deciding on which character you wish your brand to play will go a long way in figuring out which story you'd like to tell.
02. Find an enemy
Your brand doesn't necessarily have to slay dragons or save humanity from invading aliens. (If it did, that would be one hell of a value proposition.) It does, however, need to do something. It needs to overcome some sort of foe.
You need to identify your brand's antagonist. What is your brand fighting? If you are a financial institution, your antagonist could be careless consumer spending. Your foe could be other financial institutions that you feel don’t have your consumers' best interests at heart. How will you save the day?
As anyone who has seen Spider-Man 3 will tell you, it is best to pick one conflict per story; otherwise, your message gets muddied.
03. Give your character motivation
What compels your character to act? Why do you care if the consumer reaches his or her goal? The obvious answer is to improve your bottom line, but that doesn’t make for a good story. It needs to be deeper than that.
You could be a restaurant whose motivation is to make the world a little healthier by offering fresh ingredients at a reasonable price. You could be a shoe company that is motivated by the desire to be expressive, so you offer footwear that is unique and fashionable. Once you have figured out your character, your motivation and your conflict, you will have the makings of a great story.
04. Make the consumer the hero
What are some good brand sites that tell a good story? Who has mastered the art of character creation, with a formidable foe and clearly defined motivations?
A good example is Pepsi's brand site (opens in new tab). Pepsi as a brand knows exactly who they are. Their site tells the story of the young millennial consumer who is always trying to stay fresh. Pepsi plays the part of the mentor, guiding them to what is now and even next. One would think that the major antagonist for Pepsi would be their competitor, Coke. It is, but not directly.
On their site, Pepsi fights against tradition and the same ol' same ol'. Because Coke has always been about nostalgia and tradition, Pepsi can combat them by taking on what they stand for. Pepsi is motivated by the need to stay ahead of the latest trends in order to be the brand of the young.
They do this through the language and content on their page. It isn't about the drink itself, it's about things like "9 producers You Probably Don’t Know, But Should. (opens in new tab)" It allows the consumer to be the hero, and Pepsi to be the trusted guide.
05. Make the brand the hero
Another example of a great brand story is the Patagonia website (opens in new tab). Patagonia is a brand of outdoor apparel and gear, yet their site doesn't shout about the warmth of their fleece or how water-resistant their backpacks are. Instead, they tell the story of how their brand pushes the limits and challenges all that nature has to offer.
Patagonia is the hero of their story. Their brand is the explorer who goes out and hikes, climbs, camps and discovers. Their foe is the elements, like temperature, wetness or rough terrain. They are motivated by the desire to break through their limits and celebrate all that nature has to offer. Patagonia has a loving rivalry with nature, saying, "Bring it on." It is inspiring and aspirational for the consumer.
What story does your brand tell? Are you memorable? Are your persuasive? If you’re not as much as you’d like to be, maybe you need to get your story straight.
Words: Mack McCullough
Mack McCullough is associate creative director at Sq1 (opens in new tab), an agency that takes data and turns it into insights, action and results, generating impressive ROI for brands such as Michael's, Dr Pepper, Travelocity and Jiffy Lube.