Storytelling is in our nature as human beings. Before there were laws, instructions, or guides, stories were how information, wisdom, and understanding was passed from one generation to the next. Civilization developed out of stories.
It's easy to make a sterile website. A bland home page, a link to the online store, contact info, and a quick about page. We've all seen a million sites like these, but you'd probably be hard pressed to name one quickly. There so common they all kind of blur together.
So how do you stand out? By breaking out of that pattern, by making a real, personal connection with your visitors. And the easiest way to do that is, you guessed it, with a story.
Of course, there are two parts to every story – the tale itself, and the personality of the person telling it. Before you determine what your story will be, you should figure out who your business is first. How you want your brand to talk, how you want it to feel, the kind of message you want to send.
The personality of your brand should be baked into every item on your site. From the images you choose, to the copy you write, everything should speak from the same place and in the same tone.
While most businesses feel the understandable pull to speak in remote, distant, and safe tones for fear of somehow offending anyone or giving off the wrong vibe, being too careful is just as risky in its own way.
If you're always too afraid to sound like yourself, you'll always sound like nobody.
Storytelling in action
A good example of a brand with a strong personality is Field Notes. Their website just drips personality and story telling on every page.
At the end of the day, Field Notes is a company that sells small personal notebooks that fit in your pocket – but you wouldn't know that just looking at their website. They present their notebooks with all the reverence and circumstance of an expert jeweler laying out his masterpiece. They pour over small details, like the specific weight of the card stock used for the covers, the exact binding process and staple size used to hold the pages together. Everything is written using the same font family as used on the notebooks themselves, they have one consistent voice.
Then there is the content they serve. Cute goofy little videos about making paper, curated collections of Americana from the '30s-'60s. If you were to personify the Field Notes brand, it would be somewhere between the funny uncle who comes over to dinner sometimes and a slightly wistful historian.
That's the power of telling a story with your website. When people order a pack of notebooks off Field Notes, it's not because they want just any old thing to take notes on. You can get notebooks in just about any department store or office supply shop. What they're buying is the story Field Notes tells.
Look at Significant Objects, an art/psychology experiment designed to prove the value of storytelling. They took a collection of random junk items that cost about a $1.85 on average, but spun a story behind each item before trying to sell them to collectors or at auctions. They sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51 (don't worry, every penny went to charity, this wasn't a get rich quick scheme).
That's a ROI a marketing agent would push him mother down the stairs for. That's the power of a good story.
What story should you tell?
The story you tell with your business is only something you can decide. But, it's helpful to think of it like any book you've ever read. Who are the characters (IE, you and your business)? Why are they interesting? What was the that got you started on this journey(why did you create the business)? What's the conflict, the problems you've faced? What kind of conflict to you want to present to the visitor? What's the ending (what does your product or service help accomplish)?
Don't think you need to write this all down in some long winded wall of text. Good story telling is about more than just words (if you've ever tried to struggle through some dense literary prose, you know that sometimes less it more).
To go back to the Field Notes example, the story they tell is one of a time gone by. Of the simple pleasures of tactile goods in a digital age. The value of writing something down instead of recording it. That doesn't follow the "hero's journey” or any of those other old models of telling a tale, but it's still a story.
Make them feel something
The ultimate goal is to make sure the visitors to your site feel something. That they connect with your brand on an emotional level, instead of seeing it as just another place buy widgets.
Be bold. Be direct. Think about the images and fonts you use and how you can communicate your story visually. Try to develop a voice for your brand that extends beyond a slogan.
Write copy that speaks to actual, breathing humans, not "potential customers.” Think of your site as a way to have a conversation with your customer, not a soap box to issue statements from. If your site reads like a stiff press release or a doctor's medical diagnosis, it's time to make a change.
People crave stories. Tell them a good one, and they'll keep coming back for more.