Web Marketing Today

Storytelling in Web Design

Storytelling is a powerful form of communication. But marketers often neglect storytelling. In this post I will provide you with ways you can begin to integrate storytelling with your brand.

Show Don’t Tell

If you have ever taken a creative writing class, you probably were told “show, don’t tell,” when writing. The same is true for storytelling within a brand. By simply presenting a setting, character, and action, business storytellers allow customers to enter into the story of their brands in a personal, relatable way. In many cases, the character can be the customer and the action can be the sale.

What Is Your Brand’s Story?

Before you can begin to tell your brand’s story, you have to figure out what it is. Who are you? What are you selling? Why does it matter? What kind of atmosphere do you want representing your business? Who are your primary customers? The answers to these questions all play a role in crafting your brand’s story.

Tools for Brand Storytelling

Once you have your story in mind, you can begin to use different design elements to craft your story. Here are some of the design elements useful in storytelling.

Words. Don’t assume words aren’t an important part of web design. In fact, words might do the most in terms of literal storytelling on your site. From navigation text to calls-to-action, words help customers navigate your online story and hopefully arrive at the ending you have written for them. Words also lend to the setting and “atmosphere” of your story. Writing style, tone, and vocabulary all play a part in online storytelling.

MailChimp is a good example of using words to create an atmosphere. MailChimp uses words to create an easygoing, playful tone throughout its site.

MailChimp has an option to disable its fun, casual language — Party Pooper Mode.

Typography. Smashing Magazine says that “Typography is the Foundation of Web Design.” Typography can help create an atmosphere in the same way that writing style, tone, and vocabulary do. With typography as a storytelling element, the medium is the message. What does your font choice say about your brand’s atmosphere?

Color. In “Color Psychology and Ecommerce,” I wrote before about how color affects us psychologically. In visual storytelling, color can be used to create a mood. Include color as part of your answer to the question, “What kind of ‘atmosphere’ do you want representing your business?”

Photographs. Photographs can simultaneously show us the setting, character, and action of a story. For example, a photo that depicts the product in use tells a story. A photographic background that shows a setting is also part of storytelling.

Illustrations. Illustrations are similar to photographs but have greater potential for representing abstract narratives. For example, it might be difficult to depict cloud-based file sharing using a photograph.

This Dropbox illustration depicts the action of sharing files from the cloud.

Illustrations can also be used to seamlessly tell longer stories that might be difficult to narrate using only photographs.

Videos. Videos take the storytelling potential of photographs and illustrations and brings it to life. Videos are more effective than photographs in depicting products in use and can do a better job explaining abstract narratives with animated illustrations. This Google video is a good example of illustrated storytelling.

Mascots. Mascots are powerful storytelling elements because they can play the role of the narrator or the narrated. Mascots can be used to guide visitors through a site or to demonstrate the roles you want visitors to play in your brand’s story. Mascots can also be more subtle in establishing a story. Once again, MailChimp is a good example with its monkey mascot, who presumably runs around the Internet delivering emails and suggests funny YouTube videos to MailChimp users.

The MailChimp mascot exemplifies both character and action in storytelling and adds personality to the site by suggesting funny YouTube videos to users.

While mascots are often cute illustrations of monkeys and mad scientists, they don’t have to be. You could be the mascot for your site. It doesn’t matter who or what your mascot is, so long as your mascot’s character and personality fit with the story your brand is trying to tell.

Icons and symbols. Certain words and images have meanings already attached to them thanks to culture and people’s ability to recognize patterns. For example, the peace sign and the Batman logo have no inherent meaning, yet we know they represent peace and Batman thanks to cultural context. We also make connections between names, objects, and meanings. For example, we might associate owls and the name Solomon with wisdom. These cultural connections allow us to use subtext to say more with our story.

peace, batman, owls

Interactivity. Allowing users to interact with your stories can act as a narrative device. For example, scrolling can give the impression of a linear, narrative progression and is part of what makes parallax — where backgrounds move at different speeds — engaging and fun. Other forms of interaction, like clicking a “next” button during the checkout process can fulfill the same narrative purpose if accompanied by other storytelling elements mentioned above.

Expansive storytelling. Brand storytelling does not need to be confined to your website alone. Storytelling can extend to social media, marketing efforts, customer service, shipping, and even product packaging. Storytelling can take your brand and makes it relatable to your customers on a personal level. What’s more, establishing a clear brand story makes it easier to keep your brand consistent across all aspects of your business.

Drew Coffin
Drew Coffin
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