Humans have told stories for centuries. It’s how we do more than survive. Stories pass information from one generation to the next. We learn lessons from the life stories of our heroes and their enemies. Even your friend’s story from the bar crawl last weekend lets you know which spots to avoid and which to jump on next time. Customers use stories to choose where to spend their time and money. Your web design can tell a story too.

Stories are the account of events in someone’s life, real or fictional. Your website, especially your homepage, must tell your visitor a unique story about what it’s like to be your customer.

Why Stories Help

You know your products and services. Maybe you invented what you’re selling or trained for years to provide services in your industry. You don’t need a story to help you understand your own business. It all makes sense in your head, customers just need to get it in theirs. Unfortunately, there’s no Vulcan mind-meld for this. But stories can help visitors see what you see, taking them back to a problem and revealing how your solution uniquely solves that issue.

Stories position you as the authority on your topic. After all, you’re the author. No one knows the world of Harry Potter like J.K. Rowling. When fans (i.e. her customers) argue about the story, a word from J.K. silences the argument. There’s no other reliable source for new Potter details. We trust the author to know their world and no-one else.

Stories provide an easy-to-follow path. When you identify the pain point first, you meet customers where they’re at. They wouldn’t be looking at your site if they didn’t have a problem to solve. The story lets visitors see the steps before them, all the way to their solution. Your story lays out their path. It provides a positive example and the confidence that someone else has been down this way before.

How To Tell Good Stories

Not all stories are told well. Remember Twilight? The stories made at least one decent movie (you decide which), but the books are widely derided. We don’t have time to explore the full depth of the badness of Twilight, but we can explore how to tell a story well.

Like all good stories, start your web design with conflict. Identify the problem or the pain point. Bring the potential customer back to the point of conflict. Remind them of that pain. Light a fire.

Good stories make you feel strongly. They take you down to make you appreciate the higher ground. How can anyone pay you to solve their problem if they don’t believe there’s something to solve?

Next, identify and demonstrate the solution. Needless to say, we’re telling a short story here: problem, proposed solution, happily ever after. After drawing out the problem, get on with introducing your solution. Spend a little time showing how it addresses each aspect of the problem. When you’ve shown visitors what you can do and how you do it, give visitors crystal clear instructions about how to contact you, make a purchase or take the next step toward living out the story you just told.

Wondering where to tell visitors all this? Your short story can be great on your home page. Start in the section directly following the main call to action, or “below the fold”. Let the main call to action be a short distillation of the full story told below it. Use consecutive homepage sections to build out the rest of the story. If you have multiple products, build product pages that start with a clear action instruction followed by your detailed story.

Check out Tesla’s page for their new Powerwall. The story for this complex new technology is beautifully interpreted with a simple diagram explaining the problem and straightforward text connecting Powerall to the solution. Further sections explain the unique value of the product, differentiate Powerwall from competitors and provide technical details for nerds.

It’s no Harry Potter, but it’s a story well told. What’s your story?

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