Telling Your Story through Website Design

The 2-Second Challenge

Your website design should tell your story in a clear and compelling way. But before we can build a website that tells your story, we need to know what your story is.

Every organization has a backstory, and passions, and diverse staff opinions, core values, and of course, a complex product or service offering. They also exist within a market, where other firms are competing for the same customers, and where the potential clients have their own agendas and values that need to be considered. In other words, for most organizations, their story could take a long time to tell.

But customers landing on your website make a decision on whether to stay or leave within a couple seconds. You can’t stuff your whole story into two seconds. So – what are you going to lead with?

This is not only a question about what your website should lead with, but also what your staff should lead with when meeting clients for the first time. Not to mention, all of your other marketing pieces; and speaking engagements; and various other communications your organization puts out. People make their judgments about you and your organization within the first few seconds in almost all their interactions, whatever form that first touchpoint takes.

So again we ask, what does your organization’s lead look like? This isn’t just a question for websites, or even just for marketing. You need a concise, agreed-upon “elevator speech.”

Boiling all the passion and complexity that makes up your business down to one short statement can actually be the most challenging part of marketing development. That makes sense because it’s foundational to everything else that follows – brand guidelines, media choices, and content choices and priorities on individual media pieces such as your website, brochures, and ads.

Yet, a common mistake we see in the design of websites is that they skip the process altogether of figuring out their elevator speech. The hallmark of a bad website design is confused messaging. You can’t tell what it’s trying to say, or it’s saying all kinds of little things but no one big thing. All the great layout, expensive designers, photography, copywriters, and developers in the world won’t save you from a bad website design if you don’t know what you were trying to say in the first place.

The hallmark of a good website is that its words, images, and even colors and fonts are all saying the same thing together, clearly, passionately, and loudly. Even with a poor layout, and inexpensive photos and copy, if what you are saying with your content is clear, consistent, concise, and compelling, you can have a great website.

The Process

To figure out your story, you need to follow a process to fairly consider all the factors that may go into the decision of what to lead with. At Big Waves Marketing we start most projects with the creation of a Brand Guide. Here is how it plays out into our entire process:

Step 1: Discovery

The Brand Guide starts by outlining the basics about the organization, its goals, and its market. This can take some research. By the process of collecting and analyzing all of this information, certain points tend to begin standing out consistently through all the research.

Step 2: Definition

After Discovery we do Definition, which brings all the research findings together and then boils them down into a messaging map and a final elevator speech.

Step 3: Design

Only after we have the messaging map and elevator speech done do we move on to Design. Our decisions on logo designs, colors, fonts, and imagery guidelines are all made to support the decided messaging.

When we have all the above information complete, we capture all of it in the Brand Guide and get full and final team approval. Then we move on to website development.

Step 4: Development

Designing and building the website goes much smoother and more efficiently because so much of the difficult decision making was already done during the Discovery and Design steps. We don’t have big disagreements between staff on simple things like text changes and colors while we have an expensive backend developer on the clock.

Step 5: Deployment

After the website is built, we do things like SEO optimization, mobile optimization, and other pre-launch activities. Then, with the team’s approval, we send the website live.

Whatever marketing firm you choose, they may have a slightly different process. That’s okay. The important thing is that at its start, they have helped you figure out your lead story, and have gotten everyone in agreement on what it is you will be trying to say with your website before jumping into design.

It’s Not That Difficult (or Expensive) After All!

By describing the whole process, it can sound pretty extensive. For some big companies that need it, it actually can be quite a deep dive. But the process can be made to fit for everyone. Practicalities must always come into play. If you have a small organization, or a relatively simple one, or a well-defined focus already set in place, or a small staff, we can put together the Brand Guide rather quickly.

Big or small, you should capture your full brand story in a document such as a Brand Guide before embarking on the website design. In the end you have to make these decisions or clarify your brand at some point in the website design process, and doing it first keeps these discussions separate from the more technical ones that will happen when you get to the complicated website development environment. In most cases setting this foundation through a well-thought-out process will actually save you time and money by the end of the project, and your website design will be much better for it.