By Debbie Williams published November 1, 2012

Brand Storytelling: Why Words Matter as Much as Design

brand storytelling, tree illustrationAs important as a captivating design is to your content marketing, stories (and the words that tell them) are what make people decide if they like you, if you understand their needs, and if they want to do business with you. Brand storytelling can’t be done with visuals alone.

While great design might lure someone in, it’s not enough to sustain a real relationship. People communicate through conversation, and the words are essential to that dialogue.

Imagine if you were planning a wine tasting trip in Napa and you found beautiful pictures of vineyards but no descriptions of the types of wines they offer, or the notes or history of the grapes? What if you were searching for a new camera and just found visuals of cameras, with no information on features, and no product reviews? Words matter, and brands that tell their stories — not just show them — win.

Words are powerful

Words spark emotion and transport people into a different mindset. A great example of this is seen in a video that went viral in 2011 called, “The Power of Words.” It shows a blind, homeless man sitting on a city street collecting change. Initially he held up a sign that simply said, “I’m blind, please help.” The video shows most people just glancing and walking by. The turning point comes when a woman stopped and rewrote his sign to say, “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.

Why do these new words become impossible to ignore? They forge an emotional connection between the experience of one person and another. They make the passersby relate in an entirely different way to what and whom they see. This short film illustrates how the power of words can dramatically change your message and effect upon people.

Words on the web

According to Google ZMOT, in 2011 people researched and digested 10.4 unique pieces of content before making a purchasing decision. If the internet was made up of only visuals and pretty designs, would it be any use? Your online content is the voice of your company, speaking to your customers and telling your story while you’re busy growing your business.

Words make the web work. We live in a time when most people instantly search online before making a purchasing decision. When you want to find information on something what do you do? You search online, sometimes over and over again, until you have a good idea about what you want and who you want it from.

So many companies focus on the visual side of their story and neglect the importance of the words. They put all of their efforts into the look and design of a website without carving out a carefully crafted message that speaks to their audience. At my company (Sprout Content), we often talk with clients who “want a new website,” but haven’t given any thought to what it will say or who they are saying it to. They’re neglecting brand storytelling. Businesses often work with web developers to create a new site, but lack of content holds up the entire process.

Visuals and words telling a story

We’ve seen that many companies often don’t understand their story or how it can be told to clients and prospects. If you’re selling a traditionally “boring” product or service (think accounting, or carpet cleaning), words can actually paint an exciting and interesting picture of your business and products.

Think your business isn’t that exciting? Paper converting likely doesn’t sound thrilling either — until the company’s story is told:

Oren International (full disclosure: It is a client) is a paper-converting company that had an outdated website that did not communicate its scope of services or, more importantly, what the company is passionate about. It offered basic square swatches of products — all of the content included factual information, such as a list of dimensions.

Here is a sample from one of Oren’s new product pages. It shows how compelling visuals work together with content to tell the brand story:

We worked with Oren to create new content that explains how it partners with companies to bring their visions to life and convey their passion for paper. It has a voice and perspective and effectively communicates what Oren can do and what all of its products are used for.

Words and visuals must work as a cohesive and complete team to paint the full picture of a brand story. Your package design, website, blog theme, catalogue, or brochure might be drop-dead gorgeous, but if the words in it aren’t compelling, no one will keep reading. When the design is interesting, all of your words create a more powerful experience. On the flipside, if the design is bad, your brilliant words will go unread and your story untold.

This post is an introduction to Chapter 1 of the upcoming CMI Books publication Brands in Glass Houses — How Transparent Storytelling Helps Brands Compete and Win, by co-authors Debbie Williams and Dechay Watts, co-founders of Sprout Content, and international brand marketing consultant Said Baaghil.

Image via Bigstock

Author: Debbie Williams

As co-founder of SPROUT Content, Debbie Williams is passionate about developing strategic, creative content that eloquently captures the spirit and emotion of brands through words. After more than 10 years of copywriting and creative marketing experience for global beauty brands and consumer goods companies, she now knows that content marketing is what she’s been doing all along. Follow her on Twitter @sproutcontent.

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