Are You Getting Your Message Across? 7 Sure-Fire Ways to Tell Your Brand's Story Through Design
Humans use stories to make sense of the world around them. They are more persuasive than facts and statistics because they appeal directly to people’s emotions.
Stories are a powerful way to create an emotional connection between your brand and your customer. They can streamline the emotions, challenges, and broader themes relevant to your brand into an engaging and understandable format.
The biggest brands use storytelling to keep their messages consistent across all the different media they use. This prevents customers from being confused and makes sure they can recognize the brand wherever it appears.
Effective brand storytelling doesn’t only impact your customer, but your company too. Especially in the era of remote and hybrid working, strong internal and external messaging can unite your disparate team around a common cause. This results in more efficiency and less frustration, as everyone knows clearly what they are working towards and why, with greater coherence and less confusion.
We normally think of stories that are written or spoken, but some of the most engaging stories are told visually. Through design, you can tell your brand story in ways that cause instant connection with the customer.
Brands that excel at this establish such powerful stories that you can connect their visual design elements to their vision and values.
Think about Nike. Named after the goddess of victory. A sports brand, so highly competitive. The tick of their logo symbolizes success. Victory, competition, success. The coherence between these elements creates a compelling story.
Everything Nike does adds to this story. ‘Just Do It’ is a message that enhances victory, competition, and success.
To help you make sure that your messaging always hits the mark, here are seven sure-fire ways to tell your brand’s story through design.
7 Sure-Fire Ways to Tell Your Brand’s Story Through Design
1. Understand Who You’re Designing For
Every compelling story starts with relatable characters.
Who is the hero of your brand story? The consumer. Not your brand. Customers should be able to recognize immediately that your brand is targeted towards them and their values.
Before you jump straight into designing, it pays to know who you’re designing for and what matters to them. To make your brand relatable, your designs should tell stories that are relevant to your core target customer.
Start by identifying who that target customer is and do detailed research on them.
Where do they live? How old are they? How do they spend their time?
What matters to them? What do they aspire to?
What problems are you trying to solve for them?
These are the kinds of questions you should be asking.
One of the best ways to go in-depth with this is using buyer personas.
Personas can include background, personality, habits, motivations, desires, attitudes, beliefs, preferences, and tendencies. The deeper you drill, the more storytelling gold you will dig up, and the more your designs will resonate.
To get more value out of your personas, don’t just make up the characteristics. Wherever you can, use high-quality data to inform them. Use relevant information collected from social media and your call centre management system.
Consider how Amazon leverages data both to understand more about its customers and tell its brand story.
The ‘A to Z’ of their logo communicates the breadth of their service, while they openly use data from your purchases to personalize the products they show to you.
Amazon’s entire experience says “we offer everything, but we’ll serve you exactly what you want”. The smile that goes from ‘A to Z’ implies that you’ll be satisfied with their service and everything Amazon does is designed to reinforce customer satisfaction.
By using data, your personas will be easier to create, more applicable to your customers, and easier to explain to your colleagues, and affiliate company partners.
Crucially, buyer personas require you to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. You will be able to speak to them at their level and meet them where they’re at. Personas will help you understand which problems they deem most important.
Once you have personas for your main customer groups, you can use them to inform your design easily with a visual workflow designer.
If your customers are environmentally conscious, consider using earthy tones and natural colors. If your audience is older than you realized, try using larger, clearer fonts to improve readability.
The oat drink company Oatly uses highly distinctive typography to enhance their message that they’re different from regular milk.
By understanding that their target customer is likely health-conscious, environmentally conscious, and away from the mainstream, Oatly’s quirky lettering instantly signals that they represent something different.
Personas are key to creating a personalized customer experience. This way, rather than relying on averages, you can ensure that your designs are well received by your specific audience. If you’re catering to everyone, you’re catering to no one.
2. Dramatize Your Designs as Visual Stories
Now that you have your characters, consider the journey that they will go on. How will your offering take them from a painful or uncomfortable situation they have now and improve their lives?
This is where brands often leave their customers behind. They don’t make a clear connection between where the consumer is now, the ‘happily ever after’ the brand will lead them to, and the steps between.
This doesn’t have to be a complicated process. You can use the same structures as best-selling novels and Hollywood films. To keep things simple, a straightforward plot structure is beginning, middle, and end.
The beginning can be the problem your character faces. Do you truly understand the problem that your customer has? You might know what the problem is, but do you understand how it makes them feel?
Let’s say your customer’s problem is related to a low call success rate. Don’t just present a communication tool that promises to turn things around. Make it clear to them how do VoIP phones work to improve this metric with various automated features.
Make sure you communicate not just the problem itself, but the stakes and consequences.
The middle of your story introduces the solution and conveys the conflict between the problem and solution. Here you can start to talk about options they may have tried and why those did not work. Hint, some of these options may be your competitor's enterprise-grade products.
Now you introduce your brand. What makes you different from the others? Why will you succeed where others have failed?
The end showcases the resolution. It reveals how the main character (the user) interacted with the solution (your product or service) to overcome the problem (their pain point). Show them what their life could be like with their problem solved and how they will feel.
This is why before and after images are so persuasive. ‘Before’ is the beginning, ‘after’ is the end, and the middle is where the brand’s solution comes in.
This might seem like a lot to include, but there are many ways to go about it. Images can tell entire stories on their own, and this is where clever design comes in.
The photograph below is titled ‘Candy Cigarette’. Is she at the beginning of a troubled stage in her life? Is she in the middle of learning bad habits from the company she keeps? Has she put an end to her inhibitions and feels the confidence to take on something she knows is ‘bad’?
Think about how your designs could include equally evocative imagery.
3. Make Sure Your Designs are Recognizable
Even the most advanced marketing and integration tools can’t help you if you don’t have a coherent brand design.
Imagine that your brand appeared with different logos, varied color schemes, and inconsistent typography. How would your customer recognize your brand if the core design elements kept changing?
Brand guidelines are a set of rules and standards which set out how you will represent your brand. Guidelines often include rules about color palettes, font styles, logo and imagery, and tone of voice.
They make it easier for both internal and external representations of your brand to be consistent. By conforming to a standard, your brand becomes far more recognizable and memorable as a character in your customer’s story.
Think about the trademarks of fictional characters you know. Sherlock Holmes’s deerstalker hat and pipe, Harry Potter’s lightning bolt scar, and circular glasses.
Companies leverage the same kind of recognition. Nike’s tick, McDonald’s golden arches, Google’s four-color combo. Creating a unique logo is a make or break for consumer-facing brands.
Brand guidelines ensure consistent visual and verbal communication that your customer can continually link to your values and mission. It’s no secret that familiarity breeds trust.
If you’re struggling with this, consider how you would go about a successful rebrand. This will help you refocus all your assets, elements, and stories around your core message and customers.
The bottom line is that you want to make sure that your messaging is consistent, reliable, and recognizable.
For inspiration, consider how NASA used extensive guidelines to bolster its reputation as a ‘get-it-done agency’.
By being strict about how to represent their logo and other design assets, NASA and other brands are instantly recognizable.
4. Communicate Values and Emotions in Your Designs
When you’re communicating your brand, don’t only use facts and figures. Make sure you include emotions and values that connect to your customers.
Is there a recent event in the news that might be relevant to your audience? It might be an opportunity for your brand to make a statement that communicates your values and updates with the assistance of your VoIP service provider.
This is where the quality of your brand guidelines comes in. By having a clear code, it’s easy to take a stand on the issues that matter. Combining newsworthy events with the latest graphic design trends is a concrete technique to make sure your storytelling is relevant.
Bear in mind that your customer will see through empty signaling. Your stance on a sports controversy means far more if you sell sneakers than if you make medical products.
For example, the supermarket chain COOP added ‘26’ to their storefronts to playfully link to the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow. This simple addition communicated to customers that COOP supports efforts to tackle climate change.
In a data-driven world, it’s easy to focus on discoverability, trying to climb up Google’s rankings and optimize your website with SEO. After all, ranking higher seems more tangible than establishing an emotional connection with your user.
The reality is that to build customer loyalty, you have to do both. Once your customer has entered your domain, it’s up to you to leave a good first impression. They may have clicked on your search engine link, but without an emotional link, your customer will be indifferent to your brand at best and bored at worst even if they were surveyed by your contact center outsourcing company.
Faces trigger powerful emotional responses. Distinctive human facial expressions in the right context can carry powerful messages. Extreme reactions, both positive and negative, can communicate far more than words in some instances.
Include them in your designs wherever the context allows.
5. Include Customers in Your Storytelling
Finding new ways to interact with customers can be the difference between a brand experience that is stale and one which is immersive.
Consuming content can be informative and entertaining, but to truly engage your customer, you want to get them involved. Create opportunities for feedback and engagement through an 8x8 phone system or any other omnichannel enterprise integration platform.
The San Francisco clothing company Everlane enhances its message of radical transparency by engaging directly with its customers. They host a weekly Q&A session called “Transparency Tuesday” where Everlane employees directly answer customer questions on everything from brand vision and material sourcing to job opportunities.
The brand also welcomes videos of its customers receiving and unboxing Everlane products, further enhancing the connection between brand and consumer.
Simple techniques like being responsive on social media and remarketing emails include your user in stories larger than themselves.
A great example of this is Airbnb’s ‘belong anywhere’ campaign. Their new mission, ‘creating a world where Anyone can Belong Anywhere’ was tied in with their new logo and messaging.
Their new logo features the Bélo, designed to represent four elements: people, place, love, and the “a” of Airbnb. This tied in with their values of community, diversity, inclusivity, and global acceptance.
Here, you’re not just telling your customers a story, you’re giving them the chance to be involved in creating their own.
6. Design Assets and Experiences for Social Media
In the modern era, brands are becoming adept at creating online communities, especially thanks to the growing remote culture. With fewer opportunities for physical events, bringing people together digitally allows them to create their own connections and stories.
Virtual events like the concert hosted in the video game Fortnite by the American rapper Travis Scott can bring users together from across the world. At its peak, 12.3 million users were in attendance.
Especially if your target audience is younger, leverage the existing value of the virtual world to bump up your brand.
Presence on community platforms like Reddit and Discord creates the opportunity for your customers to interact and share their own stories.
There are many brilliant ways to connect to your users through various types of social media advertising. Any website or social media platform where the user has an identity allows you to design digital assets for your customers to include in their profiles.
Include customers in your community by designing imagery that they can share or display.
While many traditional companies have yet to fully capitalize on this, newer, nimbler, digitally-savvy brands are leveraging this trend.
The Bored Ape Yacht Club created a range of 10,000 Bored Ape NFTs — unique digital assets which are stored on the Ethereum blockchain. Owners of these images often use them as social media profile pictures, further raising awareness of the Bored Ape brand.
Each of the Bored Apes is unique, but there is a common design language that unites them all into a connection. It is this combination of uniqueness and commonality that makes them so valuable to people. In fact, the most expensive Bored Ape – Bored Ape #2087 – sold for 769ETH, which at the time of the sale was the equivalent of 2.3 million US dollars.
Could you imagine how to leverage this kind of community marketing with your own brand storytelling?
Creating a set of engaging digital assets featuring your logo which you share freely or as collectibles with your audience is a great way to let them signal their own beliefs, values, and lifestyle through association with your brand.
This is where all the work put into your brand guidelines pays even more dividends. You can create all kinds of shareable digital assets using the colors, logos, and imagery you outlined in your guidelines while maintaining a coherent presence through social media design.
7. Use Coherent Design to Form Lasting Relationships
At the end of the day, customers will be able to see right through your sales tactics. If you’re trying to contrive a story for a particular product launch or you’re trying to sell a small business phone service, it will come across that way.
The point of storytelling is to communicate that you are the loyal companion that helps the customer overcome their challenges. It’s no substitute for a great offer that delivers value, simply a way of communicating that value in an engaging way.
The role your brand plays in the story is simple — you are the character that helps the user overcome their problem. You are the loyal companion, magical wizard, or talking animal who invariably comes up with the solution that saves the main character.
By overcoming the main conflict together, the two of you build a deep and lasting bond.
Consider famous fictional duos. Once the companionship between them has been established, any number of new scenarios can be invented. Remember that you’re in this to build a lasting relationship with your customer.
Decision-making is emotional. While you could communicate your brand through dry documentation, you’ll drive far more sales with a compelling story. Emotionally connected customers have a 306% higher lifetime value compared to satisfied customers.
Storytelling with design is about making connections. It doesn’t have to be complex or long-winded, simply coherent.
While you should do extensive research on your customer, you should also ensure that your brand story is authentic and use design to enhance that.
The clothing company Patagonia is known for adhering to its core values of simplicity, sustainability, and protecting nature. They double down on this message through the design of their website.
The Patagonia website uses a simple black and white color scheme, clear, minimal typography, and nature-focused imagery. These elements reinforce the Patagonia story in the minds of their environmentally conscious customers.
Sending the Right Message
These tips will help you streamline your messaging and avoid your customer becoming confused by your brand. Building emotional connections takes time, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Telling your brand’s story with design is very achievable if you approach it with the right mindset.
As Raymond Roker, the head of AEG studios says, you need to ‘let go of your brand ego’. Customers have the choice to listen to whatever story they want to. Yours doesn’t need to be one of them. But, if engaging with you allows your customers to be part of a powerful story, they will do so with gusto.
Taking a long-term view is the best way to get value out of your brand storytelling. In the initial stages, expect to provide value without expecting anything in return. While timely stories and stunts can boost sales instantly, the real goal is to increase customer lifetime value.
Design is a powerful storytelling tool that shows customers that you understand them, their problems, and their concerns.
About the author
Richard Conn is the Senior Director for Demand Generation at 8x8, a leading communication platform with an auto dialer alarm, voice, video, and chat functionality. Richard is an analytical & results-driven digital marketing leader with a track record of achieving major ROI improvements in fast-paced, competitive B2B environments. Check out his LinkedIn.