When we work with clients to design their new websites, we repeat the same mantra over and over: Your website is never finished.
It’s true. Just as your business grows and changes, your website must too. All too often, we talk with business leaders who are stuck with a website they can’t update that keeps becoming less and less accurate — and harder to explain to customers.
And it is your customers, in the end, that your site is really for. That bears repeating: Your website is for your customers, not for you. If they can’t find what they’re looking for, or can’t understand how you can help them, they’ll go elsewhere — and you’ll be left wondering what you could have done differently.
Using the StoryBrand framework to build a better website
The principles Donald Miller lays out in his books — especially Building a StoryBrand (2016) and Marketing Made Simple (2020) — help businesses distill and optimize their language to best connect with customers.
Each time we work with clients to redesign their websites, we utilize Miller’s advice to keep their customers front and center. These five principles guide our work.
1. Build a relationship with your buyer
We buy from those we trust. At IMPACT, we’ve long believed that trust is the true currency of business, and we know it doesn’t develop overnight. It takes time for customers to feel comfortable enough to trust you — and to trust your products and services.
In Marketing Made Simple, Miller advises you to “invite people into a trusted relationship with your brand,” which is a critical step in winning customers.
The most important building block of trust is honesty. Be honest with your customers by openly addressing their questions on your website (something we call They Ask, You Answer), even about uncomfortable topics like cost, your competition, and the drawbacks of your products or services.
Make this trust-building content easy to find. We advise having a “learning center” that allows your customers to browse the content that helps get them ready to make a purchase.
Remember, your website is for your customers. It’s not for you.
2. Remember: “It’s words that sell things”
When business leaders think of website redesigns, they picture flashy animation, sleek images, videos, and more. Much more important is your language.
We’re always testing and adjusting our own website, too, which means we're always tinkering with the copy, making sure we get it just right.
After all, according to Miller in Marketing Made Simple, “colors and images and ‘feel’ are fine, [but] it’s words that sell things.”
Website copy is notoriously difficult to write. How do you say enough to explain your complex offerings without gumming up a page with too much text?
The more economical and simple, the better. Being able to explain your business in easy-to-understand terms is essential.
“In your marketing copy,” Miller writes, “don’t be cute, be clear.”
With this in mind, trim your copy to the basics, and match your CTA language to your customers’ needs. Then test.
There is data that can help you evaluate any copy decision you make. If your buttons are not getting clicked, change the copy and see how the numbers respond over the next two weeks.
When it comes to websites, you should see everything as a test. Try it, gather data, and make it better.
3. Be sure your site can pass “the grunt test”
As you simplify and trim language, you should always use “the grunt test” to make sure your visitors can quickly and easily understand exactly what you offer and how you can help them.
In Building a StoryBrand, Miller writes: “Thousands of companies every year shut their doors, not because they don’t have a great product, but because their potential customers can’t figure out how that product will make their lives better.”
The grunt test is simple: Could a caveman who looks at your website for 10 seconds, then grunt and comprehend your offerings? If not, you’d better get to work ridding your site of fluffy, meaningless words.
You want to make sure visitors can quickly answer three questions:
What does your company offer?
How can it make their life better?
How can they get it?
If you get bogged down with marketing-speak, you can confuse your customer and miss the opportunity.
If you’re spending ad dollars to bring people to a site or landing page that doesn’t resonate or is hard to understand, you’re wasting your money.
Be clear and direct, and use the language your customers use, not industry jargon or buzzwords.
4. Demonstrate empathy and authority
Your customers come to you because they need your help. They have a problem; they face a challenge. You can help them through it and make their lives better. You can lead them to whatever they’re looking for: prosperity, efficiency, leisure, or happiness.
To guide them there, says Miller, you need to convey two characteristics: “The two things a brand must communicate to position themselves as the guide are empathy and authority.”
Empathy shows that you understand where your customers are and what they struggle with. This is the bedside manner of a physician, who needs to see the humanity of a patient, not just the sickness. For a business, this means truly knowing your customers and empathizing with the challenges they face.
Authority shows that you have the competence and vision to guide them to a solution. You’ve done this before, and your expertise is well established.
Social proof and testimonials are particularly helpful to demonstrate empathy and authority. If past customers can speak to how your help has led to their growth, new customers can see themselves in those stories and move forward.
5. Appeal to your customer’s aspirational identity
It never hurts to remind your customers of what beliefs they hold dear and who they aspire to be. If you sell fitness equipment, you can appeal to their desire to live a long and healthy life for loved ones. If you sell product management software, you can appeal to their desire to lead a highly productive and organized team that enjoys working together.
Miller asks us to think about this: “Who does your customer want to become? What is their aspirational identity?” Once you truly understand this, you can “place a gap between [your customer] and what they want.”
Your product fills in that gap.
Your offerings are what can get them from where they are to where they aspire to be. It is your guidance that allows them to become who they most want to become.
This aspirational language must be present on your webpage and should influence the way you write CTAs and service descriptions.
We’ve chosen to follow Miller’s teachings because they focus on clarity and candor — the same things that are at the center of They Ask, You Answer. In fact, we believe the two frameworks complement each other perfectly.
When you put your customers’ needs before your own, you deliver the buying experience that sets you apart from the rest of the market.
A website is never finished, and that’s how it should be. You must always look for new opportunities to use messaging that resonates with your customers.
In Marketing Made Simple, Miller writes, “We are always inviting our customers on a journey in which their lives are made better through the use of our products.” Your website is the most critical part of that invitation.