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This is the second article in a series called “Narrative Design,” which explores how creating narratives ties strategic direction to execution in a web design project.

The most creative and effective digital marketing campaigns and initiatives come from strategic direction established by the agency and client at the beginning of a project. In this article, we’ll look at using a Site Narrative to efficiently transfer the strategy through the various stages of a project and provide a free PDF download and Googledoc template for you to use to try it out.


Communicating Valuable Insights

One of the keys to creating a successful strategy is for the agency to be immersed in the client’s business and utilize data, insights and analysis to understand the real needs that should be solved. In an ideal world, the entire project team would be involved every step of the way, but this is nearly impossible with the growth of strategy teams, importance of specialization and longer marketing engagements.

Which brings us to the important question that this series is attempting to answer: How do we communicate strategic insights about the project from team member to team member through the different stages of production?


The Site Narrative, A Guiding Deliverable

The site narrative is one of the first deliverables to answer this question. It is created guide subsequent outputs as the engagement progresses. Its purpose is to provide the team and client with 3 things:

  1. A project story to efficiently transmit insights (competitive, customer, strategy
  2. The project’s objectives and parameters
  3. A reference point for future decisions


Creating A Narrative

The most important thing about a Site Narrative is that it contains only the most pertinent and useful information about the project. Whether it’s for a small $15k build or a multiple-phase $300k+ engagement, the site narrative is to-the-point, grounded in real data, and can be used by each member of the project team to perform their given tasks.

To keep it brief, it contains only 4 pieces of information:


This is the “narrative” portion of the deliverable, and either states the company’s researched value proposition or the agency’s understanding of the company’s primary messaging that will be infused, not only into the copy, but into each component of the site -from the information architecture, to the design elements, photography, functionality and promotion. We refer to this in meetings as “the hook” or the thing (or multiple things) that draws a visitor in and leaves an impression when they leave.


Next, we want to define the “why” or the “why(s)” behind the project and tell -in no uncertain terms- what the end-goal of the engagement is. These are typically connected to specific business goals and are often informed by any analysis done during the strategy phase.

Let’s take an example from one of our clients. They were looking to increase the quantity and quality of applications for a prestigious 4-year grant with a secondary goal to increase awareness for their regional impact. A third goal was to share the full story behind the organization for curious visitors.

By establishing and defining these goals, the client and the project team were able to map the content, design the layouts and define the functional elements required to bring the desired result.


After the goals are set, defining the “who” is the next portion. Who is going to care about product x or service y? Just as with the goals, describing the audience(s) at a high level is important because it does 2 things:

  • Provides the creative with guidance as to who they should hold in their minds while they’re working through the Information Architecture, User Experience and Content Creation for the site.
  • Places the audience at the center. By understanding the “who” we don’t get caught up in personal preferences. Everything can be tied to “how would they use it?” “What questions are they asking?” and “What do they need to satisfy their goals and the goals of the site?”

When it comes to audiences, there are often multiple for a single site. The goal here is to succinctly define each, linking off to audience personas if necessary.


Finally, the site narrative contains the KPIs (baselines, projections, etc.) that will ultimately be used at the end of the project to determine whether the objectives were met or not.

As an agency, one could say that a happy client makes for a solid project, but we aim a lot higher than that by setting real metrics that reaffirm our commitment to strategic execution throughout the length of the engagement.


Final Thoughts

The next piece in this series will dive into Page Narratives, another new deliverable that looks to set content and functionality priorities for each top-level page of a site.