Your Website as a Narrative, Part 4: Conclusion

Jack Aaronson

Updated · Oct 16, 2002

In the second installment of my series “Your Web Site as a Narrative Device,” I asked you to submit sites you thought exemplified the best practices of using a narrative device on a Web site. I went through all of your emails and picked one example I thought did a really nice job of using narrative in a subtle and effective way. Before I get to that example, however, I want to make one last point about using the narrative device.

Don’t Use “Assumed” Knowledge

If your site is for the general public, and not just experts in your field, then your narrative must be written from the perspective of the unaware user. After your narratives are constructed, you need to get someone outside of your company (a friend or relative would suffice) to review them for you. This is because you and your coworkers can easily “fill in the gaps” with information you left out. You already know this information. Your users do not. This is why a good software company hires a technical writer to pen the manuals for its products instead of letting its engineers write them. Manuals written by engineers have a lot of “assumed” knowledge in them that they don’t bother explaining — because they don’t realize they need to explain it. Only someone outside of your sphere of knowledge can fairly critique your work.

Best Practices

I looked far and wide to find an example of best practices for this article. I tried to find a company I wouldn’t normally associate with a warm and friendly narrative style. I also looked for a site that followed all of the conventions I have written about lately, including needs-based design, a clear call-to-action, and the use of macro- and micronarratives.

I chose the microprocessor company AMD. AMD is running a new campaign called “AMD Me.” On the home page for the “AMD Me” promotion, people are pictured with quotes above their heads. Each quote begins with the words “I want.” One quote reads, “I want to work from anywhere. Not just the nearest outlet.” Clicking on this quote brings the user to AMD’s mobile processors section. Another quote reads, “I want a desktop processor that works as efficiently as I do.” Clicking on this link brings the user to AMD’s desktop section.

AMD has succeeded in getting people off its “AMD Me” home page and into the correct section of its site by providing a clear narrative structure coupled with a needs-based design. Once the user clicks on one of the options, the narrative continues.

I clicked on the mobile section (because I travel a lot for conferences and clients) and was greeted with language I wouldn’t suspect a microprocessor company would use: “You’d never consider taking your bulky desktop computer with you on a business trip; it simply isn’t designed for mobility.” The content on that page is a relatively simple but effective micronarrative, and I can envision in my head the situations the company is talking about. The section ends with a clear call to action: “Check out our different families of mobile AMD notebook processors to find the solution that’s right for your portable needs.” OK, I will!

Let’s contrast that with AMD’s (more popular) competitor, Intel. Intel’s description for its mobile processors begins with:

Built on 0.13-micron process technology and Intel&#174 NetBurst&#8482 microarchitecture, the Mobile Intel&#174 Pentium&#174 4 Processor – M represents a new generation of mobile computing.

Huh? Doesn’t this sentence sound like it could have come from a hi-tech madlibs game? Full of copyright symbols and buzzwords, the sentence does not conjure up an image in my mind the way AMD’s first sentence does, even though it’s describing a similar processor that fills a similar need. To be fair, Intel does use micronarratives in its “Real Stories” section, which features interviews with random people who use Intel processors.

There are two problems, however. First, the “Real Stories” section is not highlighted, and a quick glance at the home page would never lead you to this section. I really had to look for it. Second, the narratives aren’t really set up in a needs-based way. They are categorized into “gaming,” “music,” “video,” and so on, but they are presented in a tabbed form and look almost like the tabs of an e-commerce store. It is not apparent that this is how the narrative “chapters” are set up, and it is not compelling. Contrast that with AMD’s “chapters,” which are clearly separated on the “AMD Me” home page with the needs-based “I want” quotes from real people. AMD uses a much better approach to drawing people into its micronarratives.


I particularly like talking about AMD’s “AMD Me” promotion site because I think that microprocessor companies are generally viewed as being dry and boring. It would be easy for me to pick a site that sells Barbie dolls or dream vacations and talk about how narratives could help increase those site’s revenues (in fact, I have). But my guess is that most of you would say, “That’s fine for them, but I run a serious business and our products aren’t that exciting.” Well, if a company that sells microprocessors can use a narrative device effectively, then so can your company.

I am a firm believer that the best way to impart a message is by using a touch of humanity, a bit of entertainment, a good story, and a lot of really useful information. CRM is about engaging customers in a relationship. Relationships are formed when both parties share their ideas and stories with each other, and humans have been doing this since the beginning of time. The Internet provides us with a larger audience, but it does not alter the fundamental way in which humans interact with each other.

Until next time…


Reprinted from ClickZ.