This has to be my #1 pet peeve of ALL TIME...
So I'm talking to you, and you mention your love for voice over artistry and your weird collection of chinese characters - and we're bonding over our creative dreams and fears... and it's like we have achieved the perfect creative symbiosis.
I decide to check out your website out of curiosity. Because I'm a marketing coach and because this is my secret stalkerish hobby. And... OMG.
Where did you go??? I'm looking at something grey and "professional." Gag.
You probably toiled over it and paid a lot of money to some designer - because you didn't have money or patience or both to DIY - and so this is your new "pride and glory."
Except it's not you. And it's nothing to be proud of. It's one of the many.
The danger of becoming a copy.
This is what I mean when I say most brands are copycat brands. Businesses, too.
Someone told you your brand needs to look professional, you believed them. Someone told you your website layout has to look like this, you believed them. Someone told you marketing means all these boring things, and of course, you believed them.
Let me guess. Now you're not so happy with your website, or your brand. It feels like someone took the heart out of it. Or maybe it is you, but a work in progress, which is so frustrating because you just can't translate yourself into digital form.
I've been there. I have tried it all. And what finally worked? Authenticity.
(I know it's a buzz word and not your favorite, but bear with me.)
Focusing your brand around you, the things you love, and the way you do things is the most authentic you can get. The best thing about this approach is that by being yourself, you automatically stand out because nobody is "youer than you," as Dr. Seuss puts it.
He also famously shared this rebellious gem:
But how can you be you online? Let's start by asking some questions...
What's your brand priority?
Quick, answer without thinking - What do you want your brand to be?
[think about some words while I just wait here]
Now look at your words. Did they describe the way your brand looks and feels? Which words are more important to you than most? Pick your top contenders and there's your priority. Because we can talk about authenticity and creative rebels all day, but what I care about is to know what YOU want for your brand. Not what the world wants from you.
Quick, answer without thinking again - Was your answer in any way influenced?
[think about it and be honest while I play some Katy Perry]
Are you ready? Maybe you didn't like your answer before. Maybe it's been bugging you for a while. Or maybe your answer was a learned answer - something you picked up from a bunch of influencers, experts, and peers, and made it your answer without thinking.
Now I want you to think long and hard about YOUR answer.
What would you like your brand to be? What would you like it to feel like?
Your truthful answer will be the way you find what your brand priority is. Maybe you want your brand to be pretty and authentic. Maybe you want it to be fun and professional. Whatever your truthful wish for your brand, start working toward it.
Life is too short to be co-opting other people's words or ideas or priorities. We need to learn to own our true desires and our dream brands. Speaking of which, go ahead and download the rebel poster below by clicking on the image. (More posters here.)
What does professional mean to you?
You hear it everywhere, usually at the places experts frequent.
Your website needs to look professional, your conduct needs to be professional, your content... blah blah blah. Does anybody know what professional even means?!
Is clean and fun not professional? I could argue there are a TON of creative brands that wouldn't be described as professional but as fun, which doesn't mean they're not both. Have you seen Kristen Kalp's website Brand Camp? She's on her bed everywhere!
And what about the brands we love that are so colorful and alive? Are they professional? Yes, they are. But are they trying to be professional? Nope, they're designed to attract people who are much like the brand owner - fun, colorful, and rebellious.
Usually the brands that try to be professional are plain boring. (tweet this)
The fact that something is not traditionally accepted doesn't mean it's not professional. If anything, trends are moving towards genuine connection, human-to-human marketing, and brands full of personality. And if you have to choose between tradition and trends, I vote for the latter because you know what Darwin said and he would agree with me if he saw all those "traditionally professional" websites that look like dinosaurs frankly.
Somebody else's definition doesn't have to be yours. If you want to lead a truly unique life and create a truly unique brand, you have to let go of the desire to accept other people's ideas and definitions as your own or as the right way to go.
Here, take a page from Lady Gaga's philosophy:
Question everything, rebel. Question yourself even. ;)
Sketch it out!
I'll give you one of my coaching exercises, k?
So you have the ideal hideout, right? Maybe it's a secret laboratory or a cabin in the woods. And it's full of your favorite things - your art materials, your stash of self-help books, and all the movies you could fit into one of those impressively sized old-timey trunks.
Or hey, maybe it's your ideal creative studio or home office! (Check out these gems.)
Now sketch it out. Then imagine you could migrate this space on your website. Imagine you could make your website look like your ideal hideout or studio! Now go crazy and start migrating things from your sketch to another sketch that is now your website.
Use different sheets of paper for each website page and have fun with it.
For example, I recently did this and realized my crazy wall treatment can apply to my About page, so now I'm working on a rebel manifesto and some other fun things. You can play with ideas, layouts, and furnish your online hub as you would furnish your house.
[go ahead and put on your interior designer hat - I know you have one]
So? What was so important to you that you had to put on your home page? What did you migrate to your about page? Your work or creative projects or latest crazy experiment? What are you going to feature on your blog? Did you think of any special pages?
Even though I have learned a lot about web design and branding and user experience, I want you to do this exercise without any preconceived rules. Rules block your creativity and you can add the rules later if you must. I just want you to spend a few minutes pretending there are no rules and see what ideas come to you!
Let me know how you did in the comments. And if you need some extra help-
I'll let you in on a secret. There's a club for brand DIY-ers called Squarespace.
My website is hosted on Squarespace, and I did that back when I was starting my own business, and it's been my best investment to date. Squarespace has allowed me to build my own brand in a way no other service has. It's such an intuitive website builder, cheap enough for anyone to be able to afford it, and most importantly, not a total nightmare to us non-techy people who just want to create and have fun.
By the way, I'm not being paid to say this. I am just really grateful. :)