If you are a startup, chances are your website is a nightmare

Is this you?

In the hurry to launch or because of the lack of resources you decided to pluck “a sure winner” from an endless field of identical website templates. Or maybe you chose to use the Bootstrap or Foundation frameworks: it’s quick and easy! If you are one of the smart ones maybe you hired a designer guru or better yet a rockstar agency. Let me guess… This is the website you ended up with:

generic-website-template

Congratulations. You have a website like everybody else!

Besides being damaging to creativity and diversity of visual web culture today, it is even more damaging to your brand and how you differentiate on the global market. It is highly illogical for me to see companies go for identical cookie cutter designs, especially in a time when business owners should recognize the value of branding more than ever before… In an environment where new competition emerges by the thousands every day.

You might think you are using a proven recipe for success, but this “success” comes with a price. At the very least you miss out on the opportunity to make a lasting impression your customers will remember you by, and at the very worst you lack the needed identity to differentiate from the clutter and you never succeed to engage them in the first place.

Templates,  are meant to be modified, adapted and customized, yet we became afraid of them. What was meant to be a flexible guideline, today has turned into a design canon. “But it allows for a consistent user experience on the web. People learned to know what to expect, and that’s good” – someone would say.

Don’t listen to them. Get a good design team on your side and I am certain they will be able to provide you with a user experience which goes beyond what a website is “supposed to feel like”. If you don’t have the resources for a good creative team, make the effort to do the research yourself. You know very well that startups require many sacrifices.

I came across some examples on the web suggesting how to avoid this design trap. They can help, but to me, they don’t address the issue deeply enough. This is where brand discovery comes into play.

It could not only help you break the limits of this website mold, but it can also give you valuable insights which can lead to future exponential success.

Here are 5 ways how brand discovery can help you escape the web design singularity nightmare:

Each of these following questions is designed to inspire insight. First I recommend that you screen them quickly, then come back to the areas where you think there is more to explore.

  1. Identify your industry

    The biggest problem I see in the adoption of the cookie cutter mentality is to use this design template regardless of your industry and the nature of your business.

    Take for example a digital creative agency, a cloud computing service, and a food delivery startup. Do these businesses have the same customers, employees, operations model or business objectives? What makes us think they should they have the exact same website design? What industry are you in? The creative filed? Technology? The internet? What are the current issues your industry is working on and how do you contribute to solving them? What kind of attributes is a company in your field expected to posses? What kind of problems do you solve for your customer? Is your brand image close to your industry’s standards?

  2. Be crystal clear about your position in the market

    Positioning is about differentiating yourself further within your industry. It’s about discovering your startup’s unique place and value.

    How do you compare relative to your competitors and what is your competitive advantage? What value do you offer that can’t be replaced by anybody else?  Do you sell premium products/services or are they easily available for the masses? How would that shape the way you design your website?  Is your offering simple to understand or it is more complex and technical? If it’s simple, then a few lines of text and a call to action is all you need. If it’s complex, you might need diagrams, infographics or demo videos to explain your product or service.

  3. Target your target group

    This is marketing 101, and it’s about understanding who is your website addressing to. Making a significant effort in this area could drastically change your website’s content, and as a result, it will be better received by the people visiting it.

    What do you know about the people you want to attract? Are they mostly male or female, young or old? Are they employees or business owners? What do they expect from a kind of product or a service you offer? What attracts them and what do they usually want to talk about? What do they aspire to achieve? How does your product or service help realize your customer’s dreams? What do you know about their values? A website providing cutting-edge risk management insight for Wall Street VPs should look and sound differently than a business which provides Miami city tours.

  4. Decide what your site is supposed to do

    Think about how you can use your website to elevate your business efforts. Websites have come a long way from simple brochure-like designs with plain info about your business. There are many strategies and web technologies which you can implement to make that much-needed extra sale.

    Think about your marketing strategy. Would your business be better off if you only collected e-mail subscriptions or maybe it would be smarter to streamline it with your social media for a quicker response? Maybe both? Have you considered creating an online platform for users to connect with your brand? Then you should start thinking about designing a user forum and feature user-generated content which your customers are the most passionate about. Maybe you can attract leads by publishing useful articles with a lot of useful information and resources. Then you might be better off if you rearranged the content of your website with the latest articles from your writing team.

  5.  Dive even deeper in your brand

    This simple effort always pays off. No matter how well you’ve worked on your initial branding, it’s always smart to re-visit the process and compare your brand with newly acquired data and experiences.

    For example: How do your strategy statements sound today? Are you satisfied with your brand manifesto? Are you achieving the good in the world you hoped to achieve in the beginning?  How does your site communicate and help achieve your vision? What is your customer’s feedback lately? If you asked them, what would be the one thing that your company consistently provides for them? Service? Speed? Durability? Is your site designed to illustrate and guarantee this promise? Do you communicate with your audience in an authentic voice or does it still sound stiff, generic and devoid of emotion?

Remember, any change in business has to be approached strategically. It’s not wise to be different just to be different.

These questions provide you with a direction which builds upon the already existing strengths of your business and it exploits your natural position on the market. Use them to discover and re-discover what your startup is all about. Recapture the world-changing momentum of your early days to seize the imagination and hearts of your audience. Be and express yourself!

At the end day, what would brands be without emotions anyway?


I am a brand strategist, designer and content manager. My philosophy is that brands are intrinsically human, and can’t ultimately be treated with classic business and marketing strategies. To have a truly successful brand companies have to understand the human brain and listen to the human heart.

Connect with me here:

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Apple’s brand could soon face crisis. What measures should Tim Cook take?

iPhone 6s apple.jpg
Apple’s brand and marketing need change. Source: imgur

Let’s be honest, when was the last time Apple graced the world with revolutionary innovation?

Makes you think, huh?

We keep hearing people divide Apple’s history into two distinct eras: during Jobs and after Jobs. This is not just an innocent perception. It could signify a possible seismic shift in Apple’s brand perception.

I remember that Apple’s brand in its peak (circa 2008) was about magic, innovation and cool. The touch display on the iPhone was everything anybody wanted to talk about and experience in their hands. This experience was unique, beautiful and practical and Apple developed a few other products around the same concept including the iPad and iWatch. They even re-vamped the very popular iPod with the same tech. Every mobile producer wanted to implement touch technology in their own devices. Everybody  wanted to be sleek and minimal as Apple. The company without a doubt positioned itself as the leader in premium hardware.

During the golden days, Apple’s three main ingredients for success were: innovation, design and let’s not fool ourselves – marketing.

8 years and a CEO change later, it looks like marketing is all there’s left. In the words of scholar Vivek Wadhwa: “It’s been 9 years since the launch of the iPhone and since then it’s (Apple) been giving us bigger screens, smaller screens…” Their iPen and pressure sensitive touch are not changing any industry landscapes. They even keep resurrecting old models by adding  new processors (the SE).

It is at this point when I wonder what do we really need from Apple: just another old phone with a new processor or to feel like we are holding a piece of the future in our hands?

Apple’s strategy today is laterally focused. They are reaching out into their own untapped markets. Jobs would have never allowed for an iPhone 6 Plus fablet and an “iPen” was out of the question. This is an opportunity that Cook took and he proved to us that he is not afraid to break Jobs holy commandments. For the time being it is working out for him. Although sales are looking good, what kind of brand would Apple be five years from today?

If this trend keeps up, we are going to have a bland and watered down company. Something like when a newspaper turns into pulp in water. The iPulp. Apple can drown in their own sea of screen sizes and updated processors.

Having that in mind, what measures can Tim Cook take to bring back the Apple spirit we all know and love?

Simple: Turn back to your roots.

The Apple of today has completely forgotten about the enthusiasm of creating something new and exciting out of your own moldy garage. This is what created the company in the first place and it was the force that animated  Jobs while he was still at the helm of the company. An entrepreneurial spirit with eyes locked on to the future, one which laughs in the face of odds. This is vertical strategy focus.

There are a lot of ways to reintroduce this spirit back in Apple’s culture. I am saying culture here because I believe that Apple’s brand is less about the products themselves and more about the idea the people involved with the brand share. Contrary to what Jony Ive would say, it’s not about being slick, minimal, smart and shiny. Absolutely not. It goes deeper than that. It’s about a visionary future which expands the boundaries of what we as humans are capable to do.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels…”


Stefan Nikolovski is a freelance brand developer, manager and consultant. His philosophy is that brands are intrinsically human, and can’t ultimately be treated with classic business and marketing strategies. To have a truly successful brand companies have to understand the human brain and listen to the human heart.

Connect with Stefan here:

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De-branding is on its way in a small shop in Britain

In a small local shop in Brighton the owner is de-branding her products as a part of an art project. The goal is to replace favorite packaging with locally sourced design efforts from various social groups like: schoolchildren, mental health service users, people with addictions, and so on. The design and the execution is not fancy by any means. Everything is handmade, but it adds a familiar human feel to a “striving-for-perfection” sterile packaging.

sugar-in-disguise
De-branded sugar. (Photo by Hyperallergic.com)

For the shop’s customers, Kathrin Böhm who is the co-author of the project, hopes that It offers “a moment to realize that this is the way we shop and choose, and [that] who we shop with is a conscious decision.” Böhm’s project offers consumers a chance to reconsider their own patterns of behavior and, she adds, to realize that, quite apart from the logos and packaging, “there’s actual value to certain things like a good shopkeeper.”

I’ve reported in previous posts about how our buying decisions can be influenced by packaging and branding, so it is truly fresh to enable consumers to experience the “real” product behind the box, or a different shopping experience when our senses are not hijacked. It makes me go back to basics and think about the “hard” and “tangible” elements that constitute a product or a service, before all of the elaborate design and communication strategies. I firmly believe that a good product will go a long way in winning the customer’s trust and will guarantee his return.

You can read more about the project here:
Taking the Branding Out of Brands in a Small British Town

The most boring ad ever made – The best brand storytelling video of the year

The German camera producer Leica has promoted their newest internet advertising video, titling it “The most boring ad ever made”. I must admit. It IS boring, but captivating at the same time. What’s the best is that it doesn’t fail short to communicate Leica’s brand distinction trough some spectacular copy-writing told by a soothing voice.

The German craftsmanship is at the upfront of this 45min video where are told the story of how a Leica case is made out of a single aluminium block and how a single person spends 45 minutes to polish the entire exterior of the case. The narrator hits all the needed spots in differentiating and adding value to the brand:

“…this is for those made or sterner stuff, like the robust, high-grade aluminium you see here…”

“Of course there are faster and less costly ways to make a camera, but is there a better way? A more fulfilling way? Hardly. Here everything is essential, nothing is extraneous.”

Totally hits the spot! I am totally in with this copy and I am in love with this 45min story of obsessive German craftsmanship. It is quite rare to see such quality in brand storytelling.

Тинекс – креативно изложување на производи

Пријатно се изненадив кога влегов во реновираниот Super Tinex маркет кај Драмски. Имено, ја искористиле можноста да изложат некои производи меѓу просторот на нивните ескалатори. Ова одлично функционира, најпрвин бидејќи е нешто неочекувано, а и го збогатува искуството на пазарење со тоа што им дава можност на посетителите да изберат производ во движење.

Погледнете како тоа изгледа на видеoтo подолу:

п.с. Моите познаници од социјалните мрежи ми посочија дека овој начин на изложување веќе се применува подолго време што е одлична вест. Иако не сум имал можност да влезам во некои од овие маркети на две нивоа, мислам дека овој пристап сеуште на потрошувачот му нуди дополнително и збогатено искуство на пазарење.

Why CEOs shouldn’t trust any brand or marketing expert EVER


We, the experts, are not at all interested in your success. We are interested only in our OWN success. We want power, we want fame, we want fat clients and even fatter client lists. It’s our job to persuade you that you are doing things wrong, this is how we create our market. We feed off your fear and off your blind ambition. You created us and now we are your addiction.


So I have been in the brand creating/consulting and marketing business for some time now. Not a long time, but some time now and yesterday I read the most mind-boggling article involving Microsoft, Apple and Samsung. The article is based on a report from Forrester Research stating that Microsoft now has bigger consumer mind share than Apple and Samsung. Looks like what was previously perceived as Microsoft’s Achilles heel is now the main vehicle behind the largest mind share in the tech industry.

Excuse me, but WHAT NOW!?

After years and years listening to marketing and brand experts saying that Microsoft is too heavy, stale and uncool, suddenly it’s at the top of the list! I must tell you, there is a Quasimodo inside of me and he is ringing those bells sounding an urgent alarm. Not that Microsoft should or should not be at the top or at the bottom of any list. Microsoft hasn’t moved a single finger, or rather moved a finger when experts said it should have moved all its body. They basically advised a sex change and yet here we are today with a research saying that Microsoft has the most mind share in the tech industry.

Somebody MUST be wrong here. It might be the experts that did this research or it might be the experts that advised that sex change. Unmistakably, whichever way you turn, the ones who are wrong here are US, the ones who like to call themselves EXPERTS. It is US, the same guys companies go to to get help from. Now, whilst Microsoft has to thank all its “uncool” customers, the ones like your mother who keeps installing IE toolbars on her every other click, I think it’s time for us to reassess our roles. And not just our roles, but our whole existence as such. I seriously start to question the credibility of any marketing and branding expert here in this text, and out there in the world. Turns out you can just chill there for ages, have one of the worst CEOs as your captain (or so he is perceived, don’t trust experts!), being constantly attacked by press and have US tell you that you are grinding against that iceberg sinking, when actually you are good as you are, docked somewhere on an exotic island, having a nice deck waxing. Life can be good indeed.

Now, to really and truly reassess my role and whole existence in this market driven market which seeks other markets to sell untapped markets to markets, I take a deep breath and a need for reality has arisen, clarity if you will. It is time to have a good look at ourselves and recognize our true colors. (hope you don’t sue Cyndi) It’s time to see ourselves as the kind of people we really are. Sitting still, investigating my professional role to play in this market, out from the depths of consciousness I had a realization that we very much resemble other professionals (and things) in everyday life. Allow me to illuminate:

1. THE COOK

We, the self-announced experts are perceived as superb cooks when in fact we can only truly cook one meal well, and that meal is our personal brand. That is the only thing we are actually truly good at, and this is the only product that actually has any value for the market. The rest of what we, the experts do, is handing out recipes. Recipes from other cook books, recipes learnt from other cooks, or what the more successful of us do – create custom-made creative cuisine. The kind for which you pay $500 for a single course only to go to the next fast food joint to satisfy your hunger. Oh là là, for $80 000 zis research of 2 000 pages must saste very good, no? Magnifique!


2. THE PSYCHIATRIST

You can also observe brand and marketing experts as psychiatrists. We are always there to help ease your agoraphobic paranoia of being out there in the open market. (agora – market, get it?) When you feel freaked out, in the middle of the noisy crowd of competitors and when you start loosing some of the marbles you were selling, you call us and we prescribe you a medicine in a form of analysis or a strategy. We explain the good and the side effects of the given remedy. There is an opportunity here, there is a risk there…  and we whisper to your ear:  “I’m beside you. You’re not alone. We’ll go trough this together. Shhhh…” *pets CEOs head


3. THE MIND-CONTROLLING PARASITE

It is also our job to make you feel unwell. In fact, someday we might waltz in your office with our independently ran research and tell you: “Look, we looked at your competitors and things aren’t looking good. You are missing out on opportunities and you might be in trouble. I’m sorry to say this, but you are just… not the best.” This is our job. First we use our fancy research to make you feel weak and then slowly we infiltrate your systems trough your weakened ego. Every step taken from our 100 step strategy is a step closer to full control over your company. Soon you won’t be able to manage it by yourself. We will be with you forever! You are our puppet! Boy does it feel goood! Mmmmwahaha!


4. THE BOUNCER

So, not only do we have mind control abilities, but with the help of our magical methodologies we also create lists of best companies, best brands and best CEOs of the year, decade and even the century. This means that if I don’t see you on my list, I won’t let you brag about it to your friends. Like, if you are not on this list, you don’t even exist, OK!? Oh, what’s that? You want to get in? Then you better hire some good consultants bro. Somebody like us. We got statistics, OK? We know our research. Our stuff is proven and it is scientific you dig? We know our shit. Who better to help you to get in this list then US bro?

And at last, but not at all the least…


5. THE DAIRY FARMER

The dairy farmer is the person who knows all of this, and yet milks you to the last drop. The diary farmer knows it is all about tapping into that fear, uncertainty, weakness and egoic megalomania. He knows which are the things that make your mammary glands going . This makes your udder swell until it starts to hurt. Once he sees you’re in a lot of pain, he quietly approaches you and you can’t wait for his magic relieving touch. First just a small squeeze, and then another, and another until you reach full ecstasy. Oooohh yeeeaah *inserts a smooth soul track

Today the diary farmer has gotten so sophisticated that he doesn’t even bother to milk you himself. He can now milk you with only a few best-selling words printed on a book, or if you really want the taste of the magic experience, you get to go to his travelling roadshow diary farm. There is even this guy who wrote a book “The purple cow”. I haven’t read it, it’s still on my shelf, but man I believe him without even touching the stuff! He’s a genius! He must be! And listen… he not only milks out CEOs, but he also manages to milk out his fellow colleagues. We, the experts, admire these kind of people. They are our idols. Ney! They are our gurus!

———–

Do you see it now? Do you get it? We are not at all interested in your success. We are interested only in our OWN success. We want power, we want fame, we want fat clients and even fatter client lists. It’s our job to persuade you that you are doing things wrong, this is how we create our market. We feed off your fear and off your blind ambition. You created us and now we are your addiction. 

But… (dramatic pause) have you ever met those people that made a miraculous recovery after their substance abuse? When their addiction actually shined a guiding light towards a more wholesome human being? I wonder what will happen if consultants started saying: “You are a capable entrepreneur and leader. You’ve gotten thus far, you have nothing to worry about. Whatever problems you think you have now are actually not that grave. If you let things settle, they might even go away by themselves. If there is a real need to act, trust your gut. If you fail, you will get up again. But, if you don’t get up, remember that all companies have a lifespan.  If the company happens to die, I assure you, you won’t die with it. Accept this and don’t worry about it. Let it go and enjoy this groovy ride of a company you created for yourself.”

I wonder…

Катастрофално утро!

По утрото брендот се познава. Лекција за мигрирање на брендовите на странските пазари.

Nema pomazen-02

Деновивe може да ја проследиме рекламата за маргаринот Добро Јутро од компанијата Дијамант. Рекламата е позитивна, фамилијарна и со пријатна музичка преработка на песната на Габи Новак “On me voli na svoj nacin“, меѓутоа на крајот од рекламата може да го видиме слоганот „Нема помазен“.  Кога прв пат го слушнав слоганот, јас и моето семејство бевме сместени пред телевизорот и искрено се изнасмејавме. Не ми се веруваше што слушам на телевизија. Си реков на себеси дека ја пуштиле рекламата еднаш затоа што сакаат да се пошегуваат со гледачите, или дека по грешка пуштиле некоја претходна неодобрена реклама, но не беше така. Се испостави дека слоганот навистина е официјален и дека навистина стои како таков на крајот од рекламата.

Добив потреба да ги разјаснам работите па решивда ја побарам оригиналната реклама на YouTube.

За среќа, на оригиналната реклама се е како што треба. Семејната приказна и насмеаните лица не се заокружени со непријатен момент на крајот. Имено, слоганот „Нема помазен!“ потекнува од оригиналот „Nenadmaziv!“.  Колку несреќно избран превод!

Лекцијата што може да се научи од овој пример е дека како сопственици на бренд кој е застапен на странски пазар, секогаш треба да им приоѓаме сериозно на културните разлики, се до најмалите нијанси во јазикот. Преку овој пример, јасно е дека многу лесно може да настанат сериозни недоразбирања. Она што функционира како бренд комуникација во матичната земја може да има дијаметрално спротивна интерпретација во поинаква култура. Ова важи за сите елементи од идентитетот на брендот: формата, бојата, музиката, слоганот па се до маскотота. Треба да се внимава и на најмалиот детал. Овој пример можеби и нема да има значителни последици за бизнисот, но замислете да сте бренд за бебешка опрема и сте инвестирале значителни финансиски и нефинансиски средства за да ја пласирате вашата најнова линија на производи на странски пазар. Сте произвеле поголема количина, сте вработиле повеќе луѓе, сте најмиле превозник, сте платиле царина и сте отвориле нова продавница во некој трговски центар, но доминантната боја на вашата колекција е боја која е длабоко вкоренета во свеста на тамошните потрошувачи како боја која означува несреќа, а можеби е и боја која се носи за погреби.

Потрошувачите со брендовите развиваат однос сличен на оној со било која личност, па често на брендовите им се препишуваат човечки карактеристики. Реакцијата на потрошувачите на една ваква грешка би била прилично човечка. Тие немаат време да прават истражувања ниту пак би имаале разбирање доколку сметаат дека некој бренд ги навредил. Казната за брендот ќе биде брза и сурова па затоа разбирањето на културата на потрошувачите од странскиот пазар е од исклучително значење за успехот на еден бренд.

За жал ова е само еден пример за непрофесионалноста на копирајтингот во државата. Непријатностите особено настануваат кога се адаптираат слогани од странски брендови. Доколку помните некоја реклама со несреќно избран слоган, споделете ја во коментар подолу.