Gritty Women and Modern Beauty: How to Find Better Stock Photography

For 2017, Getty Images announced the trend Gritty Women indicating an increase in stock photography searches for women who are active, forceful, and not afraid to break a sweat. In a follow-up, there's a wonderful article in the New York Times “From Sex Object to Gritty Woman: The Evolution of Women in Stock Photos” by Claire Cain Miller. She traces the last ten of women in stock photography, looking at the most popular images featuring women from Getty Images from 2007 to 2017.

In general the trend has been away from showing women in a passively sexy, "pretty" way and more towards them being active, confident and agents of their own. We love helping brands move away from these old stereotypical images and are excited to see the trend taking off.  

While most beauty and luxury brands haven't embraced "gritty" per se, there's definitely a movement towards realism and having the feel of authenticity. Of course, having custom model photography is nearly always the "best" route. However, if you're trying to build a luxury beauty empire on a shoestring, don't despair.

Model photography is often too expensive and time-consuming for many smaller brands. This makes stock photography the next best route. The good news is stock photography has become much more interesting and diverse in the last 10 years. The bad news is, there's still a lot of bad photography that makes me wish stock photography houses had a "no cheesy images" filter.


Typical Stock

No one ever looks this happy applying face cream.

The goal in finding good stock photography is to use images that strengthens your story and feels unique to your brand, even if it's not. Granted, stock photography often lags behind as the more edgy, premium photography work on exclusive client projects. Stock photography is generally created based on what there's proven demand for and therefore scrambles to keep up. That said, it is a good barometer for market demand. Whereas ten years ago, a perfectly Photoshopped, flawless 18 year old might be considered for an anti-aging campaign, these days it looks...well, a bit cheesy.

So how do we find good stock photography that creates the right feel for your brand?

How to Find Better Stock Photography

1. Make Your Images Relate to Your Customers


Reflect Your Customer

Let your customer see themselves in your image choices.

Your customers want to put themselves into your images. Your brand's photos should in some way show an idealized version of their life. This doesn't need to be literal (see point 3) but it should relate to them specifically. If you're selling anti-aging products, use a stock photo of a middle aged woman. They're hard to find (and often look mid-30s tops) but if there's demand, we'll start to see more. Same goes for racial diversity, stock pictures might be harder to find but it's worth it.

Think also how customers will see themselves reflected in your image. It's easy to find stock images of women smiling radiantly into the camera. However images that evoke a story tend to be more compelling. Plus, we've all seen so many generic pictures of women smiling to sell everything from brake shops to antacids, there's image fatigue. Experiment with images that are less posed with the model turned away from the camera, involved in her own world. Often these feel more modern and authentic.


2. What are your customer's aspirations?


Go Deeper

Find images that inspire and speak to their goals.

Consider the aspirations of your target market at a deeper level. While for a skincare line, it is easy to say their customers want "clear, flawless skin," there's probably even deeper motivations. If you ask the customers themselves, good skin is likely not on the top of their life goals but rather a step to what they really want. For instance, perhaps they want good skin so they can shave 20 minutes off their morning make-up routine, spend more time with their kids and still show up at work ready to present to the board. For a stressed-out stay at home mom, it might be the idea of having a few luxurious minutes in her daily routine to focus and pamper herself. Personas can be helpful in this area.

Once you start finding stock photography that ties into these deeper aspirations, you'll both find much more interesting options AND ones that resonate more deeply with your target market. If you have a range of products, consider the specific persona for each and choose stock photography that fit. This can also be a good way to subtly differentiate overlapping products.


3. Avoid Being Too Literal

joyful salad time.jpg

Avoid Funny Salads

Sometimes being too on-the-nose takes a wrong turn.

This is a bit tricky to explain but a good example of this is the Hairpin's excellent Women Laughing Alone With Salad. If you look at these images alone, they're all a bit ridiculous. No one has ever had that much fun with a salad. However stock photography sites and the internet as a whole are overflowing with images of women snickering, giggling and smiling delightedly over apparently hilarious salads. That's because when bloggers, content marketers, and designers have a healthy living, lose weight or better eating blog post they immediately think salad. We all know salad is boring by itself so add a person in there to make it relatable — preferably someone that looks incredibly happy. Then poof, the internet is full of women beaming into their salads.

This doesn't just hold for women and salads though. Customer service popups inevitably have a perky woman with a headset, eagerly awaiting your call. Beauty sites end up with flawlessly photoshopped 18 year old models hawking anti-aging products. It can be difficult to get away from these typical images but if you are able to move away from on-the-nose literalism and go for a more poetic interpretation, you'll find that your images become much more unique and engaging. 


4. Choose Images That Maintain Brand Consistency


Create a Unified Look

Your images should look like they belong together.

One of the easiest ways to tell a brand is using stock photography is when each image looks radically different. Early in the process, you should agree on images that are good fits for your brand and then try to tease out what you like about them. Do you want all your models to appear on a white background? Is it oversaturated color tones? Is it the way they're cropped or a certain style of photography?

Some of this such as cropping or color tones may be created by a designer. Others will be harder or impossible to recreate in Photoshop (changing the angle of photography, isolating elements, etc). Sometimes the same photographer has a whole body of work for you to pull from. Often that's the easiest since they likely have a similar look — perhaps even with the same models. If not, you can mix photographers but still try to keep a consistent look across all the images. This doesn't have to be boring or limiting. For instance, the iconic brand Pat McGrath uses an eclectic range of images but they all fit within the brand's vision.


Hopefully this guide makes the task of finding images to support your brand a little easier. Here are some places to start your search:

Paid Stock Photography Websites

Getty Images: The premium stock photography source. They have nearly everything and some top name photographers as well. However it does tend to be more pricy than other options.

iStockPhoto: The little sister site for Getty. Lower prices but you'll also have to dig a bit more. They changed their pricing structure so it favors business on a subscription plan.

Shutterstock: Similar to iStockPhoto in quality, however a bit cheaper if you're buying one-off images. There's some good stock images but be prepared to filter.

Fotolia: Adobe's answer to Getty Images. It supposedly integrates well with Adobe products. We haven't used them a lot but seems to be a promising site.


Free Stock Photography Websites

Unsplash: One of my favorite free photography sites. The images tend to be stylish and trendy. Good for blog posts or social media.

Pexel: A more diverse, less trendy collection of images than Unsplash but still high quality and worth checking out.

Pixabay: This is more the kitchen sink approach but they still have some good images not found on other sites.

Flickr Creative Commons: If Flickr users select Creative Commons when uploading, you're allow to use their images (depending on the license and restrictions). The downside is it's completely unfiltered so it might take a bit of looking. The plus side is you'll anything and everything there. 


Getting Help

Of course, if you're not relishing spending the afternoon looking through stock photos and would prefer to hire professional design help, contact us. We'd be happy to hear from you!

How to Create a Long-Form Product Landing Page that Converts

A trend over the last few years is a move towards long-form product landing pages. Instead of just listing the product, the price and a buy now button, these long, scrolling product pages include detailed product information, video, multiple product shots, points of differentiation, testimonials and reviews. They give prospective customers all the information they need about your product in one place, create a solid sales funnel and let you group your SEO terms together, which boosts your search engine visibility.

Here are some guidelines for creating an effective product landing page that educates and engages your customers.

When should you use a long-form landing page?

The long-form landing page is really for brands that want to differentiate themselves and their product. If you're offering a basic commodity and selling based on price, it probably won’t take hundreds of words to convince people to buy from you.

However if you have a niche or specialty brand, a long product page gives you the space to emphasize what makes you unique, setting your brand apart from your competitors and building trust with your customers.

Informative, well-designed landing pages also convey your brand’s helpfulness and expertise. Visitors linger longer on your pages and send Google the signal that you are a reputable website. If you currently have your product information strewn about your website, start looking for ways you can consolidate it onto your product pages — your bottom line will thank you.

Landing page principles

Most people skim web pages instead of reading them, so your product landing pages should beeasy to scan. Focus on breaking up the body of your page with clear, informative sub-headings, short paragraphs, lists, and charts. Presenting information in different formats will keep your audience interested.

Make sure your copy reflects your brand’s image. Speak to your target audience, and focus on how your product can solve their problems. Be clear and direct, not salesy – using too many superlatives or exclamation points can damage your credibility. Generally we got with a ”content is king" approach and write first, design after. Obviously you can always edit later.

The anatomy of a long-form landing page

One of the great things about landing pages is that they are flexible. There’s no one-size- fits-all formula that works for every product. Often we create a modular template for the landing page where the brand can fill in or remove modules as necessary. For instance, you might not have videos for every product so that can be displayed as needed. However, there are some best practices and rules of thumb which can be applied to most websites. 

1. Product Name as Title

A common problem we see is brands that have gotten so embedded in their own terminology, they forget that the average visitor doesn't understand their great, trademarked product name. It's great to have your own naming conventions but make sure they're understandable to the outside world. Also, in some niches such as automotive or tech, long strings of numbers are common ways to identify products, whereas naming conventions in beauty or fashion tend to be imaginative and quirky. Make sure your naming matches to your brand's style.

2. Sub-header to Clarify

A sub-headline adds information — use it to add important details or selling points that the product name doesn’t touch on. Search engines tend to give extra weight to the words in headers so be sure to use any keywords.

3. Big, Beautiful Images

With beauty and lifestyle brands, great photography is more important than ever. Plan to include at least one large hero shot above the fold. Your image should let viewers get as good a look as possible at your product without being able to hold it in their hands. Use a simple, non-distracting background and let them zoom in to see details. Include the product at additional angles and make sure any color swatches are true to life. 

4. Lots of Consistent Call to Actions

A long-form landing page should give readers multiple opportunities to buy your product. Place your first call to action button above the fold, so return or resolved visitors who already know they want to make a purchase don’t have to scroll all the way through the page.

Keep the verbiage simple and to the point, such as "Buy Now" or "Add to Cart." CTA buttons should be visually strong with high-contrast colors and a lot of white space surrounding them.

Be sure to include a final CTA at the bottom of the page for the detailed readers.

5. Video

Not every product page has to include a video, but it’s a good way to increase visitor trust and show your product in action. Plus YouTube is the world's second largest search engine so they can be a great way to get organic search traffic to your website.

6. Brief Product Copy

Include a nutshell version of your product description at the top of the page alongside the hero shot. It should explain the basics of your product – what it does, why it’s unique, and how it benefits the user in one to two paragraphs. This is useful for orienting visitors to the product without getting them bogged down in a lot of reading.

7. Authority-Builders

Build customer trust by displaying the logos of media mentions your product has gotten, the awards it has received, or endorsements from an industry expert. These can be key in getting visitors to slow down and take your site seriously.

8. Detailed description of your product

Use this section to talk about your product in detail and answer FAQs. Explain your product’s features and corresponding benefits in-depth. Include bulleted lists, comparison charts, clinical studies, statistics, infographics and any other interesting information you have on hand.

9. Testimonials and Reviews

Testimonials and customer reviews are powerful tools for converting visitors who are still on the fence about buying your product. You can increase the trust factor of your testimonials by using videos (considered the highest value testimonials), or including photos of the customers alongside their quote (secondary value).

It’s okay to cherry-pick your testimonials, but don’t censor the user-generated reviews on your product page. Having a few negative reviews will actually increase prospective buyers’ trust in your business, especially if you respond professionally to your critics.

Encourage customers to contribute their own feedback on your product by embedding a review form on the page. Most likely you'll need to kickstart the reviews by offering past customers discounts or special promotions in exchange for their reviews.

10. Risk Reversal

For those buyers who are nearing the end of the page and still aren't sure, reminders of any risk-reversal you offer can be timely. For instance, do you offer free return shipping? No questions asked refunds? Money back guarantees? All these can help tip the scales as they near the last CTA.

11. Cross-selling / Upselling

Maybe this particular item wasn’t what your visitor was looking for, but they’re intrigued by your brand anyway. Add thumbnails of related products at the bottom of your landing page. If your products are similar, include a chart that distinguishes between them and makes it easier for buyers to narrow in on what they specifically need. 

Are there add ons to the product they're looking at or are there products commonly purchased together (shampoo + conditioner, for example)? Include all these at the bottom of the page. 

12. Mailing List

Even if they don't end up buying something this visit, don't let the conversation end there. Offering an attractive email lead magnet or a discount can get you their email address so you can continue the conversation and get them to return to the site.


I hope these tips help you understand the elements necessary to build more effective product pages. They should boost your organic traffic to your product pages, build trust once visitors are on the page, and boost conversions. Of course, if you need help with your product landing page design, reach out — we'd love to hear from you!

Web Design vs. Web Development: Understanding the Difference

Web designers and web developers both play a vital role when it comes to the creation and release of a website. However, I've spoken to many clients who weren't sure what the distinction is between these two disciplines. This guide should help you understand what sets one apart from the other and let you know which you should reach out to in a given situation. While we focus primarily on design, we do partner and work closely with developers.

Introducing the Designer

It might be helpful to think of building a website as an analogy to building a house. In this context, think of the designer as an architect. Similar to an architect our job is a mixture of analysis, functionality, and creativity.

On the first level, we analysis what is currently working on your site and where there's room for improvement. We also look at competitors or others in the space to get a baseline on websites in your niche.

From there, we dive into the IA or information architecture of the site. If your brand has been growing rapidly, you might have out-grown your existing website structure. Similarly, if you've pivoted your business, you will need to adjust your website's structure to reflect this. You'll want to make the customer's journey as seamless as possible so it's important to consider the different types of visitors on the site and how they will interact with your website. Common deliverables during this phase are sitemaps, wireframes and storyboards. 

Once that is complete, the next stage is the visual design. Sometimes we refer to the design as the "look and feel" of the site but it's often much more than that. We keep up to date on trends and best practices to build trust and optimize conversions. We create moodboards, mockups, and interactive prototypes to create a user experience that engages your target customers.

After the design of the site has been approved, it is handed over to the development team. While we usually continue to answer questions from the development team and help out as needed, this is technically when we hand-off the project.

Introducing the Developer

A web developer plays an equally vital role in the creation of web pages. To continue our analogy from earlier, if designers are the architects, developers are the builders.

A web developer takes control of the building phase of a web page. We work closely with them to answer any questions on the functionality of the design and help with any issues that come up during this phase. They are the ones who bring the designs to life using coding skills. Depending on the complexity of the project and the type of functionality needed, you might need specialists in specific programming languages. 

They will also typically set up integrations where your website needs to communicate with other business systems, for example to your warehouse inventory system. They can also look into improving issues like site speed.

After the initial coding phase, the developer will also need to do cross-browser and device testing to make sure the website functions the same across all platforms. Usually the client is also involved to some degree in the QA for the site before it goes life.

Working Together

As you can tell, both roles are very intertwined and necessary when it comes to the creation of a website. Hire a designer if you need help with the concept, organization or visual look of your website. Hire a developer if you are having issues with the functionality of your website.

What is a Brand Mood Board and How Can It Help Your Branding? (With Examples)

One of the first steps in visualizing a new brand or redesigning an existing brand is creating mood boards. Unfortunately it's also a step that feels a bit vague and artsy-fartsy as we cobble together pictures, textures, colors and type samples and find ourselves saying things like "it should evoke melon blossoms in the summer dew." 

Needless to say, it's something we creatives love but it feels a bit ambiguous and cumbersome to those on the business-side of the brand.

That said, there's a lot of advantages to using mood boards to conceptualize your brand before you dive into the design process. I'd like to demystify the purpose of mood boards so even if you don't come out loving it, you understand it's value as part of the creative process.

Cuvee MoodBoards_Classic.png

What is a Mood Board?

Brand mood boards are a collage of images used to depict the ideal look and feel for the brand. In early stages it might be just trying to tap into a specific emotion or theme, later this can get refined into specifics such a colors, typography, types of model photography, words and textures. 

The first phase where you're just locking into an emotion may feel especially fuzzy but is important. Our brain process images faster than text so the first impression your visuals make will be customer's first understanding of your brand. The emotional tone that your brand evokes will carry throughout all the branded materials and gets to the heart of how customers will engage with your brand.

Personally I like slightly messy mood boards because I've noticed when they're perfect, clients tend to treat them as a final product, not as a method of brainstorming that they are free to markup, add to and dismantle. They should be empowering visual communication, not stifling it. 


Why a Create a Mood Board

Mood boards separate the concept behind the brand from the logistics of each designed piece. The brand mood board creates a united vision for your brand which can be used for any future visuals you need to create. For instance, if you dive straight into web design it's easy to end up getting caught in the details of how a specific button looks or the navigation functions without ever focusing on the overarching tone of the site.

The main reason I love mood boards is they are a quick and easy way to get all our airy talk about the concept of the brand into a real visual thing that people can react to.

As an example, we can spend hours brainstorming and agree the brand should look like old-school Hollywood glamour but when we do the moodboards and start putting actual imagery in place, it quickly becomes clear that we were thinking Greta Garbo, the CMO was thinking Marilyn Monroe and the founder was thinking Grace Kelly. Each would fit the criteria of Hollywood glamor but they're each distinctive and would take the brand a different direction. By creating mood boards, we can quickly align on a vision.

Cuvee MoodBoards_Whimsy.png

How to Create a Mood Board

The most fun part about mood boards is you don't have to be a designer or even have fancy software to create mood boards. You can get some paper or foam core and start pasting fabrics, magazine clippings, colors and textures together. Some of my favorite mood boards were created exactly that way. Now with fewer magazines lurking about and Google images at our fingertips, we tend to do more digital moodboards but the concept is the same. I've also had clients send over images from their phone that they want to use — if you have specific ideas in mind but don't want the hassle of putting them together yourself, that can be a great way to communicate.

One note — if you do use Google images, please remember (and tell your team) that these are for internal use only. Do not fall in love with random internet images and start using them on your actual campaigns unless they're stock photography and you can buy the rights to use them.


How to Use Your Mood Boards

So you have your new mood boards, now what? This is a good point to present the mood boards to stakeholders and solicit feedback. It's certainly easier to change visual direction now than when everything has been designed out.

Once everyone has signed off, you can move into the next phase of the design using the moodboards as reference. You can also include your mood boards in your brand book as reference. Designers are visual people and seeing a moodboard is often much more helpful than just reading about what the brand should look like.

It can also be handy to keep the old moodboards in case a stakeholder comes in late to the process and throws in a curveball request (this happens surprisingly often). In that case, it's very handy to have the old moodboards to dig out an explain that direction was explored but it was rejected because x, y, and z.


Cuvee MoodBoards_Lifestyle.png

Mood boarding is definitely a more intuitive and conceptual part of the branding process. It might feel odd to put time and money into a process that has only internal value and no external deliverable — however it's nonetheless an important part of building a cohesive visual brand.

Need a mood board designed?
Interested in building a new brand or rebranding an existing one?

How to Define A Target Market in 5 Steps

Who is your target market for your business' product or service? If you're trying to sell to everybody, you might want to rethink your marketing strategy. While it might seem like marketing to a wide audience will get you more sales, this is rarely the case. Narrowing down your target audience — and then marketing in a way that's relevant to them — is a much better strategy to growing your business. Here are five questions you can ask yourself to narrow down your target market.


1. What kind of solution am I offering? 

People buy things to solve their problems. The nature of these problems can vary widely. Not all problems are practical - for instance, some people buy expensive cars to solve their perceived problem of not looking cool enough. Every business offers a solution to some kind of problem, practical or not. 


Think about how you make customers' lives easier or provide them what they want. Why do people seek out your product or service? How are their lives better after hiring you or purchasing from you? In short, what kind of value do you provide?


2. Who needs the solutions I offer?

Of course, not everybody has the same problems. While there are a few problems, like keeping in touch with loved ones or getting from place to place, that almost everyone deals with, chances are that your product or service deals with a more niche type of problem. 

Ask yourself who could benefit from the solutions you offer. Get as specific as you can. Are business people most likely to need your services? Teenagers? Busy parents? Once you have a general idea of who makes up your target audience, you can start narrowing your focus even more.


3. What are the demographics of my target audience?

Age, gender, and socioeconomic status are all important things to know about your target audience. The better you can pin down your market's demographic factors, the more effectively you'll be able to advertise to them. Is the average person who needs your services a man or a woman? How old are they? What's their family life like? People from different demographic groups respond differently to advertisements, so it's important to answer this question accurately.


4. What does my target audience need and want?

Don't stop at figuring out your target market's basic demographic information. Visualize your ideal customer and get into their head even more. Go beyond the basics. What do they want most in life? What are they afraid of? What do they want to achieve in the next ten years? If you can tap into your target audience's emotions and thoughts, you'll have all the information you need to build a branding and marketing strategy that gets you results. 


5. What is my unique selling proposition?

To successfully convert leads into customers, it isn't enough just to solve a problem. You've also got to solve it differently or better than your competitors do. Take a look at businesses similar to yours, and figure out what makes you stand out from them. This is your unique selling proposition, or USP. After you've nailed down your USP, you can use it to further narrow down the pool of potential leads and hone your marketing strategy even more. 


 If you want to advertise more efficiently, create products that sell better, and turn leads into conversions, take a few minutes to think about who you're trying to convert. Defining your target market is an essential step as a business owner. Once you put in the effort, you'll find yourself with a better brand and more happy customers.

How to Create Effective Buyer Personas

Can you describe your ideal customer in a nutshell? If not, it’s time to create some buyer personas. Buyer personas, also known as marketing personas, are models that help you tailor your branding and marketing to the people who need your product or service.

If you’ve never made buyer personas before, gathering and compiling the necessary information can seem intimidating. Luckily, the process is actually fairly straightforward. This article will walk you through the process of creating buyer personas, whether you’re doing it for the first time or just need a quick refresher.


What kind of information should a buyer persona include?

A useful buyer persona is multi-dimensional. It should include demographic information as well as more personal details, like what kind of challenges your ideal customer faces and what their goals for the future are. Some good information to include in your buyer personas includes: \

  • Basic demographic information. How old is your ideal customer? Are they male or female? Where do they live? Do they have a spouse or family?
  • Information about education and job status. Does your ideal customer have a high school diploma, or are they currently in college? How much do they earn? Are they happy with their job?
  • Information about what a typical day is like for your ideal customer. Do they work long hours? What are their habits like? What do they enjoy doing in their spare time?
  • Information about your ideal customer’s problems and goals. What do they want to achieve most? What’s holding them back?


The type of information that’s most useful to you will depend on what kind of business you have. For instance, if you’re running a tech startup, you might be particularly interested in your customers’ internet habits. Decide which of the categories above are most relevant to your situation, and focus on gathering that information.

You’ll probably want to create more than one buyer persona, since most businesses serve more than just a single demographic. Three to five personas is usually enough to capture the most important facets of your target market.


How to gather information

Once you know what kind of information you’re after, you can start collecting it from your current customers and leads. There are a number of ways you can approach this task.

1. Use data from your website. Google Analytics can give you a breakdown of your visitors’ age, gender, and location, along with information about which search terms people are using to find you. If you have contact forms on your website, you can get extra information from them by including fields for things like the person’s job title or the main thing they’re looking for.

2. Leverage social media. Use channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to interact with customers. When people like your content or leave comments, make note of who they are, where they’re from, and any other relevant info in their profile.

3. Get your whole team involved. Talk to customer service, sales, and other employees who interact with customers on a regular basis. Ask them for their insights on who your customers are, what they want, and what influences them to buy (or not to buy) your product or service.

4. Conduct surveys. Use online tools like Survey Monkey to ask your visitors and customers questions about themselves. You’ll get information about your customer base straight from the source, and your customers will appreciate feeling heard. Providing some kind of incentive, like a discount, may help you get more replies.

5. Conduct interviews. Reach out to customers and leads and ask them if they’d be willing to be interviewed. Focus on gleaning information from them that would be hard to collect from analytics alone, such as what they need most right now, what stresses them out, and where they hope to be in five years.


Putting it All Together

As you gather data about your customers, you’ll probably start noticing some patterns. Use those patterns to start putting your buyer personas together. Sift through the information you’ve collected and flesh each persona out with realistic personal details.

Go the extra mile to make your personas seem like actual people. Give each of them a name, like “Manager Michael,” and find a stock image that reflects the gender, age, and occupation of the persona. Imagining your personas as people you might really interact with will help you market to the customers they represent most effectively.

Commander’s Intent and Design

It's a bit odd to mix military terms and design but I recently came across the term "commander's intent" and felt it was a good articulation of how to build great client-designer communications.

Instead of giving a detailed, step-by-step instructions, Commander’s Intent involves giving a description and definition of what a successful mission will look like, then turning over the specifics to the soldiers in the field. The idea being that if the overall goals are understood at a high-level, teams are empowered to make quick decisions and seek better outcomes than if they are just routinely following instructions.

The role of Commander’s Intent is to empower subordinates and guide their initiative and improvisation as they adapt the plan to the changed battlefield environment. Commander’s Intent empowers initiative, improvisation, and adaptation by providing guidance of what a successful conclusion looks like.
— Manage Uncertainty with Commander’s Intent Chad Storlie, Harvard Business Review

While design hardly requires the same split second decision-making, a similar thought-process can apply. For us as designers, it's often much more helpful to hear your overarching concerns (it feels too busy) rather than specific instructions (move this line left by 10 pixels).

While it seems easy enough on the surfect, with any design change, there's inevitably a domino effect to the overall design. When we move the line over 10 pixels, it is now crowding the sidebar but was that your intent? Or did you want to maintain the spacing and decrease the sidebar by 10 pixels as well? When we make the sidebar smaller the thumbnails images decrease and now the header image looks unbalanced...and so on. 

When we don't understand why we're making a change, it can often mean we're either making assumptions that snowball or constantly needing input and feedback.

If we understand that the overall goal is to make the page have more whitespace, we can use our problem solving skills to come up with several options that work. You can even still give a specific solution (like moving the line 10 pixels) that you think will work. However when we have your overall vision in mind, it's much easier for us to make a solution that works.

Passive Marketing: How Customers Hate to Be Sold but Love to Buy

An old business saying goes "People don't like to be sold — but they love to buy." While traditional advertising still has it's place, many consumers are now conditioned to tune it out — especially if it's not personalized to their situation or the timing of the delivery is off. The modern, digital consumer is much more demanding and marketers need to take a more nuanced approach to connect with them.


Why people hate to be sold

The concept of the sleazy salesman dies hard. There is a certain resentment involved when someone has more knowledge about a situation or product and can potentially use that edge against you. As customers, we want to feel we're the ones in control and making decisions that are in our best interests rather than having someone else tell us what to do.

The same holds true for marketing. No matter how honest or well-reasoned the pitch is, at the end of the day, a prospective client still sees it as exactly that...a sales pitch. 


Why people love to buy

On the other hand, there is an intense joy involved when people add value to their lives. Finding a service or product that improves their lives and solves a nagging problem creates the sensation of satisfaction, even happiness. This bliss isn't just from huge, life-changing purchases like real estate and cars but can come from small personal indulgences as well. The more closely aligned the customer is with your brand, the more likely they are to feel emotionally engaged and confident about the value of their purchase.


How to convince the visitor to be a customer

The predicament is this: how can a marketer convince a client to buy an item rather than sell that item to him? 

Identify your customer's core problem and use that need as a springboard for your messaging. Target a specific concern that your niche demographic has and demonstrate how your product is the solution to that specific problem. Focus on the emotional elements of the problem — and how it will feel to overcome the problem with help from your product.

Of course, identifying your customer's needs takes some time and effort. You can do this by conducting interviews, reading customer reviews, or using surveys to collect feedback. As your research progresses, you will collect not only the problem customers are attempting to solve, but the language they use to describe it. That way you can start to use their own language to craft a message that will have speak to them directly. 

At the heart of inbound marketing is giving customers the joy associated with having figured out the solution (e.g. your product) for themselves and the gratification of shopping for that item.


Walking the fine line between selling and pushing

Being an adept marketer today sometimes means being decisively passive. That may sound like an oxymoron, but it is actually a targeted strategy. Rather than an aggressive push for sales, let the clients know that you have the means to make their lives better. Educate them and guide them make their own decision. By giving them the fulfillment of independence and the pleasure of being a smart consumer, you will gain their trust and patronage.

6 Visual Trends for 2017

Each year Getty Images compiles reports that go beyond merely vague predictions. Instead they analyze their search traffic to determine what the most common image search terms are and which ones are the rise. I love this because, rather than getting a handful of esoteric opinions from experts, we can see what is actually being used by brands. 

This can be a great opportunity for brands to explore new ways to connect with their customers and see what fits into their brand vision.  

This year, many of the trends are moving away from the hyper stylized and glossy look that has dominated many an Instagram feed these last few years. Here they are:



1. Virtuality

Get immersed in the image.

1. Virtuality

Images are used to extend the viewer's experience and create the feeling of actually being there. Whether it's a fisheye lens, 360 panoramas or VR (virtual reality), users want to feel immersed in the action. Even if this is just experienced as a still image, this style opens up a wealth of opportunities for brands to create exciting narratives around their products.

Great example of in the moment virtuality from Nike.


2. Color Surge

Color as the visual star of the image.

2. Color Surge

In color surge, color gets promoted from being a part of a photo to becoming the main attraction. This style tends towards the abstract and minimal, allowing brands to create eye-catching storytelling with heightened emotions. It's also a very accessible style which doesn't need a huge budget to create. A consistent color palette, a few props, and a colorful wall will go a long way.

Beautiful examples of Color Surge from HUE.


3. Unfiltered

Imperfect. Messy. Real.

3. Unfiltered

In opposition to the abstraction and simplicity of Color Surge, unfiltered is the simultaneous trend towards capturing less perfect, more authentic, spontaneous moments. While this movement originated in journalism, this raw approach can be great for young, disruptive brands that want to engage digital natives who are mistrusting of the glossy image many brands work hard to cultivate.

NYLON builds connections to its audience by using unfiltered style images.

4. Gritty Woman

A new take on femininity.  

4. Gritty Woman

According to Getty, customer searches for “strong woman” have gone up 37% in the last year, and the keyword combination “woman and grit” is up 90%. As debates around gender politics grow, women want to see themselves reflected by brands in a new light. Whether it's displaying physical strength, determination, or real dirt, brands can connect with women by tapping their desire to see themselves reflected with depth, strength and resolve.

ADIDAS celebrates gritty women.


5. Global Neighborhood.

Exploring our borderless world.

5. Global Neighborhood

These images reflect globalization as goods, people and information circulate more freely. It shows us at a crossroads of redefining our concept of location and geography. The mix of old heritage and new technology as we embrace the constantly changing modern world. It can be an insightful way for brands to address customer longing and nostalgia while also reflecting contemporary flux.

Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 5.19.02 PM.png

A beautiful example of Global Neighborhood from TUMI


6. New Naivety

Spontaneous fun.

6. New Naivety

This light-hearted and fun movement can be seen as the perfect antidote to the world of perfectly polished social media. In this often playful photo style it's less about being on-brand and more about being raw, in the moment and relatable.

New Naivety in progress at MILK 


It'll be exciting to see how brands use this move towards more authentic and unprocessed imagery to build better connections to their customers. To download the full report visit Getty Images.

How to Build a Brand: The Brand Interview

You may have heard it said that brand is the sum of what your customers say about your business when you're not in the room to hear. And it's true that to some extent, your brand is outside of your control. However when you carefully create your voice, tone and position statements, you control a great deal about how your brand will be perceived. As long as your brand lives up to the set of brand guidelines you create, chances are good that your customers will understand the essence of your brand.

Whether you're just starting out or taking a second look at your brand pillars, a brand interview can be an excellent first step in discovering your brand.


Main Requirement: An Open Mind

Part of the brand interview involves agreeing in rote information: what is your company's ultimate vision? How do you intend to achieve that vision? Who is your main competition?

But the art of building a brand happens when you dig deeper into more ethereal questions--and that requires an open mind.

Come to your brand interview without an expectation of where you think you'll end up. Instead, use a series of associational exercises and explore all the alleyways and avenues your answers take you down.


3 Types of Associational Exercises

There are plenty of associational exercises to choose from. For the sake of brevity, I've selected three popular exercises: the Lightning Round, A vs. B and the Visual Exercise.


The Lightning Round

During the Lightning Round, you will be presented with a series of questions and asked to provide an answer as quickly as you can. The questions can range from the seemingly mundane (If you were a sandwich, what kind of sandwich would you be?) to the more fantastical (Name a super power your brand would have).

The useful information is derived not from the answer you give, but rather from the reason behind the answer. For example, if your first thought was that your brand resembled a peanut butter sandwich, you may discover some insights about your brand by examining the reason for your answer. Perhaps you answered in this way because your brand and your produce is a staple in your industry. Maybe you always associated peanut butter sandwiches with comfort and simplicity and that is the kind of notion you want your customers to feel when they interact with your brand. Whatever the reason, it is important to take the time to deeply examine them once you answer all the Lightning Round questions.

An easy way to get started is to discover your Brand Archetype which will help guide you.


A vs. B

An exercise similar to the Lightning Round is A vs. B. During this exercise, you are presented with two options and are asked to decide which option you believe your brand more closely associates itself with. For example: Apple vs. Google. Simply decide whether your brand is more like Apple or more like Google.

Like the Lightning Round, the actual answer is not as important as the reason behind your answer. People hear the options and relate them to different things. Whatever the answer was, take the time to explore the reasons behind your choice. As you continue through each set of A vs. B, chances are good that you will begin to notice certain similarities behind your answers. As the pattern emerges, so will certain core brand traits and elements. As you discover these, you will be able to use them as foundational pieces for building your brand.

A simple way to get started with this is to make a paper with two columns, the first column is what your brand stands for, the second is what it is not. For example "Feminine but not girly", "Professional but not impersonal," "Upbeat but not obnoxious," etc.


Visual Exercises

Brands are deeply visual, so it's equally important to include a visual component to the brand interview. This is often called moodboards and can be done in a number of ways from a Pinterest board to cut outs magazines to more professional presentations. What's most important is not the style it is created in (your customers will never see these initial visuals) but finding the images that resonate most with your brand.


Putting It All Together

Brand interviews can and should be a lot of fun, but they're hard work and they yield a lot of information in a short amount of time. Once you complete the interview and the associational exercises, let your answers breathe for a bit. Come back to it after a day or two and analyze the results. Look for similarities and explore differences. Bring in a second opinion if necessary. Brands aren't built overnight, so it's critical that you take the time needed to get it right.

Have a Service Business? What You Need to Prepare For Your Website

Creating a website for your service business is a big job, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you plan the pages you want, draft your copy, and gather important information ahead of time, your site will come together more quickly and easily – and you’ll probably enjoy the process of creating it more, too. We've helped a range of service-based businesses — from dentists to video editors and from interior designers to investors — level-up their web presence. This article will show you how to prepare materials for your service business website or portfolio.  


1. Home page

Your home page is always a good place to dive in — it's the most commonly viewed site so make sure to orienting visitors quickly. Use this space to give visitors an overview of what you do and how you can help them. Keep your copy brief and benefits-focused, giving them a high level overview of what's available on the site. You can save the details for other sections of your site, like your services page.

Pay particular attention to your headline. A great headline is focused, specific, and highlights your Unique Value Proposition (UVP) – the quality that makes your business uniquely helpful or important. As the first thing your visitors see, your home page headline is one of the most important elements of your site, so take the time to get it right.


2. About page

It might seem like a page you can ignore, but about pages are typically one of the most commonly clicked pages. Your about page should give visitors more information about who you are. Some good points to touch on include your education and past experience, as well as the history of your business. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through! A friendly, personable tone is usually better than a stiff, formal one.

About pages are notoriously difficult to write. If you’re feeling tongue-tied, try shifting your focus onto the client. Think about what your clients need, and highlight the ways your experience and qualifications help you meet those needs.


3. Services

Your services page is the place to go into detail about what you do and answer questions that visitors might have. Make a list of all the different services you offer, the types of clients you usually work with, and the situations when people most often hire you. Then give some thought to how you want to present this information. Lists with bullet points and headings are a good option, since they’re easy to scan. Charts are another good choice, since they make it easy to compare various services.

You can list your prices or create packages on your services page, but you don’t have to. Do what makes the most sense for your business.


4. Portfolio or case studies

The best way to show potential customers what you can do for them is to show them what you’ve already done for others. If you’re planning to create a portfolio page, start gathering links, images, or PDFs that reflect some of the best work you’ve done in the past. If you’re writing case studies, make sure your potential clients will find them relatable and easy to follow. Get specific about the problems your past clients had, how you approached them, and how your clients’ results improved with your help.

As you take on more projects and gain experience, your portfolio will change. Create an easy-to-duplicate template for your example work now, so that updating your page will be quick and simple in the future.


5. Testimonials and Trust

To win visitors’ trust, don’t sell your own services too hard – let your past clients do it for you. Get into the habit of collecting testimonials from happy clients after you finish a project with them. To keep it simple (and ensure you get useful feedback), you might want to create a form or template for this. In addition, keep track of any other authority-building details you want to use later, such as press mentions or famous clients you worked with.

Before you create your website, decide which testimonials you want to feature. Choose the ones that emphasize the benefits your clients got from working with you – these will be most convincing to potential new clients. Think about whether you want to make a dedicated page for testimonials, or just place them on your home page or services page.


6. Contact Page

The copy on your contact page should encourage an interested visitor to go ahead and get in touch with you. You may want to include something like a list of your qualifications or a summary of the benefits a client can expect when they work with you. If you’re using a contact form, think about which fields you want to include.


7. Additional Contact Options

Make it as easy as possible for people to reach out to you by including a variety of contact options on your website. Providing your phone number and email address will increase visitors’ trust in you, even if most people still opt to use your contact form. In fact, you may want to include your phone and email contact information in your site’s header or footer, so visitors can find it on every page.

Consider which, if any, online communication tools you want to use on your site. If you frequently chat with potential clients via phone or Skype, you can automate the process by embedding an appointment scheduling system like Calendly or Acuity on your contact page. You can also use live chat software, like Intercom or Drift, to talk with visitors and answer their questions in real time.


8. Your Blog

Blogging can be great for your business, but it also requires a long-term investment of time, money, or both. Think carefully about whether blogging is right for you before you create your website. It’s often better to avoid blogging altogether than to start a blog and then abandon it.

If you do decide to blog, make sure your plan is sustainable. Think about whether you want to write your own posts or hire a writer, and map out a publishing schedule that’s reasonable for you. You may even want to line up several posts ahead of time, so you’re not scrambling to fill an empty blog when your site goes live.


9. Social Media

If you’re already marketing your business on social media, it may be a good idea to integrate those platforms into your website. You could make your blog posts shareable with social media buttons, for instance, or include your Twitter feed in a sidebar. Take into account which platforms your target audience prefers, so you’ll be able to connect with them most easily.


10. Mailing List

A mailing list is one of the most powerful marketing tools you can have in your arsenal. If you’re planning on creating one, don’t wait – plan your strategy now, so you can start collecting email addresses as soon as your site is up and running.

There are several steps to building a mailing list. First, decide which email marketing provider you want to use. Constant Contact and Mail Chimp are two popular options. Next, think about where you want to place your opt-in forms on your website. You can embed them in a sidebar or the body of a page, or you can use a tool like OptinMonster to capture leads before they leave your site.

Finally, think about what incentive you’ll provide to get people to sign up for your mailing list. Tried-and-true options include a discount, online course, ebook, or white paper. Create your incentive now, so it will be ready to use when your site launches.


11. Maintenance

Creating your website is only half the battle – the other half is maintaining it. Give some thought to how you’ll keep your web presence up-to-date as time goes by. If boosting your search engine visibility is part of your long-term plan, create a schedule for publishing new content marketing materials like blog posts.


Even if you’re planning to use mostly evergreen materials on your site, it’s still important to do regular maintenance checks. Once or twice a year, review your site and make sure it represents your business accurately. Upload new photos, tweak your layout and design to keep it looking fresh, and update your copy to reflect any changes that have occurred in your field.

10 Easy Steps to Create a Compelling User Experience for Your Brand

With the rapid growth of mobile and ecommerce, your brand's website is becoming ever more critical to your business's success. Even in-store customers have likely researched products online beforehands or will do a quick price-check while shopping. While beauty and lifestyle brands used to be able to concentrate on beautiful in-store packaging and displays to attract customers, the modern, digitally-savvy customer demands a more robust experience, both online and in-store.

The wonderful thing about a website is it's a persistent and autonomous way of attracting and converting consumers. Available around the clock from anywhere in the world, it is one of the most crucial touch-points of your brand. However, web design is constantly evolving and it's easy to ruin the user experience with an unprofessional, poorly constructed or out of date website, losing visitors at the top of the sales funnel.

To make a successful brand impression, your website design should be a fluid extension of your other marketing efforts, blending seamlessly with your packaging and in-store presence. From a functional standpoint, it should be easy to use andavoiding frustrating UX pitfalls. 

While developing a compelling website, is a long-term process, here are some simple steps to help get you started:


1. Mix It Up

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 4.28.31 PM.png

Hue is a great example of mixing things up. They are a primarily a socks and leggings company but instead of showing a never-ending stream of socks, they mix up their hosiery with colorful fashions that demonstrate their brand message in a more varied and nuanced way.

Specialization is usually good, but not when it comes to content. If you keep feeding people the same kind of content, they'll eventually get tired of it, no matter how gorgeous your Instagram flatlays are or well-crafted your how-to videos. If you mix things up and produce content in a variety of forms, people will be more consistently engaged. It's easy to get in a rut and just keep repeating the same but trying varying either the content or format. These days brands have a whole arsenal to use for content, from images, how-to videos, infographics, interviews, podcasts, slideshares, user generated content and more. Even gifs have made a comeback!

2.    Elements Should Be Easy to Read (and Tap)

The many users online are now on mobile rather than desktops. And contrary to what was common wisdom just a few years ago, they are often making final purchases from mobile as well. 

What this means for your website is that its elements must be viewable and easily navigated on small screens. Elements should be easy to read in the smaller format, and most importantly, easy to tap. Forms and checkout are often frustrating elements on mobile so make sure they are easy to use and won't drive away mobile customers.

Sephora's oversize Add to Cart in red is a perfect example of a clear, easy to understand interface that even the most distracted user can successfully navigate.

3.    Make it Social

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One of the best ways to make an engaging site is to have a social aspect. Many beauty brands have highly engaged customers who post selfies on Instagram or how-tos on YouTube. This UGC can be repurposed to the website to not only give you constant updates but also endear yourself to your clients more.

Social can also refer to customer review section or forum help keep people on the site — anything that is the foundation of a strong social community. Furthermore, a social angle will help serve as social proof, which can have a positive impact on conversion rates.

One word of caution — social media icons can also be highly distracting, with visitors clicking off your site and into Facebook where they never resurface. While you can't prevent it entirely, keep your social media icons in the footer of your website and keep sharing off product pages until after the customer made payment


4.    Get Feedback

The simplest way to develop a strong website is to ask for feedback. How you see the site is different from how a consumer experiences it. Do research with exit surveys or a captive audience to see how you can improve your website at a practical, hands-on level.


5.    Hire and Develop Strong Content Creators

A great user experience can't happen without great copy. From your product copy to your social media, your content must be well-crafted, regardless of the medium. While it's tempting to save money and do it yourself, think about the quality and perspective that an experienced, professional writer as well as the time it will take to create, edit and polish your writing. Don't think of writers as an expense but consider it an investment in your business's future.


6.    Build Around User Types

One of the biggest mistakes is to craft the site to appeal to a general audience and not your buyer persona. Generic websites that feel out of touch with the brand ethos can lead to a disjointed and confusing brand experience. Make sure your website fits seamlessly with the rest of your branded touchpoints.


7.    Keep the Experience Simple

Experience complexity is a barrier to engagement. If more than two steps are required for the customer to get to where they want to be, it's too complex. A simple landing page that gets straight to the point provides as little incentive to leave the site as possible. Keep in mind that a simple design is not necessarily easy to make, so don't be surprised if it takes time to develop one.


8.    Let Users Customize Their Experience

One of the best ways to get customers engaged in your small business's site is to let them personalize their experience. For example, you might give them the option to change the visual settings or let them set the currency they'll use to purchase your products. Even something as simple as a "local time" option can make your site feel like home.


9.    Make It Mobile-Optimized

Grand designs are often non-functional outside a desktop setting. A great user experience must span all devices, not just desktops. That means making considerations for small screens and limited space. 

Mobile-friendly, in which websites were built to display acceptably on small mobile screens, is now being replaced with mobile-optimized in which the entire design of the site is reconsidered and crafted in the best possible way for mobile visitors. As mobile is expected to grow exponentially, it's critical to keep up with this emerging trend.


10.    Go With Your Head, Not Your Heart

What you feel is right will not necessarily be what the consumer will enjoy. You and your design team have a different viewpoint, and that's OK. What's not OK is letting your tastes take over the site's final design. Much like product development, it should be user-centric — when in doubt, do research and testing.


Developing a great site is an important part of growing your small business. Your social media accounts are great for reach, but your website is ultimately responsible for converting that attention into actual revenue. Make it an engaging website, and you'll be rewarded.

Mission Statements: Why You Need One and How to Write It

Your mission statement defines your business goals in three key ways: what the company does for its customers, what it does for its employees, and what it does for its owners. A mission statement describes a business's current reason for being. It is sometimes referred to as  company mission, corporate mission, or corporate purpose.

A mission statement describes where you are right now and how you plan to accomplish your current goals whereasthe vision statement focuses on the future and where you want to go in the future. Meanwhile a unique value proposition tends to focus more on positioning your company with competitors. 


Why You Need a Mission Statement

A well-formed mission statement can support your brand in many ways. Use your mission statement to:

  • Accurately pinpoint your business strategy and identity — Your mission statement forces you to narrow in on what you’re trying to accomplish in your business. It helps you to succinctly sum up your strategy and identity, giving a focus to your brand.
  • Quickly communicate business goals and values — Your mission statement can give the basics of your business philosophy to people who are curious about your company.
  • Guide decision making — Your mission statement helps you maintain consistency in marketing and product development. Your brand can be shaped by the decisions made throughout your company, both in the present and in the future, with the guidance of a carefully formed mission statement.
  • Unify the entire company under one banner — Your mission statement is helpful for your entire staff. It can provide a clear concept of the direction which you want your company to take, and it can help to ensure that all your employees are on the same page  as your company grows and develops.

A good mission statement gives prospective customers a reason to do business with you, and gives your own employees something to rally behind.


What Goes in a Mission Statement

Like a brand itself, a mission statement’s contents can be flexible. Sometimes it’s a single sentence, sometimes it’s a paragraph, sometimes it’s an entire page. As a best practice, try to limit yours to a paragraph or two, but don’t feel restricted if you want to add more.

Your mission statement should answer a few key questions about your brand:

  • Customers:
    What problem do you solve for your customers?
    What do you do and why do you do it?
    What market do you serve and what benefits do you offer?
  • Owners:
    Do you want to make a profit, or is it enough to just make a living?
    What are your financial or personal goals for the business?
  • Employees:
    What working situation do you create for your employees?
    What are your values as an employer?

While these are the main points of a mission statement, you may want to expand to discuss special processes, ambitions or the company philosophy. Remember that a mission statement should showcase the unique personality of your brand so avoid over generalizations.


How to Write a Mission Statement

Even though it’s short, writing a mission statement isn’t always easy. If you find it difficult to get started, follow our five-step process below. Before you begin, you may find it helpful to complete the preparation exercises at the end of this article to help get your creative juices flowing.

  1. Define your business goals, strategy, and ethics.
    You can’t write a mission statement if you don’t know what your mission is. Collect your thoughts and write out a brief description of your brand’s business model and ethics. Also describe the personality you’d like your brand to have. Answering the four questions above is a good start.
  2. Create a list of keywords.
    What words best represent your brand? Traditional or Innovative? Affordable or High-end? These are the words you will sprinkle throughout your mission statement: a single powerful word can make more impact than a sentence-long description.
  3. Flex your writing muscles and look for the most potent words. 
    For example, careful does not hold as much weight as meticulous. Break out the thesaurus if you’re struggling.
  4. Frame everything as a story using the keywords. Take time to write a first draft. Try to present your information as a narrative: who you are, what you do, what makes you special. Aim for a paragraph, but don’t be afraid to go longer. You can always cut it down later. If you just keep writing, you may find that usable ideas flow more easily.
  5. Summarize with a powerful leading statement.
    Once you have the bulk of your mission statement written, you’ll want to summarize your brand’s mission into a single sentence (or a series of punchy words). This can be catchy or inspirational.
  6. Refine meticulously.
    Mission statements should be short and sweet. Keep cutting, editing, combining, and rewriting until you have something that’s both engaging and quick to read. 

How to Write Your Unique Value Proposition (with Examples)

What is a unique value proposition?

Unique Value Propositions (UVP), also known as Unique Sales Proposition (USP) is a simple, straight-forward statement that conveys the problem you're solving, the benefits of your company/brand and what differentiates you from the competition. 

It's the existential question of the business world. At some point, most of us have pondered this on a personal level: Who am I? What’s my purpose? What do I excel in? If you're a business owner, you should be asking similar questions of your business as well. What benefits does your service or product provide? What problems does it solve? And why should people choose you over the competitors?

The sum of these answers equals a defining statement about your company, your unique value proposition. A value proposition not only informs customers but also serves as a driving agent for the direction of your company.

“BUT!” you say. “I don't need a unique value proposition. My product is amazing and it sells itself!”

Yes, your product or service probably is amazing. Maybe your current customers already know you’re amazing, but are you satisfied with your current customer base or do you want to grow? On the internet, your written content has about 5 seconds to grab someone's attention and tell them your story. A unique value proposition can help you do just that. Plus, as you scale, it can act as a powerful guiding force to keep your business in alignment.


What is unique value proposition?

In general there are three types of unique value propositions. Here are some examples of UVPs taken from the beauty industry:

  1. Operational Efficiency
    Think of Ulta with their emphasis on breadth, value and convenience

  2. Customer Intimacy
    Think of Laura Geller with their emphasis on personal training and interaction

  3. Product Innovation
    Think of AHAVA with their skincare lab and development and innovation

Most businesses will have a combination of these (you can’t decide you’re an innovation business and neglect operations!). However one will be the central strength.


Crafting a good unique value proposition

A good unique value proposition answers three questions:

  1. What does my company or product do?
    Use simple, straightforward language. It can be easy to get jargony here so be careful. How do you explain your business to family or acquaintances who are outside your niche? If you are B2B, you might be able to get away with a bit more in-speak, but even then you are likely talking to someone who wants to hire you because they want you to be the specialist.

  2. What problem(s) do we solve?
    The answer may seem obvious. If you sell skincare, then obviously you help people maintain healthy skin. Maybe, though, you sell skincare  specializing in anti-aging products for people with sensitive skin. You might lose some of your audience, but are suddenly highly relevant for your target market.

  3. What makes you different?
    Chances are good that you have at least one competitor doing the exact same thing you do. (In fact, not having any competitors is usually a bad sign.) What sets you apart? Focus on how you do it differently or better from everyone else. Do you focus on a specific target demographic? A geographical region? A specific industry?

Some examples of Unique Value Propositions 

Ulta’s UVP:


“We are the largest beauty retailer that provides one-stop shopping for prestige, mass and salon products and salon services in the United States. We focus on providing affordable indulgence to our guests by combining unmatched product breadth, value and convenience with the distinctive environment and experience of a specialty retailer.”


What they do: beauty retailer

What problem do they solve: providing affordable indulgences

How do they do it differently: unmatched product breadth, value and convenience with a distinctive environment


Laura Geller’s UVP:


“Laura Geller Beauty is a leading prestige color cosmetics brand developed by professional makeup artist, Laura Geller. The Company is renowned as the pioneer of the "baked" category of makeup – cult-favorite, multi-tasking powders that deliver remarkably vibrant color – and for its easy-to-use, multi-tasking products intended to simplify and improve women's makeup routines.”


What they do: color cosmetics

What problem do they solve: simplify and improve women's makeup routines

How do they do it differently: pioneer of the "baked" category of makeup




“AHAVA Dead Sea Laboratories was founded to study the powerful, rejuvenating minerals found in the Dead Sea. Since then AHAVA has grown to become the definitive Dead Sea mineral beauty expert.

Start your AHAVA journey and learn more about our rich history and and groundbreaking skincare innovations.”


What they do: skincare innovations

What problem do they solve: study the powerful, rejuvenating minerals found in the Dead Sea

How they do it differently: the definitive Dead Sea mineral beauty expert

What a UVP Is Not

A unique value proposition needs to answer all these questions in a sentence or short paragraph. This isn't a longer mission statement or a company biography. It's a snapshot of who you are and why your target audience should choose you.

Do not confuse a unique value proposition with a tag line either. A tag line is usually a one-sentence expression that accompanies your business name or logo. They are usually more philosophical and descriptive, but not informative. For instance, you probably know this tagline: “Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's Maybelline.” Catchy? Yes. It doesn't tell us much about what it is and why we should buy it, though.

A unique value proposition is also not a specific product offer or promotion. Those are temporary measures to drive business, while a value proposition focuses on building long-term customer relationships.


Sharing your unique value proposition

Once you have your UVP written, you’ll find plenty of opportunites to share it. Whether on presentations, proposals, decks, social media, or your website, it’s a great way to quickly orient people to your business and jump-start your conversation.

An simple way to format your value proposition is:

  1. Headline. This should answer the question “what does my company do?” Grab the reader's attention. Let them know immediately what it is your company provides.

  2. Short paragraph. 2-3 sentences that describe what problem you solve and how you're set apart from everyone else.

Crafting a good unique value proposition can take time, thought, and creativity. Not sure where to start? Download our workbook pages to help guide your process.



What Are Brand Guidelines and How Can They Improve Your Business?

What are brand guidelines?

A brand book (or guidelines) is a simple way to communicate all the most critical information about your brand quickly. It can range from a very simple couple pages on your logo and colors to book-length with detailed information on creating website graphics or their tone of voice. Ideally they are a living document, as you see that questions are repeatedly coming up on certain topics, you add a page into your brand guidelines to address it.

They can be used for internal departments or for hiring external consultants such as designers, writers, and marketers. It’s one of the first things we request when starting work with an established brand.

Why do I need brand guidelines?

When any business first get started there's usually a founder or small, closely-knit closely knit team who all share an understanding of what the brand stands for. However the business grows and begins to scale, there's an increasing number of people who need to understand and make decisions for the brand. Ideally the brand's essence remains constant throughout different touch-points and departments. For instance, the sales team's presentations, social media posts, in-store promotions and website should feel consistent and in brand.

As the circle of people working on the brand grows, it's important to communicate key information about your brand so they can make good decisions that fit your brand. Creating brand guidelines can ensure better cohesion, save you time, and streamline decision-making throughout your company.

What's included in a brand book?

There's no hard and fast rule on what needs to be included. Generally brand guidelines grow as the brand does. A good start is a short intro to the brand, logo usage information, typography and colors. Since brands are emotive, information on how the brand feels and acts can help guide people’s decisions. You can go big picture with mission statements and outlining your brand’s vision. It can go into details with tone of voice and design specs. The amount of detail usually increases as a brand grows and increasing numbers of people are responsible for the brand.

Our brand guidelines differ by the project but generally include logo, stationery, typography, colors, imagery and a high-level overview of how the brand communicates.

Brand guidelines can include a wide variety of topics including:

  •  Product Imagery
  • Social Media Usage
  • Trademarks/Intellectual Property (IP)
  • Written Brand Personality
  • Useful Brand Statements
  • Authorship
  • Guideposts for decision-making
  • Resources
  • Contact information
  • Unique Value Proposition (UVP)
  • Mission Statement
  • Vision Statement
  • Tagline and Usage
  • History of the Brand
  • Founder Information
  • Explanation of the Brand
  • Logo, Usage and Placement
  • Colors
  • Typography

Ideally guidelines are a living document that grow along with your brand. If you find yourself answering the same questions or correcting the same misunderstandings repeatedly, it's probably time to update your brand guidelines. They require some effort and commitment but ultimately help you build a much stronger, more cohesive brand while freeing your time. 

Bad Reviews: How to Deal with Negative Customer Feedback

Great customer reviews are the golden ticket for helping website visitors convert into customers. 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations However not all reviews are going to be breathless and glowing. So you got a shitty review on your site, now what?

First off don’t panic. It’s been shown that having some negative reviews actually INCREASES your perceived trustworthiness. After all, it’s highly unlikely that everyone is going to have a positive experience — it rains even at Disneyland!

However not all customer reviews are the same. Here’s a quick rundown of the types you likely encounter, and what you should do about them.

1. Abusive

Whether it’s someone intentionally trolling, using bad language or indecipherable ranting, these are the reviews you can feel safe removing. Ask, would this help someone’s understanding of the product? Ideally product reviews you show on your site should be furthering the conversation. Not every review has to be an in-depth, thoughtful critique but it should be helpful and intelligible.


2. Customer Service Related

A large percentage of complaints are not about your product at all but a customer service issue (the product came too late, it was broken, pink instead of green, etc). These can be proactively handled by the customer service team. While it’s tempting to handle these discretely via email, if you reply openly to the review, other potential customers can see that you’re dedicated to providing a positive experience and eases their concerns. Even better, encourage the reviewer to write a follow-up on how the situation was rectified!


3. Legitimate Product Complaints

These can actually be very helpful both for customers and your team. They break down in a number of ways:

a. Basic Understanding: If the negative review is based on a basic misunderstanding of the product, consider ways to clarify both with text and images. There’s a lot of information that in-store customers can see but need explained when purchasing online. This can often be clarified with close-ups on details of the product, showing the product in use or detailed product descriptions. If you're seeing the same complaint repeatedly, it's worth at least updating your product description. 

b. Product Misuse: Sometimes your customers are disappointed by your product because they are using it incorrectly. This is a great opportunity to provide more education. This can be done in a number of ways from replies to their reviews, better written instructions in the packaging, an email drip course or explainer videos on your website. 

c. Bad customer/product match-up: Sometimes it’s just that the wrong people are buying your product. Your product might work great for most acne-prone teens and 20 year olds but not be effective for every skintype.

You can’t prevent every poor-fit purchase, but you can look at your targeting and add product recommendation quizzes or comparison charts to help guide customers to make better choices.

d. Product Problems — Of course sometimes, there’s a problem with the actual product. I’m sure we’ve all clicked on the unbelievably good deal only to see EVERYONE has had issues with the product. The shoes don't fit, the lipstick is chalky, the product breaks immediately. Sometimes even with testing and the best intentions, products go awry. Admitting to these problems and moving to solve them quickly will increase trust and ultimately strengthen your brand.

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Reviews are important, and customers might even give more weight to negative than positive ones. However remember they aren’t an end point but the beginning of a conversation. Use them to improve your site and create a positive customer experience...even if they don't fall in love with your product.

5 Reasons You Need to Create Buyer Personas for Your Business

If you haven't created buyer personas for your business yet, make doing so the next thing on your to-do list. Buyer personas are fictionalized customers who represent your target audience - the people who are interested in your service or product. Businesses that use buyer personas to guide their marketing decisions do better than businesses that don't. Here are five reasons why.


Buyer personas help you refine your product.

You're not trying to sell your product or service to everyone in the world. It's better to offer a specialized product than a generic one - everybody wants to buy something that fits their situation or preferences perfectly. By defining the particular subset of people who make up your target audience, you'll get a better idea of how you should change or adjust your product to appeal to them.


Buyer personas can guide your ad, content, and website creation.

What kind of design is best for your website? How should you shape your ad campaigns? Making buyer personas can help you answer these questions. By getting into the minds of the people who want to buy your product, you'll gain insights into the most effective way to give them a great experience with your business, from viewing an advertisement all the way to making a purchase.  


Buyer personas help you know where to market.

All the hard work you put into marketing won't help you unless your target audience actually sees your ads. Knowing who that target audience is helps you know where to advertise. For instance, if your ideal customers are tech-savvy young people, advertising on the internet is probably a good idea. If you're trying to sell your product to senior citizens, though, you might do better by advertising in print publications.


Buyer personas keep your marketing team on the same page.

For a team to be effective, everyone has to be working towards the same goal. Your buyer personas help you define exactly what this goal is in a way that's easy for everyone to understand. After you create good buyer personas, your team can use them as a reference point to ensure that your ads and other marketing materials are targeted at the right people.


Buyer personas help you deliver a more personalized experience.

The best way to win repeat business is to make customers feel like you care about them personally. Knowing who your customers are will help you understand what kind of service they need to feel special. You can put yourself head and shoulders above the competition by providing extra value that's meaningful to your customer base.


If you want a successful business, creating buyer personas is mandatory, and the sooner you do it, the better. From designing better marketing campaigns to keeping customers happy, using buyer personas is one thing that can improve almost every aspect of your business.

5 Simple Ways to Reduce Shopping Cart Abandonment

You might be driving a respectable amount of traffic to your online store, but your visitor count means nothing if a large percentage of your visitors are abandoning their shopping carts. If people have gone to the trouble of visiting your website, browsing through your products and adding one or more items to a shopping cart, and then leaving at the last minute before they check out, there may be a serious problem with your website. While oftentimes shopping cart abandonment comes down to indecisive buyers, there are many factors that are fully within your control.

The rate of shopping cart abandonment in eCommerce is staggering. Some estimates for particular industries put the figure at 85 percent. It should, therefore, be a key priority in your online strategy. After all, you are probably doing everything else to maximize sales so it is also important to work on reducing shopping cart abandonment to maximize your conversions.

You can do this in two steps. The first is preventing as many people as possible from abandoning their carts before they complete a purchase. The second is to bring the people you couldn't convert back to your website at a later date.


  1. Ask for less information

Web users are often short on patience, particularly when using the small and fiddly touchscreens of mobile devices. However, it is now absolutely imperative that your online store accommodates mobile users as best as possible, and this means not asking for any information that isn't absolutely necessary.

While customer accounts containing plenty of useful information might sound like a marketing goldmine, asking for too much is a sure way to put people off. In fact, you should also offer an option allowing people to complete a purchase without having to create a customer account at all.


2. Offer multiple delivery options

Some people want their products delivered to them as soon as possible, and will be willing to pay the extra for it. Others, however, would rather wait longer and save some money.

Multiple studies have shown that just over one-third of all cases of shopping cart abandonment were due to shipping costs being too high. Another 10 percent of cases were down to shipping times being too long. To accommodate the needs of all of your customers, you'll need to provide a range of shipping options, including a premium delivery service for those who want their goods quickly and a free service for the more budget-conscious.


3. Keep the checkout process clear 

 A slow or cumbersome website that is difficult to use will turn people away in droves. Checkout processes in particular are often more time-consuming and complicated than they need to be, particularly on mobile devices. About one-fourth of shopping cart abandonment cases are due to unintuitive checkout processes that lack clear calls to action or have confusing payment processes.

Online shoppers also like to know what to expect, so show the number of steps left to complete the checkout process. Not only does your online store need to offer a quick and painless checkout procedure, it also needs to demonstrate how easy it is. 


4. Don't forget the trust signals

With the plethora of online scams out there, it shouldn't come as any surprise that many buyers are wary when shopping online, particularly when buying from a new company for the first time. Including widely recognized trust signals as well as having an up-to-date TSL (transport layer security) certificate is absolutely essential for instilling a sense of trust and protecting your reputation. In fact, according to Shopify, over three-fourths of consumers have abandoned a shopping cart because they didn't see any trust badges that they recognized. Among the best known badges are VeriSign, McAfee Secure and PayPal Verified.


5. Provide Multiple Payment Options

This one shouldn't come as any surprise, but one of the most common reasons that people abandon a purchase is because the online store doesn't offer their preferred payment option. If you're only providing one option, you'll end up alienating a huge number of potential customers. Allowing people to pay with credit or debit cards is obviously a must, but there are far more options available these days, including PayPal and Google Wallet. In some countries, pay on delivery and direct bank transfers also remain popular. Make it effortless for people to save their payment details so they can check out with a single click when they return.


Even if you implement each of the tips above, you will still lose customers at the shopping cart stage. Can you get them back, and if so, how? You can get them back, and the best way to do it is remarketing.

You can run remarketing campaigns on Google's AdWords, Facebook, and other platforms. In simple terms, past visitors to your website are shown ads about your business as they browse the internet. This ensures your business is front of mind when they are ready to complete the purchase.

Dealing with shopping cart abandonment can both increase revenue and help you forge stronger relationships with your customers.

How to Tell the Story of Your Brand

Traditional advertising has never been more ubiquitous. From the billboards commuters pass on their highway journeys to the bus wraps city dwellers walk by every day, marketing messages are everywhere.

The onslaught continues every time we go online. From banner ads to pop-ups, those enticements to buy are everywhere we turn. The more advertising becomes an integral part of daily life, the more the messages fade into the background.

If you want to break through the clutter and avoid the advertising overload, try telling the story of your brand instead.

Over the years, jaded consumers have come to ignore or be suspicious of traditional advertising messages. Even so, those same consumers still love a good story, and making the story of your brand a compelling one could be your key to success.

So how do you tell the story of your brand? Many business owners have never thought about this before, so it helps to take a step back and start at the beginning. Every great story starts with a great hook, so think about the factors that caused you to start your business in the first place. Maybe you identified an unmet need or recognized an underserved market niche. Maybe the origin of your business stemmed from a personal frustration or a unique experience. Whatever that origin story is, it is the perfect starting point for the story of your brand.

No matter how successful your business is now, chances are you did not do it alone. Be sure to acknowledge the contributions of the mentors, partners, investors and visionaries who helped you turn your dream of a business and a brand into a successful reality.

If your brand features a distinctive logo, your story can include tales of its creation. Many people wonder where those iconic brands came from, from the Nike swoosh to the famous McDonalds golden arches. Your brand and logo may not be as easily recognizable as those two examples, so use your story to tell the tale.

The name of your company plays a big role in the story of your brand, so talk about how the name was chosen, what it means to you and what it has come to symbolize for your customers. It is clear that brand names can have one meaning for the company founders and a different meaning for customers, so play up that conflict when telling the compelling story of your brand.

How many Google users know that the term actually refers to an almost incomprehensibly large number, or that the original Amazons were large, powerful women? The stories behind those iconic names are fascinating in themselves, and they can play a starring role in your own brand identity and the story you tell.

Do not avoid conflict as you tell the story of your brand. Every story needs a touch of drama, and chances are your own rise has not been conflict-free. You do not need to overdramatize what happened or stray from the truth; just talk openly and honestly about the history of your company and the challenges you overcome to be where you are today.

 You may not think that the story of your brand is that interesting, or that consumers will find it compelling. But once you start to tell the tale, you will see just how fascinating, how unusual and how personal the story of your brand really is. It will also engage your customers on a personal level and make your brand stand out in a crowded market.

Love at First Sight: First Impressions and Why Good Design Matters

First impressions count. From the moment you walk into a store or load a website, you get a sense of what a brand is about. And you’ll instantly make judgments about its trustworthiness and authority — whether you’re conscious of doing this or not.
It only takes 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds) for a user to form an opinion about a website. And first impressions are 94% design related. The opinion of the user —  good or bad — depends on several key factors.

How does this impact your ecommerce business?

From the time it takes your site to load, to the choice of colors and photographs, to the usability and functionality of your site — it all leaves an impression. Whether you’re strictly an online business or have an online presence to support your brick and mortar location, it’s important to consider what impression you’re making on your visitors.

Here are a few things to consider:

How Users Assess Trustworthiness

1. Users Determine a Website’s Credibility by Design

• 75% of customers make judgments about a company’s credibility based on their website’s overall design

• 46.2% of participants assessed the credibility of ecommerce sites based specifically on the visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size and color schemes.


“I would like to think that when people go on the Web they're very tough integrators of information, they compare sources, they think really hard,” says experimental psychologist B.J. Fogg, “but the truth of the matter—and I didn't want to find this in the research but it's very clear—is that people do judge a Web site by how it looks. That’s the first test of the Web site. And if it doesn't look credible or it doesn’t look like what they expect it to be, they go elsewhere. It doesn't get a second test.”


Despite users claiming to value breadth and depth of information on a site, only 6% commented on the actual content of the website. This shows most users won’t stay on a poorly designed website long enough to actually evaluate the deeper levels of content.

No matter how good your products are, to get a user to stay on your website long enough to make a sale, you need a website that looks professional and inspires confidence.

2. Keep Designs Simple and Familiar

Google researchers have explored the interconnection of two design factors and found that they work together to create a good impression.

  • Visual complexity — how complex the visual design of a website looks

  • Prototypicality — how representative a design looks for a certain category of websites

They found that users strongly preferred websites that appeared to have low complexity and high prototypicality — in other words, websites that looked easy to use and looked similar to other websites they are familiar with. Furthermore, users need both together to create a consistently good impression.

Most consumers come to ecommerce websites with an existing idea of how they function and look. For beauty and lifestyle brands, with web savvy and visually fickle consumers, a poorly or even an unexpectedly designed website can turn away potential customers.

Eye tracking results of users in seconds

3. Know What Forms the First Impression by Following the Eyes

An eye tracking study at Missouri University explored where users spent their viewing time in assessing a new website:

  • Site’s main image: 5.94 seconds

  • Written content: 5.59 seconds

  • Footer: 5.25 seconds

  • Logo:  6.48 seconds

  • Navigation Menu: 6.44 seconds

  • Search box: Just over 6 seconds


“Thus, our study provides an evidence that users care for how and where the website can be navigated followed by body of the homepage. The quantitative results from interview also indicate that users’ first impressions are highly affected by several design factors like use of colors, font types and size, use of images, easier navigation and so on.”


Knowing this pattern makes it essential that these elements be well designed and clear on your website. Good design must clearly demonstrate to the user where they are, what’s there, and where they can go. For most ecommerce sites, this means making products and their benefits front and center.

4. First Impressions Are Stubbornly Difficult to Change

The cliche, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is now supported by recent psychological research. After people have created a bad first impression, they will remember positive impressions as “exceptions to the rule” rather than re-write their initial impression.


“The first impression will dominate regardless of how often it is contradicted by new experiences.” 

— Bertram Gawronski


While it’s tempting to focus on developing the product and skimp on “extras” such as design, a poorly designed website can actually hurt your brand — even long after it has been replaced. If the design is giving a negative impression or seems suspicious, cheap, or unprofessional, you not only lose a sale but will have a lot of work later to change the customer’s mind.

To make a long story short, great products are not enough. Consumers implicitly trust brands that have invested in design — whether they are conscious of it or not.

Good design tells your users that you care about them. That you are willing to invest in your brand. That your products don’t represent a race to the lowest price but stands for quality. 

Good design differentiates extraordinary brands. It makes your website feel trustworthy and encourages visitors to stay and become buyers, buyers to return and become fans.

How does your website stack up?