Archives for April 2014

An Ode to Being Impractical: A Reading List for Creative Business Builders

On Being Impractical to Achieve Success

I’ve been turning this Will Smith quote over in my head for weeks now. Noticing how I let fear stop me from initiating projects I’d really love to push “go” on. Or how I often get excited by an idea, then say to myself, “Hmm, I don’t know, maybe not,” all because in the back of my mind is that negating caution to be realistic.

As creatives, we’ve likely heard some version of this advice many times over, but how many truly extraordinary things were achieved by following the maxim to “be realistic?”

What if, instead, we gave ourselves permission to be wildly impractical? To throw caution to the wind during our creative process/brainstorming/visioning? How many deeply meaningful and creatively expansive projects would we undertake if the pervasive message was to be outlandish, outrageous, and a little loony, at least every now and then?

With that in mind, I rounded up a few articles I’ve had the pleasure of reading lately that illustrate the benefits of taking the road less traveled. Of being unrealistic.

Whether it’s in your marketing, your creative work, or through simply declaring you are the thing you most want to be – artist, writer, photographer, designer, what-have-you – being open to the unconventional can open up a whole new world of possibilities, leading to success breakthroughs you didn’t even know you were capable of.

These articles each illustrate in their own way that success doesn’t always come from following the default operating paradigm to be realistic. And thank goodness for that.

Oscar-Nominated Director Benh Zeitlin on Not Waiting For Permission

In this interview, writer, director and composer of the film Beasts of the Southern Wild, which won four Oscar nominations, talks about how an artist collective called Court 13 made one of the best films of 2012, using a model “contrary to everything Hollywood teaches.”

Read more here about the power of taking an unconventional approach to a creative project.

4 Most Improbable Success Stories You’ll Ever Hear

This group of go-getters didn’t let challenging obstacles or the dreamslayers and naysayers of the world keep them from following their dreams and achieving success.

Check out these four tales of unlikely success here.

They Did What!? 19 Secrets of Successful Business Owners Who Took the Road Less Traveled

The title of this article sums it up: road less traveled. And we love “road less traveled” around here.

Here are 19 secrets from 19 lifestyle businesses that found success by stepping off the beaten path and doing something different.

8 Bold Businesses Reveal How to Build an Unforgettable Brand

In this article Erika Napoletano writes about one of my favorite topics – how to stand out in a saturated market by being your straight-up self. These branding lessons from 8 “bold, brash and brazen” companies prove that building a successful and well-loved business around unique personality factors can have you smiling all the way to the bank.

Read about how these companies brought personality into the branding mix to transform what could have been deadly dull and boring into compelling and drool-worthy here.

I Had Been Fired and Evicted, and Still Retired at 27

Here’s the story of how Brenton Hayden, Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Business graduate and CEO and founder of Renter’s Warehouse USA, made $966,803 in his first full year of business and eventually became a retired multi-millionaire just after his 27th birthday – after being fired and evicted. Proof that opportunity exists in every situation.

Read about Brenton’s path to success here

How I Stopped Waiting to Become a Writer, Quit My Job & Launched My Dream

In this guest post on Problogger.net, writer Jeff Goins admits, “I seethed with envy and bitterness as I saw friends skyrocket to success, living out their passions,” and asks, “What were they doing that I wasn’t?”

Read Goin’s story about how he declared himself a writer, ultimately achieved success, and created a thriving career doing what he loves here.

And there ya have it. I hope you found some inspiration and motivation in these tales of others who found success by doing things differently.

Now it’s your turn – in the comments below, tell me about a time you took the road less traveled (in your business or personal life) despite well-meaning advice from family and friends, and what the happy result was.  

Why Most Product Websites Make Me Sad: The Good, the Bad, and the Unsightly

I recently got a comment on my Facebook page asking for examples of what I consider good home pages for websites selling physical products.

Off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of a single one.  Yep, that’s right, I couldn’t bring to mind even one example from recent memory of a website selling physical products that made a lasting impression on me. 

Then I remembered I’d stumbled on some I loved in the last year or so, but dang it, I didn’t make a note of them at the time, so they disappeared from my memory like a fine vapor, just like that.

And that is unfortunate. 

But it highlights the big problem with many e-commerce and product sites: most are entirely forgettable.

What bugs me about the default kind of product website (examples coming up) is there’s no wooing of, and engaging with, the prospective buyer. Many of these sites feature tons of images with short and boring product descriptions (well, if they have to be boring, at least they’re short, right?), how to order info, and not much else. It’s all, “Well, here’s what we got; we couldn’t be bothered to make it look/feel/seem compelling or desirable in any way – so how many bracelets/hoodies/cheese logs do ya want?”

Plus, there’s not much to differentiate one site selling jewelry/clothing/food items/what-have-you from the next.  Most are soulless, corporate things that don’t move or excite the likely buyer, or call up any emotion at all, except for “Next!” as the potential customer hits the back button or navigates back to Google from whence they came.

Here’s what I’m talking about.  One of these sites is trying to sell us some lovely Wrangler Jeans, and the other, sterling silver jewelry:

Jeans {<– Click here}

Sterling Silver Jewelry  {<– Click here}

Notice the cold, impersonal feel.  Notice how everything is jammed together on the page, with nary a finely turned phrase anywhere to increase desire for or connection to the products, or paint a picture of how wonderful it would feel to own them.  This makes me sad.

What you want is personality.  Memorability.  Warmth and approachability. Copy that engages with the likely buyer on an emotional level, copy that forges a human connection. You want to give your web visitors an experience. We’ve talked about using personality to connect with ideal customers and stand out online before here and here.

Ok, you say, now I know what ineffective product site home pages look like, but what about product website homepages that get it (mostly) right, ones that exude warmth, personality and a sense of connection, sites that are memorable, engaging, and use copy well? Well, I toiled over my computer to find you a couple of examples, so let’s take a look at those, shall we?

Daniella Draper Jewellery 

Take a look at this site. {Click on company name above} It’s beautifully designed. It’s memorable. It’s evocative.  There’s a person looking directly at you as soon as you land on the page. There’s warmth and a sense of human connection. The likely buyer of this jewelry (or “jewellery,” as it’s spelled here) is going to be intrigued enough to want to scroll down and find out more.  It employs easy and intuitive web navigation.

Admittedly, there’s not much copy on the home page, but there are several markers of personality, warmth, and humanness, from the image of the young woman at the top of the page, to the picture of Daniella herself, to the Instagram feed featuring shots of Real! Live! People! wearing the jewelry and otherwise keeping it real, as the youngsters say.

Two of the brief bits of copy on the home page – “Beautifully British: Handcrafted Silver Jewellery,” and “Incredibly unique, designed and handmade by Daniella Draper” – begin to give you a glimmer of what you can expect from your experience here, and naturally compel you to explore more of the site if you’re the likely customer for this handmade jewelry.

Compare this site to the two I linked up above, where as many products as possible are crammed onto one page, making the products look janky and cheap, even if they’re not.

Hiut Denim Co. 

Again, notice the beautiful design and easy and intuitive web navigation. {Click on company name above}

The “Do One Thing Well” tagline instantly conveys passionate attention to detail, a love for going above and beyond to craft something amazing. And the images and home page copy all support the “do one thing well” ethos.  Very nice.

But here’s what I simply adore about the Hiut Denim site: its fantastic use of a Founder Story to set itself apart from all the other companies online selling premium denim.

Check out the “our story” copy on the home page to see what I mean. It’s actually more than just a founder story – it’s the story of how Hiut Denim helped Cardigan, a small town in Wales once home to the biggest jeans factory in Britain, get back on its feet again after the jeans manufacturing operation moved to Morocco.

How can you not love this? –> “So we decided 4 decades worth of know-how shouldn’t go to waste. That’s why the Hiut Denim Company was born: To get the town making jeans again.” Call me crazy, but that actually gives me chills.  

And talk about differentiation!  What a powerful and effective way to set themselves apart from other premium denim purveyors and forge an emotional connection with the likely buyer – because after all, you’re not just buying finely crafted and beautiful denim, you’re helping a town hold on to its livelihood.

The J. Peterman Company  

Ok, so this isn’t a product company home page, but I always have to share the genius of J. Peterman when I’m talking about pitch-perfect product copy, because it’s the pinnacle of gorgeous and evocative product copywriting. {Click on company name above}

The beautifully written copy here reads like a story, one you aspire to become a part of, or one you identify with, if you happen to be the likely buyer. (And that is who we’re talking to after all – we’re not trying to convince the unlikely buyer to buy our stuff, we’re trying to appeal to those with a predisposition or pre-existing hankering for the product.)

As humans, we’re hardwired to respond to stories, and the copy on the J. Peterman site taps into that longing brilliantly.

If your business sells products of any kind, your time would be well-spent studying the compelling product copy on the J. Peterman site.

Conclusion

What do these product company web pages have in common?  They are evocative. They convey warmth, soul, and personality.  They are approachable. They make an emotional connection.  There are actual human beings involved. They make you want to stick around and explore, even if you’re not planning to buy the goods right now.  They are memorable.

And importantly, the combination of web copy, photography, graphics, and the stories they choose to tell all work together to create an experience that will resonate with the likely buyer. This is what you want.  

In the comments below, I’d love for you to share your favorite product websites and tell me why they resonate with you.  (Even if it’s your own!) Go ahead, share your thoughts; I’d love to see what other product sites out there are making an impact!

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