As Your Brand Evolves, Don’t Let Your Website Design Turn Into a Dinosaur

Why a Fresh Brand Identity is the Best Thing Ever - KOTAW Content MarketingEvery few days, a company invites me to help them brand a “revolutionary product,” a “first-of-its-kind app” or a “life-changing service that will blow your mind.”

I click on a link to the potential client’s website and, sure enough, I am blown away. Transported actually. I feel like I’m in Bedrock about to be kissed by Fred or Dino. At the very least, I feel like I should be tying my hair back with a scrunchie to keep it in place while dancing the Macarena.

It’s hard to convince your target audience – or anyone – that you’re innovative when your website is still rocking those #*$^%! disappearing dropdown menus or a 10-year-old WordPress template.

Location, Location, Evolution

As your brand evolves, so must your website. It’s your most valuable piece of real estate and the face of your company. If your business hasn’t changed much – you’re still selling the same soap or seeking the same legal clients – you can probably get away with modest updates such as making your website responsive on mobile, choosing a faster-loading font and scaling back on popups until they reach a number < 1.

Otherwise, keep your website as fresh as your brand.

KOTAW Website: The Backstory

In just a little more than two years, KOTAW has revamped its website four times. The only constant has been our logo, although we did tweak it a bit last fall. We didn’t make these changes lightly. Yes, we’re passionate about design and strong advocates of visual branding. But redesigning a custom website without the help of an in-house developer is hard work, and the KOTAW Girl Gang is not flush with spare time.

We made the changes because we knew they were critical to our success.

When I founded KOTAW in the summer of 2013, I believed it was more important to brand Katherine Kotaw, the person, than KOTAW Content Marketing, a boutique Los Angeles storytelling agency. Thanks to the industry-creating power of the Content Marketing Institute, a lot of individuals and companies were branding themselves as content marketers. But there was only one Katherine Kotaw, and she had a distinct voice, a memorable look and a movie-worthy backstory to tell.

KOTAW Website: The Launch

So the first version of the KOTAW website featured my face at the top of the home page and three blog excerpts with my byline running down the left hand side. There was an attractive sidebar and some homepage copy to demonstrate that KOTAW was more than a one-woman show. But anyone who paid attention to KOTAW in its first year thought of me, the woman who dressed in polka dots, loved Pit Bulls, worshipped Dr. Seuss, ate dark chocolate almond clusters for breakfast and survived domestic violence.

And, oh yeah, she wrote well enough to justify KOTAW’s tagline: We tell – and sell – your stories.

KOTAW Website: Behind the Scenes

The changes we made to the home page in KOTAW’s first year were mostly a matter of function – the email sign-up plug-in was wonky and the sidebar had to go when we discovered how awful it looked on mobile devices.

But, on the inside pages, we were slowly making changes for the day when KOTAW would gain recognition as an agency as well as a person. My daughters, Bri and Kelsey, added their photos and bios to the Who We Are page, we restyled the What We Do page to better reflect the services we really wanted to offer (and not just those we could) and added an Off the Clock blog so I could justify writing about things only tangentially related to storytelling marketing.

By the time KOTAW celebrated its one-year anniversary, two key things had happened to necessitate a major overhaul of the site:

  1. Run For Your Life, the Lifetime movie based on my memoir, Quicksand: One Woman’s Escape From The Husband Who Stalked Her, was about to air. We knew it would give KOTAW increased visibility (a good thing) but could also indelibly brand KOTAW as a solo enterprise (a bad thing) if we didn’t make dramatic changes to the site.
  2. Kelsey, who started drawing when she was two and minored in fine art at the University of Southern California, wanted to put her own mark on the KOTAW website. She’d taught herself graphic art by creating branded images for my blogs, designing ads and social media visuals for clients and tweaking more than 200 inside pages of the KOTAW website.
KOTAW Moodboard

KOTAW Website: The Kelsey Factor

She wanted a crack at redesigning the KOTAW homepage, originally created (under my direction) by Toni Bullo, an award-winning graphic artist whose clients include companies such as Lindt, HP, Disney and Apple.

With no direction from me or anyone, Kelsey created KOTAW’s first corporate-look home page, a kaleidoscope of color that focused on KOTAW’s three types of storytelling – written, visual and social – and dropped my photo where it now belonged: below the fold and next to Ivy, KOTAW’s Brand Ambassador.

Then she redesigned the Our Work page of the KOTAW website. Because I launched KOTAW under an assumed name and because I didn’t yet know I was going to publicly reveal my background as a stalking victim, I downplayed many of my credentials when KOTAW launched. I spent the first year of KOTAW proving from scratch that I knew how to tell a story and how to use my storytelling skills to build clients’ personal and corporate brands.

Kelsey thought KOTAW would attract better clients if they knew more about my background and more about the roles she and her sister played at the agency so she added more information and visuals to the Our Work and Who We Are pages.

KOTAW Website: Kelsey on Steroids

The more Kelsey learned about graphic art and website design, the more changes she wanted to make to the website. She went on a typeface shopping spree and experimented with her favorites. She redid the text on every image on the KOTAW website (there are hundreds), replaced a dozen or so old blog images with ones that better aligned with the KOTAW brand and a few more things it’s probably better I didn’t know about.

But she wasn’t finished. Kelsey wanted to redesign the homepage again. At first, I protested. We can’t, I said, make so many changes that it looks as if we don’t understand our own brand. She assured me that the changes would be subtle – toning down and refining her previous design. She said the changes would boost her confidence when she spoke at the Visual Social Media Conference on November 4.

Kelsey added that there was only one thing she wanted for her birthday: Elizabeth Poff to implement her new design.

How could a mother say no?

And this mom is glad she said yes. The new KOTAW home page is sophisticated, yet fun, professional, yet playful — just like the KOTAW brand.

How often do you update your website – as frequently as you change socks or as seldom as Brooks Brothers updates its line of shirts? How important is a website’s appearance when you make a decision about buying a company’s products and services?

And, before you go, please take a look at the new KOTAW home page and tell us if you think it suits our brand.

Want to learn more about the importance of visual branding? Join Kelsey and me at the Visual Social Media Conference 2015 organized by Alisa Meredith, Vincent Ng, and Jeff Sieh. Other visual social media experts presenting at the conference include Peg Fitzpatrick, Donna Moritz, Kim Vij, Rebekah Radice, Ian Anderson Gray, Jenn Herman, Dorien Morin-van Dam, Kim Garst, and Tailwind. It’s a virtual conference so you can watch it in your pajamas. Please enter promo code Kotaw when you sign up – it will help support Kelsey’s typography obsession.

Photo Credit: Rekita Nicole


  1. Brian J Wood says:

    WTG Kelsey. Mom should be happy she said yes but also she should be happy to have a daughter who understands change. The change makes sense to me and I applaud it but for a completely different reason and putting aside for a minute how great it looks. I think it makes sense because Kelsey came up with the reformat and because my friend Katherine went with the change. What am I am saying? Change, Kelsey and Kotaw. Three words, starting with the change but emphasis on the Kotaw

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      I passed along your kind words to Kelsey, who says “thank you.” And, I agree that understanding change — and being willing to change — are critical both personally and professionally. It also helps to have some idea about where the change will take you, but that’s another story (another blog).

      Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Brian, and I hope the changes in your household — Melissa’s new job — bring both of you great happiness.

  2. […] KOTAW Girl Gang in mind, I marveled at how KOTAWesome it was for her to have shopped at Target with KOTAW’s visual branding style in […]

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