At first glance the title of this article sounds obvious — that your website would look like all your other marketing materials. Of course that's just something that would have to happen, right? But I run into more and more entrepreneurs who want to break this rule. Creating a website that looks significantly different from all of your other marketing materials just tends to be a bad idea. I'm going to review the most common reasons I hear for breaking this cardinal rule. Then I'll tell you exactly why doing so would hurt your brand rather than help it.

The 4 reasons that I hear most often from entrepreneurs are:

  • The web allows you to use as many colors as you want, without paying extra. Many forms of printing still charge per color of ink used and using more than 2 or 3 colors can get very expensive for small businesses. However the web allows you to use all the colors that you want, for free!

    Many entrepreneurs get very excited about this. They use every color they can think of throughout the site. And sometimes, they choose not to use the 2 or 3 colors that they've used in their print materials because they're sick of them. This results in a website that doesn't look anything like their other designed materials. This creates a "disconnect" for clients who come to your site from a reference of another piece. For example imagine someone's looking at your business card designed in black and red. Then they go to your website where there's some black and red, but also bright blue, gold, green and a touch of purple. They may think that the website belongs to a different company! It makes your visitor wonder if they're in the right place. And that can make you lose their trust.

    A better way to use color online is to use the wider palette of colors available as secondary colors. If your printed materials are mostly blue and gold, that doesn't mean that you have to use only blue and gold in your website — but they should be the main colors used. Adding in highlights of khaki or green can look very nice and add more visual interest to your website. But if you choose green to be your main color for your website, it will be confusing.

    Also, make sure that the extra colors you choose fit in with your brand. Make sure they communicate the messages you want to send out about your business. In other words, don't choose more colors just because you can. Make sure that there's a solid design reason and the psychology behind the colors you're adding to your palette makes sense.

    Another way to add more color online is full-color photography. Stock photography is quite cheap and accessible to even the smallest businesses and can add a lot of pep and pizzazz to your tired color palette.

  • Many entrepreneurs get bored with their designs, and use the web as an excuse to "mix it up". If you've had your materials designed for a while, it's not uncommon for you to be bored with them. No matter how innovative the design or how excited you were about it when it was created, this can happen. This boredom comes because you see your own marketing materials almost every day. Whether it comes from printing letters on your letterhead, handing out your cards at a networking event, looking at proposals with your brand on them, walking into your office and seeing your logo on the same old sign every day, or giving presentations off of your PowerPoint template — you see the same thing over and over. And it's natural.

    But I can almost guarantee you that unless you've been in business a very long time or you've been harassing your clients with constant marketing mailings, you're the only one who's bored of it.

    Deciding to take a different design direction on your website is bad for your brand. It is bad because you need your site to be instantly recognizable as yours. Web surfers have notoriously short attention spans — if they click to your site, and it doesn't look right, they'll be off and away to another site in the blink of an eye. They won't stick around to read your copy, look at your logo, or to spend the time to figure out whether they are, in fact, in the right place.

  • Some entrepreneurs don't have files of their logo! If you designed your materials a long time ago, and only got printed materials as a deliverable, this is certainly a valid problem. Your designer may also have gone out of business or changed their contact information. Or maybe you can't remember their name or number because it was so long ago!

    I've seen many entrepreneurs to create a different logo or masthead for their websites because they don't have the file for their logo close at hand.

    If you still know who your designer is, I recommend contacting them and asking for a complete set of digital files of your logo. There's actually quite a bit of information you should get from your designer to ensure that all of the materials you design in the future are consistent with one another. I've written an article about that here:

    http://www.elf-design.com/article-Plan-Ahead-Designer.html

    It's a better solution and better for your brand, to look up your designer (even if it takes a bit of searching), or to have another designer re-create your logo as a digital vector artwork file, and to use that on your website.

  • Some entrepreneurs think that websites must have a certain type of design element to look up-to-date and modern. It's true that your site does have to look clean, professional and well-designed. But it's not true that your website has to have one particular type of design to look current. Your site doesn't have to have textures, rounded corners, drop shadows, 3-dimensional styling or animated motion effects. Only use those effects if they reinforce and communicate your Brand Definition to your audience and are a part of your Visual Vocabulary.

    Just using these elements because it's cool and "of-the-moment" isn't something that I recommend. It will dilute your brand and move your website away from the rest of your Visual Vocabulary.

If you're thinking of creating a website that looks drastically different from your other designed materials for any of these reasons, consider the consequences before moving ahead with a different design. It's often more valuable to have a matching website that extends and reinforces your brand than to create a design that looks too different.