Jeff Hoffman spent nearly five years as the CEO of Priceline YardSale, with both feet firmly planted in the tech world. But soon after, he headed up a production company that would go on to produce Cabin Fever and concerts with Britney Spears and *NSYNC. Today, in addition to his work as cofounder of ColorJar, he also works for the White House supporting business and economic growth around the world.
In other words, Hoffman’s personal brand is a bit eclectic. But he embraces that.
“I am better able to advise customers and entrepreneurs when my own range of experience is broad,” he says. “I love observing and collecting best practices, so that's why I expand my horizons beyond just the immediate marketplace.”
And with ColorJar, Hoffman helps startups find their own branding. Although the company ostensibly designs and develops websites, they insist that clients first work with them on positioning, branding, and messaging. And clients don’t seem to have a problem with this requirement; in fact, ColorJar has worked with CareerBuilder, Kaplan, Chevrolet, and TechStars Chicago, among others.
Below, Hoffman shares some tips for startups on branding and how it influences web design. If you’d like to hear more of his thoughts on innovation in the startup world, you're in luck! Join us at the Tech Cocktail Startup Showcase Mixer and Sessions in Chicago this Thursday, where he’s the featured speaker.
Tech Cocktail: Why does ColorJar insist on working on positioning and branding before you design and develop websites?
Jeff Hoffman: We live in a noisy, crowded world, where consumers are bombarded by messaging all the time, everywhere they go. And it seems like there's nothing you can think of that there isn't already a website for. So when customers come to us to create a website or digital presence, we want to make sure they are delivering a powerful and unique message to the right audience in a way that sets them apart and gets them noticed.
For that reason, we do a positioning and branding workshop called a “Golden Purpose” to help our customers find their unique place in the world, where they can occupy a position of leadership and get the attention of the customers they really want. We do this before we develop websites so that the site accurately portrays each company's unique position in the world.
Tech Cocktail: How does positioning and branding influence website design?
Hoffman: Positioning and branding influence site design in the same way each of us as individuals decide what clothes to wear each day. We help our customers define a “brand personality” for their company as part of our Golden Purpose workshop. That personality is important to determining each company's brand voice. In the same way that you know how each of your friends speaks and expresses themselves, the best brands stay true to their brand voice and personality in determining how they will communicate with their customers on a regular basis. That voice and personality then drive the look and feel of the website, from colors to fonts to styles.
Tech Cocktail: What happens if you don’t figure these things out first?
Hoffman: If you don't do steps 1 and 2 above, your messaging to the world can be inconsistent and confusing, and, at the very least, indistinguishable from the crowd. We see so many companies spending so much time and money on websites, marketing, and advertising to deliver a message that doesn't resonate with anyone and doesn't distinctly remind people of their company or drive them to remember that company and take action.
Tech Cocktail: What advice would you give to startups for figuring out their positioning?
Hoffman: For startups trying to find their positioning, it's important to sharpen the focus of your startup to find a market where you can truly win. Startups and entrepreneurs need to take a hard look at what they are best at doing, and what they love doing. When you find something you are really good at doing and are very passionate about doing, your odds of being successful are so much higher. Then you need to intersect that with a market where customers will pay you for that very thing. Those are the three points of positioning that startups need to focus on – what you're best at, what you love doing, and what other people in the world will value.