You Don’t Want Marie Forleo’s Website

Author's note 3/10/22: I originally published this essay on 4/13/2016. My perspective on Marie Forleo, her ethics, and what her brand represents have changed since I wrote this. I encourage you to read these posts for my thoughts on the Marie Forleo and B-School brands:

Before I work with a client on a new website, I always ask this question:

What websites do you absolutely LOVE that have a similar look and feel to your own web vision?

The goal of this question is to visualize the design trends that speak to my clients. (I've learned the hard way that one person's “vintage” is another person's garbage, so real world examples help bridge the gap.)

But what I have realized about this question is that, so often, when people choose websites they love – it's not how the websites look that attracts them. It's what the website represents – the brand behind the visual branding – that people aspire to.

There's no better example of this than Marie Forleo's website. Before became this:

You don't want Marie Forleo's website

Her old website looked like this:

You don't want Marie Forleo's web design
Quite the makeover, wouldn't you say?
Click to see Marie's old site on the Wayback Machine.

Loooong before Marie's immaculate web makeover, at least half of the pre-project surveys I received from potential clients listed her old digital digs as the main website they loved. But, when we drilled down into the why – it wasn't the menu style or layout they wanted. It wasn't the color scheme or type treatment or logo or photos or white space or fill in design speak here. It wasn't the design at all.

My clients didn't want a website like Marie's. They wanted success like Marie's.

Now that Marie has remodeled again, I expect I'll only be seeing her name more. And don't get me wrong, her website is gooooorgeous. It's sexy and interactive, clean and creative. It's scrolly and sticky and smooth all at once. But, don't be fooled: You still don't want Marie Forleo's website. Even in all it's scrolly, sticky, smooth goodness, I repeat:

You. Don't. Want. Marie. Forleo's. Website. You want a brand as magnetic as Marie's.

Now, there's good news and bad news about this. Bad news first: a web designer cannot give you that. Good news: you can build something better.

If you want a website that feels as good as Marie Forleo's does – or better – you're going to have to start where she did: crafting an impeccable brand story and then teasing that story out over time through your content. The best web designer in the world can't fake that combo. You gotta make it happen. And here's the secret: once you do that, design is easy.

Marie Forleo's website did not make her Marie Forleo. Did it help a lil' bit? Sure. But Marie's Marieness made her Marie. I have to stop myself before I careen down the path of “You are a snowflake” blah blah blah “Be your authentic self” blah blah blah “The world needs your gifts” blah blah (sorry, Marie). Because that's all fine and good and true but “Be your authentic self” isn't exactly actionable marketing advice.

When I refer to Marie's Marie-ness, I'm not referring to her “authentic self.” I'm referring to her brand. There is a big difference. Marie and her team have spent years honing in on what elements of her public persona resonate with her target audience and call them to act – no, buy – and buy again. This is Marie's Marie-ness. What we like about her is the very fact that she has spent time figuring out what we like about her, shaping her Marie-ness around what we want that Marie-ness to be.

So, I'll say it again. You don't want Marie Forleo's website. You don't need Marie Forleo's website.

If you're going to do anything like Marie, you need to prepare yourself to run the same marketing marathon Marie ran – and is still running – to discover and re-discover what it is about you that resonates with people – and calls them to invest in your services. This runs far afield of discovering your “authentic self.” Because that's simply not enough. When we look at a brand like Marie's and feel a connection, we're not drawn to her because she's revealing her “authentic self,” we're drawn to how she makes us feel about ourselves, our problems, our dreams.

So, if you want a website as powerful as Marie's, look away from Marie and towards your clients. Get to know them. Get to know what they like. Get to know what they like about you.

Then, after you have done that, find a designer who will help you build a website that reflects what people love about your brand's You-ness – a website built around the parts of you that your clients want to spend time – and, yes, money – with, again and again. Sure, it can be scrolly and sticky and smooth. But it doesn't have to be.

Here are four brand brainstorming questions about your ideal client to get you started:

Before you start thinking about your ideal client, I recommend giving her a name, instead of imagining her as a sea of people. For the purposes of this exercise, I'm going to go with Isabel.

1) What makes Isabel feel great, exhilirated, on top of the world? So damn good she wants to Instagram this moment to all her friends, even if she secretly thinks Instagram is self-indulgent?

2) When Isabel is depressed, stressed, struggling, how does she talk about her problems? What are the exact words she uses to describe what's pissing her off or getting her down?

3) When Isabel talks about you with her girlfriends, what does she say is her favorite thing about working with you? What does she gush about for 5 minutes before someone awkwardly changes the subject?

4) When Isabel talks to you, what do you say that makes her start nodding her head and saying “Mmhmm” and “Yes! That's it!” in rapid repetition?

The answers to these questions won't turn you into an overnight success. But they will begin to give you clear, intimate picture of your client -- and what your client loves about you -- so you can begin to craft the brand story that will get you in front of more clients like her. Knowing exactly how your client describes her hopes and fears, what motivates her to get up in the morning, how she takes her coffee (or tea), will give you the specificity to create content, products and services, and copy that speaks to her heart and make her feel heard. That's your You-ness that no one but you can bring to the table.

That's the inspiration for your new website -- not

P.S. Marie's website was designed by Krystle Rowry of

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