To say Cascading Style Sheets are primitive is an insult to the stone age. In other words, CSS should become interesting about the time your grandkids are making sites using the CSS 7 standards.
In the meantime we have a couple of options.
Develop a theme
For example a consulting company created a magnificent Flash masthead on the theme of balance, never to mention that theme again in word or deed. When I mentioned they could describe their business practices around the idea of balance, even create value added services with it, they were astonished.
They had literally never thought to do such a thing. This reduced what could have been a coherent business identity to a logo, a color scheme, and a slogan which came off sounding like so much hyperbole. Forget sophisticated strategy, this makes sense simply on the basis of consistency in design ...and still it eluded them. Another company, in the web design field, used stock photograpy of a tree. Why? Why not. There was no attempt to associate the image with anything else on the site.
Separation of style from content indeed. When separation becomes disintegration the theme -- no matter how flawless the asthetic -- becomes "because we can." The tagline is separated from the text. The text is separate from images. Images don't really refer to anything much at all.
To establish a theme, have web site elements build upon eachother by refering to each other. Want balance as a theme, have your business consultancy talk about what's out of balance and how you restore it. Want to use a tree to represent your web design business? Fine ....then relate something about the tree to the web design business.
Forget branding. We're just talking about basic coherency of design here.
Develop a style
Most people can use the term "content-driven," they just can not execute a content driven site. They start with a CMS package ...then figure out what to do with it. They style the navigation ....far before having anything to navigate to. The end result is a site with impeccable production values, great search engine positioning, but when you click there is no "there" there. No focus. No point of view. These sites all have one theme of purposelessness; content isn't a driver but an excuse for the technologies involved.Copywriting is still the web’s biggest weakness … Who’s doing a great job of explaining their product or service? Who speaks like a human and not like a computer or a marketing machine?
When you visit a site with a humanist writing style you immediately sense the mechanical style of most sites. Cornerhost and Tiny Screenfuls are commercial, yet accessible in a way those writing accessibility standards will never comprehend.
Content-driven sites are different. ...They're about content.
Everyone can create a content driven site. You just have to choose the skin, template or CMS features. No, wait ...that can't be right. Instead of redesigning try realigning.
Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, July 22, 2001: Tagline Blues: What’s the Site About?The most popular web design themes are "me too" and because we can.
Developing your style (of writing)
Developing a Style Guide
Authentic Voice: Why does voice matter?