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Nick Liddell – The Clearing – Author Glassboard

Nick Liddell – The Clearing – Author Glassboard

NICK LIDDELL [00:00:06] Hello, my name is Nick. I work for a brand consultancy called The Clearing, based in London. And I’m gonna tell you a little bit about what we do today and how we do it. Fundamentally, that’s about three things. We help organisations understand how to get people to care about what they do. We get them to help people understand what they do, and most importantly, we get people to help respond to what they do as well. How do we do it? Well, there are three quite big questions. I’d like to start with another question, though, and answer that. And it’s a fairly big question. And the question is, what does God look like? Now, this isn’t a picture of God, although many people might think it is. This is a picture of a guy called Xenophanes he lived in the 6th century B.C. and he asked himself that question and he travelled around a lot. This was what his concept of a God looked like, very much like him. But as he noticed, as he travelled around different continents, the gods that he encountered tended to reflect the civilisations that had created them and he coined the term for this, he called that anthropomorphization. It’s where humans ascribe human traits and qualities to non-human entities. Those could be objects. We tend to do it to pets. We can do it to cars, children tend to do it to their toys quite a lot. And as adults, we do it in all sorts of spaces and particularly important to me is the fact that we do it in the space that I work in, which is in brand. In many respects, a brand is what happens when someone anthropomorphizes a business or charity, any kind of organisation. And that’s how we can coherently use human words to describe what is fundamentally an intangible and inanimate object like a brand. We can talk about brand love. We talk about brand loyalty and personality. We talk about brand desire. That list could go on for absolutely ages. Brands exist because we cannot help anthropomorphizing or humanising organisations. And that has really profound implications for the kind of work that we do and the way that we do it. And I’d just like to illustrate that with two lines. Now, imagine that this line is perfectly straight. And of course, this line has got a little bit of variation in it. And if I were to ask you, having not seen me just draw these. Which of these lines was drawn by a person, you would say? Hopefully it’s the line with a little bit of variation in it because variation, just a little bit of variability and unpredictability gives us a sense of the human hands. Now, this is really different to how things were and how people used to conceive of brands and branding when I started working because I had it hammered into me that branding, really good branding is about getting three things right.

NICK LIDDELL [00:03:05] The first thing is consistency. Every brand like this line, every point of contact that you have with a brand should be utterly consistent, should be exactly like the last one that you have, a brand should be like a straight line. That was the first thing. The second thing is, the great brands thrive on repetition. Fans of Byron Sharp will be really familiar with the idea of distinctive memory structures. So you keep hitting people over the head again and again with the same words, with the same images, with the same colours. So that over time they form a really clear picture of what you’re about. And then the third thing that I had drummed into me is that internally, when you’re talking about building a really strong culture around the brand, it’s got to be about alignment. So if you ask anybody, no matter whether the CEO or the janitor, what that organisation is about, they can all repeat the same thing. Everyone’s looking in exactly the same direction. Now, that’s branding like this. The problem is that if you get that really right, what you create is not a great brand. You create something really mechanical, really inorganic and really uncompelling as a result. If we think about building a brand to be more human with a little bit of variability in it, then what we want is not consistency at all. You still needs to be able to discern that this is a line, but rather than consistency. What you’re looking for is coherence. Allow a bit of serendipity into it. Allow a little bit of variability. And suddenly people will start to see a trace of human hand, it also makes you far less predictable. One of the differences between these lines is that there’s no point watching this one. You know exactly what’s going to happen, whereas this line you want to keep watching because there’s a degree of unpredictability. The best friends are the ones that we need to watch because we don’t know what they’re going to do next. Which brings us back to repetition. So rather than mindless repetition of the same things over and over again, what you want instead is interpretation.

NICK LIDDELL [00:05:21] You want to leave a little bit of room for people to interpret what you’re doing. You need to give them a little bit of space, because when they do that, when they start to interpret what’s going on in your brands, they internalise it and they add meaning to it and it becomes more meaningful to them. Also means that they start to own a little bit of it, which you absolutely want to happen. And then the final thing is, if you’re trying to create a really strong culture around a brand, it’s not to hit people over the head with the same message so that they can all repeat it mindlessly over and over again. Rather than alignment you want to embrace the idea of challenge. You want people to think about your values. You want people to think about your vision and your ambition. But to question it, to interpret it, and to challenge you, to think differently about it as well. That’s how really great brands go to new places and innovate in new and interesting ways around a really coherent theme. So that’s the idea of what we do materially in terms of the kinds of ways that you do this. There are three things that you need to get right. If you want to make the idea of a human brand happen. So the first is about how you get people to care about what you’re doing. This is really about creating a core belief behind the brand and what it stands for. Now, some people call this a promise. Some people call it a purpose. It can also be called essence or positioning. But the point here is to create an idea that singular enough and direction enough that people can’t help but be motivated by it. Fundamentally, this is the part of your brand that makes you the antidote to indifference. You just don’t want something that people can ignore. So that’s about belief. The second thing that we want to make sure people do is have clarity about how you think about what you do. So that’s taken that belief and being clear about how you bring it to life for different people. To address different needs and different moments across different products and services.

NICK LIDDELL [00:07:24] And finally, at different times, for people, the clearer you are about every aspect of your organisation, whether it’s a product, a service or a proposition. Exactly who it’s for, why they should care about it, where and when you’re doing it and what’s going under there. The clearer you’ll be about how you bring your belief to life. And the final thing is how you make all of that come to life of people in terms of the language that you use and the visual signposts that you have at your disposal, those could be colours, they can be logos. It can be imagery and photography as well but the important thing here to do in terms of humanising is to be really clear about what’s fixed and then what you flex, so that what you’ve got is enough room for variability. For coherence, for interpretation and challenge, and if you get all of those things right. If your beliefs, your thoughts and your actions are completely aligned in a way that’s different and desirable for people than what you end up with is what we call clear defendable territory. Fundamentally, every client that we work for, whether they’re a charity, whether they’re a large organisation or a start-up, if they can define their clear defendable territory, then we have a very good idea that they’re going to do well. It’s what we do and you can do it to.