Brands as clouds, comms as rainfall (IPA Excellence Diploma)
IPA Excellence Diploma 2011-12Jean Francois Hector, @jfhector Brands as clouds, comms as rainfallAbstractAny brand can compete in emotional and cultural power with the best creative productsif we approach creating them and communicating them the right way.I believe that we should approach our brands as clouds rather than clocks.This means learning to work with elements that are too textured, nuanced or evenemotionally puzzling to be pinned down in general descriptive terms.We need to make these strategy rather than execution.The Brand Cloud is a very concrete tool – a web app – to help us do that.There’s a prototype for you to try out at brandsasclouds.com
I. ! THE IDEAS BEHIND THE BRAND CLOUD IV.! THE RAINFALL MODEL OF COMMUNICATION1. ! Any brand can have the power of Batman 1. ! The Rainfall model of communication lets you communicate your ! brand’s essence directly, rather than through its description2. ! We approach our brands as clocks;! other creative products are more like clouds 2.! The Rainfall model communicates your brand ! as a feel that transpires in everything you do3.! The next level of sophistication 3. ! The Rainfall model lets you communicate your brand4. ! Talking about a brand’s essence through ! through emergence, rather than compression! all the things in which it can be found 4. ! Measuring comms effectiveness in the Rainfall modelII.! THE BRAND CLOUD ALLOWS YOU TO! CREATE A BRAND ESSENCE INTUITIVELY AND PRE-VERBALLY V.! FOCUSING CREATIVITY ON THE VISCERAL ANALOGUE DETAILS1. ! How does the Brand Cloud work? 1. ! Creative ‘clouds’, not ‘ideas’ 2.! Use the Brand Cloud as creative fodder2. ! Live application: using the Brand Cloud to add depth and richness! to the Natwest brand 3.! Prototype everything 4.! Adopt a truly iterative processIII. ! WHAT THE BRAND CLOUD CHANGES 5.! Iterate the strategy together with the creative exploration1. ! The Brand Cloud lets you know your brand! the way your right brain knows things2. ! The Brand Cloud opens up the possibilities! of what your brand can be based on3. ! The Brand Cloud is a killer app for participation,! it puts your audience at the centre of the branding process4. ! The Brand Cloud helps your brand evolve organically with culture5. ! Your Brand Cloud is fully testable
I. THE IDEAS BEHIND THE BRAND CLOUD1. Any brand can have the power of BatmanThe proportion of UK adults who say they enjoy ads as much as TV programmes hasalmost halved in the last 15 years1.70% of those who can skip brand communications do skip them2.In the words of Gareth Kay: “the content we make isn’t culturally competitive any more”3.What if we could make our brands as emotionally and culturally compelling as the bestbest creative products (TV series, pop songs, novels, movies, apps, characters both realand ﬁction) ?Let me ask a different question: why couldn’t we?Of course there are plenty of things that make brands different from other creativeproducts: commercial realities, the fact that brands don’t exist in and for themselves, theneed for accountability, to name but a few.But, as I’ll argue, there doesn’t need to be a trade off between these and creating apowerful brand essence.I believe that what’s really holding our brands back is the very particular way in which wecreate them and communicate them.
2. We approach our brands as clocks;other creative products are more like cloudsKarl Popper famously divided the world into two types of things: clocks and clouds4.Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be fully understood through reduction, by takingthem apart.Clouds are too complex, too nuanced for us to understand them in this way. They can’t beseparated into parts. They can’t be engineered by putting clearly deﬁned elementstogether in a mechanical way 5 .It seems to me that we tend to approach our brands as clocks: a mechanical sum ofneatly deﬁned, fully pinned down, general descriptive terms. We understand their essenceby taking them apart and labelling all the pieces.But the things that can make a brand or any creative product emotionally compellingare often much harder to pin down and they can’t be captured in clear reductivelanguage.Pop songs, movies, TV series, characters real and ﬁction are full of emotionally nuancedand puzzling elements that you can’t summarise in a reductive brand idea or a set ofadjectives and attributes. General descriptive terms don’t even begin to capture them.The most compelling creative products each have their own emotional signature. Listento 100 songs and you’ll feel 100 very particular, very nuanced emotions that you’veprobably never experienced anywhere else. In contrast, our brand’s emotional vocabularytends to be very limited: most them aim for the same ﬁve or six generic, garden-varietyemotions that we’ve all experienced millions of times already 6.These hard-to-pin-down nuances and emotions are at the heart of what makes the bestcreative products compelling. Nick Hornby said that “emotional puzzlement” is the reasonwhy we can get so addicted to a new pop song: we therefore need to “crack itemotionally”7.John Peel said “At the heart of anything good there is a kernel of something undeﬁnable,and if you can deﬁne it, or claim to be able to deﬁne it, then you’ve missed the point”8.
3. The next level of sophisticationI believe that the one biggest reason why our brands fail to compete in emotional andcultural power with the other creative products is because we’re not equipped to work withelements that are too nuanced or emotionally puzzling to be described in clear reductivelanguage.The next level of sophistication for us is to become comfortable working with thesehard-to-pin-down elements and ﬁnd a way to talk ﬂuently about them.A different way of talking about our brandsIf we want our brands to be as rich, as emotionally nuanced and puzzling as the bestcreative products, we need to ﬁnd a different way to talk about them. We need somethingthat constantly reminds us that general, descriptive terms don’t capture their complexityand subtleties.Instead of talking about MINI in terms of a couple of positioning adjectives, we should talkabout it as a very particular feel – ‘MINI-ness’.Call this your brand’s amorphous, indescribable essence, or aesthetic, or emotionalsignature. It always lies beyond what general descriptive terms can capture.There’s a saying in Zen Buddhism that expresses this nicely: “a word is a ﬁnger that pointsat the moon. The goal of Zen pupils is the moon itself, not the pointing ﬁnger. Zen masterswill never stop cursing words”9 .Then, how do we discuss our brands and work on them in a structured way?
4. Talking about a brand’s essence throughall the things in which it can be foundSome of the most important and compelling things can’t be conveyed in a description.Not at all, not even approximately.They have to be experienced in a concrete, embodied form.The ‘analogue’ vs ‘digital’ elements in communicationPaul Watzlawick made a useful distinction between what he calls the ‘digital’ and the‘analogue’ elements in communication. (This was written in 1967, ‘digital’ here has nothingto do with online advertising)10.In any communication (brand comms, human communication, or just when you’re lookingat a piece of art or listening to a pop song), the digital elements are everything that youcan clearly capture in words and convey to someone else who wasn’t there. It’s all thethings that are unambiguous and precise, like the 1/0 values inside computers.The analogue elements are everything that’s impossible to pin down, that you can’tdescribe to someone else. They’re not one thing but an incredible coming together of amyriad of small things that you experience implicitly, viscerally, often subconsciously.Brands communications, as any creative products, contain both digital and analogueelements. But as Paul Feldwick11 and others1213 14 have pointed out, what peopleexperience and respond to in brand communications are all the analogue elements – awealth of material, visuals, music, dialogue, timing, colour, entertainment, emotions, etc. – rather than the brand idea, message or positioning adjectives that we marketers spendmost of our time and energy discussing.
To capture a brand essence in all it’s nuances, ﬁnd things that have some of that essencealready embedded in themWhat I’d like to propose is a way of working with our brands that puts these analoguedetails right at the centre of all of our conversations and that allows us to make themstrategy rather than just execution15 .I believe that the way to do it is to talk about our brands’ essence through a myriad ofconcrete things that have some of that essence embedded in them – in a way that youcan’t extract or translate into a brand attribute or adjective.I believe that the way to understand MINI, for example, is to look for all the things in theworld that have some ‘MINI-ness’ embedded in them – pop songs, people, books,gestures, myths, quotes, places – things that intuitively ‘feel’ MINI, that have a familyresemblance with MINI.I can’t convey to you the very unique emotional feel in a movie like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.But I can point out to what else you can ﬁnd it in: I can ask you to remember the emotion inOrwell’s 1984, and then put on the famous tune ‘Aquarela do Brasil’. The contrast betweenthese two things experienced together captures the Brazil ‘feel’ better than singledescriptive terms ever could 16.
II. THE BRAND CLOUD ALLOWS YOU TO CREATE A BRAND ESSENCEINTUITIVELY AND PRE-VERBALLYThis is what the Brand Cloud is: a collection of all the things that intuitively feel likeyour brand, that have a family resemblance with it, in a way that you can’t pin down ingeneral descriptive terms.Pieces of music, quotes, places, gestures, books, myths, anecdotes in history, moments,archetypes, online videos, speciﬁc bits of a movie, characters, people .. all the things in theworld that communicate some of your brand’s essence in an analogue way, that you can’textract out and capture in a brand adjective.For example, there’s a moment in Rocky III when Apollo Creed takes Rocky to train in hisclub, and shows him ﬁghters who are so determined to win that you can see it in their eyesthat they will. This is a reference that feels like it should be part of Nike’s brand cloud.Young, hungry footballers also like to believe that opportunity always come to those whotrain hard. This should be part of Nike’s cloud too.None of these are an illustration of ‘Just do it’ or anything from Nike’s brand description.They just somehow ‘feel’ Nike.The Brand Cloud allows you explore your brand’s essence intuitively, through experiencinga whole range of things that ‘feel’ like your brand. It’s about curating a sense of it, ratherthan engineering it in words.This is how other creative products are created. The example I mentioned above isactually how Terry Gilliam found the very particular emotion in his movie Brazil. He was ona beach in the UK. The weather was dark and depressing, but a man was sitting alonelistening to ‘Aquarela do Brasil’ on a stereo. Gilliam was fascinated by the strange emotionthat these two things experienced together created. He couldn’t pin it down or name it. Buthe had found it and so he could communicate it to his entire crew and reproduce it.
1. How does the Brand Cloud work?Where does the Brand Cloud live?The Brand Cloud is a web app. Every member of your brand’s marketing team can accessit, add to it and consult it – regardless of whether they work on the client side or one of itsagencies.Unlike a brand book, it’s never made static. New elements are added all the time, andbubble up based on how useful and compelling people ﬁnd them.The Brand Cloud is hyperlinked. You can click on any item and directly experience it: if it’sa movie you’ll see the most relevant scene, if it’s a book you’ll get pictures of the mostrelevant pages, etc.The Brand Cloud can also be exported in physical form as a deck of cards or a wall ofitems with web links on them.Who adds to the Brand Cloud?At video-game developer Valve, every single person contributes references and ideas,regardless of their department. How much each employee has contributed to making thegame great makes up 5% of his/her evaluation17 .We should do the same: everyone on your marketing team both on the client andagencies’ side (everyone of them) should have it as part of their job and evaluation tomake useful submissions to the Brand Cloud.They can do it by clipping anything they ﬁnd from the internet (it takes two clicks), orupload a picture from their smartphone with a couple of annotations.When someone adds to the brand cloud, they also point everyone’s attention to what theythink speaks of the brand essence in the reference they share, and where the comparisonends.
Who curates the Brand Cloud? Mostly everyone, but ultimately one person.Every time you open the Brand Cloud app, the ﬁrst thing you see are the items that otherpeople have recently added.If you ﬁnd an item that you think is powerful and particularly relevant to your brand, youcan ‘star’ it so you can easily come back to it later.As more people star an item, it gets bigger on the cloud. Items that are more consensualgravitate towards the centre; those which are more divisive closer to the edge.This way, a stream of fresh elements constantly enter the Brand Cloud, and the best onesemerge to the foreground.But ultimately the Brand Cloud isn’t a democracy. Powers of arbitration lie in theperson on the client side who is respected for having the best intuitive knowledge of thebrand. He/she gets named ‘Brand Cloud Director’ (in reference to Pixar’s ‘director led’approach where everyone contributes but one person remains responsible for thevision18 ).He/she calls a meeting once a month with all marketing staff and key agency people toreview the Brand Cloud:- Are the biggest items right?- Do these put together feel like a good picture of the brand essence?- What else is missing?- Should this be adjusted?The Brand Cloud is a conversation. It gets everyone to feel the brand intuitivelyThe Brand Cloud is an ever-growing set of references that everyone on your brand teamshares: things that they don’t just know of, but have all experienced ﬁrst-hand.The Brand Cloud provides a concrete basis to talk about how the brand ‘feels’ to you,rather than what logically and mechanically ﬁts with the brand idea or adjectives. Itcreates the sort of conversations that don’t happen often enough.The Brand Cloud Director arbitrates according to his own intuitive vision of the brand, butthat discussion is held in the open. The items that get discarded are recorded. Everyonelearns to have a feel for the brand through these discussions and case studies, rather thanthrough a checklist of codiﬁed principles.
2. Live application: using the Brand Cloud to add depth and richness tothe Natwest brandThis is what the branding process might look like concretely, using Natwest as anexample.Note: you can also experience the full Natwest brand cloud at brandsasclouds.com1. Where do you start?It’s easy if there’s somebody in the organisation who has a deep intuitive knowledge of thebrand (a founder for example), or when there’s a very strong internal culture.In this case, a brand cloud is made under their direction and review, to capture theirintuitive knowledge of the brand.But where do you start when you don’t have someone like this? If that rich intuitive brandessence needs to be created from scratch?2. Kickstarting the brand cloud conversationYou can use these four simple questions to get started:" a) The broad, overarching question:What are the things in the world that intuitively ‘feel’ like Natwest, that have a familyresemblance with it? (both the present Natwest and what you feel it could become)Natwest to me feels like it has a family resemblance with things like:- the Big Lunch19- door steps and store fronts (vs City towers)- B&B hotels (vs standardised, soulless hotels like Travelodge)- the book England in Particular by Sue Clifford 20 (a celebration of local particularities)- Broadway Market- local notice boards- the youtube video ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’21- .."
b) Starting from what’s already mentioned in the current brand description:For example if one of the key brand attributes is ‘helpful’, what type of ‘helpful’ arewe talking about speciﬁcally?‘Helpful’ in the abstract is bland and without texture. But thinking about it in concrete terms,there are hundreds of different kind of ‘helpful’. Do we mean helpful like a great customercare person? Like a guide dog?Natwest’s particular type of ‘helpful’ feels to me like the broom army of Clapham, GuerrillaGardening22, a famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson23, ‘the return of the lost sock’24 , .." c) Starting from what is not in the brand description:What are the facets of Natwest that the brand description doesn’t capture?There’s a sense of ‘real’, ‘grounded-ness’, ‘no ﬂash’ in Natwest. This can help you thinkabout other things that feel the same:- shop fronts and door steps (vs City towers)- Gavin & Stacey- the less touristy bits of Cornwall- employees from Southwest airlines (pilots help clean the planes) 25- .." d) Starting from Natwest’s polar opposite:What are the concrete things that feel completely unlike Natwest? (both in otherbrands and culture overall).These go into an ‘anti-Brand Cloud’, the polar opposite of the Brand Cloud.- City towers (Natwest feels more like door steps and shop fronts)- Travelodge (Natwest feels more like B&B hotels)- ‘Clone towns’ (Natwest likes local history and the speciﬁcities)26- stock photography- big cold, machine-like Tesco supermarkets- ..3. Different threads start to emerge: As you start bringing in elements that intuitivelyanswer these questions, some of them will feel they belong together in smaller groups. Asthis happens, different threads start to form.
4. Reviews: This is reviewed with key people from the organisation, in presence of thewhole marketing team:- do these elements really feel like us?- do they feel distinctively like us?- are they right for the business, its particular position and its history?A lot of the things that would normally be associated with the elements above don’t feelright for Natwest. For example:- the hand craft movement and its ‘cooky’ side- pranks, ﬂash mobs (not right for a bank)- anything ‘cooperative’ (feels more Britannia or Nationwide)- anything tree-hugging (cliché)- ..It’s easier to discuss these concrete, material references than it is to debate abstractadjectives.5. Iteration The process goes iterating this way, bringing new elements in, havingconversations about them, re-arranging them, dismissing areas, importing elements fromone area into another to create unexpected cross-breeds, etc.You continue iterating until you get to a powerful brand cloud that holds together as a veryclear whole.At the end of the process, the brand essence isn’t ambiguous: there’s a clear ‘feel’ thatemerges from it.Then you can try to articulate it more in words, the way an art critic would: bringing aposteriori clarity to something that was created intuitively and pre-verbally.For Natwest, all these elements share something that could be called a ‘re-enchanting’feel, in the sense of things that go- away from a society of strangers and towards making things personal- away from big buildings and clone towns and towards the local and particular- away from non-human interactions and stock photography and towards real people- away from the purely economical and interesting, and towards some selﬂessness.This feeling of ‘re-enchantment’ (the very particular kind that’s captured in the brand cloud)could become Natwest’s emotional signature. I’ll show in Part V how this ‘feel’ will transpirefrom everything they do, rather than being communicated as one explicit message.
Part conclusion• The Brand Cloud gives us the concrete vocabulary to feel comfortable talking about thehard-to-pin-down visceral details that people experience and respond to in our brands andcomms.• It blurs the boundaries between brand owners and agencies. It makes everyone in theorganisation actively own the brand.• It leverages the power of big teams to create richer brands.• Approaching your brand as cloud doesn’t mean more ambiguity, but make it easier todiscuss.What are the implications of the Brand Cloud?
III. WHAT THE BRAND CLOUD CHANGES1. The Brand Cloud lets you know your brand the way your right brainknows thingsTwo different ways of seeingThere’s an interesting theory in contemporary neuroscience that supports my argumentthat we’re relying too much on descriptive terms.But let’s clear things up ﬁrst. There’s a myth dating from the 1960s that rational thinkingsits in our left brain, and imagination in the right. This has since been proven entirely false:both brain hemispheres are profoundly involved in both reason and imagination27.Why is our brain divided then? Why has it become even more divided over the course ofevolution?In recent years it has become generally accepted that the fundamental difference betweenour left and right hemispheres has to do with perception. It seems that our left and righthemispheres see things in completely different ways28.- The right hemisphere sees things in all their embodied details, nuances and complexity.- The left hemisphere doesn’t see things as they are but as a simpliﬁed, mechanicallyreconstructed model: a bit like the maps generals use, with tokens representing theimportant features of the battleﬁeld.The left hemisphere does this to allow us to pin things down and grasp them in clearreductive language. But this comes at a price 29:- the left hemisphere is cut from the vividness of experience and all the analogue details- it doesn’t understand what can’t be pinned down in clear explicit terms (like bodylanguage or metaphors30 )- it values internal coherence over experience31
How the Brand Cloud and the traditional brand description work together:two different types of knowingWhat this means for us is that there are two very different types of ‘knowing’ our brands32.We can know our brand essence in reductive abstract descriptive terms, the way our lefthemisphere knows things. This is what the traditional brand description does. It has theadvantage of clarity, but it can’t give us a feel for our brand. It misses out the juicyanalogue bits, and this mechanistically reconstructed model of our brand denatures it.The other way to know our brand essence is to experience it in embodied form throughmany different things, to get close to them, to experience them in all their concrete,analogue details, and intuitively see patterns emerge. This is what the Brand Cloud does.The best way to think about it is that the Brand Cloud and the traditional brand descriptionare two different views into your brand:- the brand description lets your team know their brand as a set of instructions- the Brand Cloud lets them know it intuitivelyTruth is in the cloudBut the Brand Cloud isn’t an illustration of what’s already in the brand description: it is themain, primary reference for your brand.The brand description is created after the cloud, the same way that an art critic makessense of a compelling emotion he’s found in a piece of art.
2. The Brand Cloud opens up the possibilities of what your brand canbe based onUsing the Brand Cloud as your main reference means that your brand can be based onanything – even things that clear reductive language can’t capture.Your brand can have its own ‘emotional signature’ in the same way that the best popsongs, movies and creative products do.One way to do this is to clash things that are generally not experienced together, the wayTerry Gilliam did. You can take two elements from the Brand Cloud that each in their ownway feel like your brand but seem quite at odds together, and cross-breed them.For example, Expedia’s brand essence could be based on mixing the sense of fear, aweand scale that get swimming in Devil’s Pool on top of the Victoria Falls, with the sense offreedom and exhilaration that you experience on your graduation day.
3. The Brand Cloud is a killer app for participation. It puts your audienceat the centre of the branding processThe Brand Cloud is also an opt-in for everyone else in the company. Front-line employees(customer care people, retail and sales employees) in particular are encouraged to join.You can also recruit a large panel of consumers to contribute to it and curate it, puttingyour audience right at the centre of the branding process.This way, you can get a feel for what sort of stuff they associate with your brand (whenthey add elements to the cloud). You can also see which elements among those whichyour team have suggested they ﬁnd most compelling.The default view of the Brand Cloud aggregates everyone’s votes, regardless of who theyare. But you can toggle on & off votes from different groups of people (client/agencies,brand team/others, granular demographic segments of your audience, or even down to anindividual).You can also invite experts, magazine editors, bloggers, some of your front-line employees(or even all of them).4. The Brand Cloud helps your brand evolve organically with cultureThe Brand Cloud is a constant stream of references that bubble up or down, based onwhat’s resonating with a whole bunch of people right now. 200 people’s cultural antenna(or even 2,000) are always better than 2.The recent stream of new elements is always what’s resonating with culture right now, vsstuff that might have had some resonance 1-2 years ago but don’t feel as powerful now.We recommend that you tidy your brand cloud every 3 months: keep only the best itemsand reset the votes.
5. Your Brand Cloud is fully testableHow do you know that the Brand Cloud is taking your brand in the right direction?It’s easy to test your audience’s reaction to the most salient elements of the Brand Cloudbecause they’re already in an embodied, concrete form they can experience.Which elements resonate most?Every brilliant creative product has a testing ground. For Chris Rock, it’s his localcomedy club: when writing new material, his testing routine is to turn up unannounced atlocal comedy clubs and say his WIP lines at people – most of which fall ﬂat33 .Brands need to have a local comedy club too. If your brand has an ambition to resonatewith culture, the baby step is to be able to be a good, respected curator of culture. Yourbrand should have something like a blog, a newsletter or a dashboard widget that peoplewill choose to follow because they ﬁnd stuff on there that interests them or that they ﬁndcompelling.You can put different elements of the Brand Cloud to the test, or produce somethingextremely cheap inspired by some elements.We should think about these as testing grounds, not channels. They don’t serve anycommunication purpose. They may not even be branded. Their only purpose is to giveyou a short feedback loop.The elements that ‘trend’ get bigger on the Brand Cloud.Which elements feel most distinctively like your brand?You can test whether the elements in your brand feel more like your brand than any otherone:For each element, ask a panel from your audience to show you which brand cloud they’dput it in: Nike, Adidas, Asics, all of them? Just Nike?
Part conclusion• The Brand Cloud allows you to give your brand its own ‘emotional signature’, on top of abrand idea and visual identity.• The Brand Cloud means the end of the static brand book. It helps your brand ride culturalwinds, rather than fearing them.• It helps your organisation know their brand intuitively, rather than through a list ofadjectives and codiﬁed principles.• It puts your audience right at the centre of the process of creating your brand.• It’s entirely concrete and testable.How do you use the Brand Cloud to communicate your brand, and answer any productcommunication brief?
IV. THE RAINFALL MODEL OF COMMUNICATION1. The Rainfall model of communication lets you communicate yourbrand’s essence directly, rather than through its descriptionThe traditional info transmission model communicates your brand though compressedsummary terms (brand idea, attributes, adjectives). This can make sense to help yourbrand compete as product. For example it’s valuable for Volvo to own the ‘safety’ decisionshortcut. But when it comes to competing as culture, this comms model is a rather blunttool.The knowledge of your brand that it gives people is superﬁcial: a bit like trying to getacross a great movie like Amelie by repeating that it’s charming, optimistic and veryFrench. And this adjectives and attributes often have little to do with why the brand mightresonate with people: most of MINI buyers don’t buy the car because it’s ‘energetic’,‘cheeky’ or ‘inventive’.The Rainfall model of communication bypasses this intermediary step of translating thebrand essence in clear reductive terms.Instead, it takes the things that the Brand Cloud holds, and makes them directlypresent to people.For example if the myth that ‘opportunities come to those who train the hardest’ is part ofthe Nike Brand Cloud, Nike should play it out in the real world (as they do with ‘TheChance 34’). Making this myth present to people means making it more real.If the concept of ‘the eye of the tiger’ is part of the Nike brand cloud, Nike should use thisas an executional element in one of their comms (as they recently did in the RooneyReturns TV ad 35 ). Making this element present to people means making them feel itviscerally: not just transmitting information or creating associations.None of these are an illustration of Nike’s brand idea or positioning adjectives, but they all‘feel’ Nike. The Rainfall model of communication works by making people viscerallyexperience a lot of things that feel like your brand.
2. The Rainfall model communicates your brand as a feel that transpiresin everything you doBut getting people to experience elements from the Brand Cloud isn’t what drives thecommunication agenda.Instead, Brand Cloud elements are what give a distinctive feel to everything theorganisation wants to communicate.Thinking of your brand essence as an intuitive feel (captured in concrete references)means that the natural way to communicate your brand isn’t as a message, but as a feelthat runs through everything that you do.This feel and concrete references guide everything from sponsorship decisions, to mediabehaviour, to user experience design. It’s communicated through a lot of small touches (I’llillustrate in part V how this ‘feel’ will transpire in comms).It means that you don’t need to distinguish between ‘brand comms’ and ‘product comms’any more. Apple haven’t done a brand ad in the UK since 1997, but everything they do‘feels’ distinctively Apple.
3. The Rainfall model lets you communicate your brand throughemergence, rather than compression and consistencyThe Rainfall model of communication gets your audience to know your brand in acompletely different way.I mentioned earlier that there are two types of ‘knowing’. They are indeed so different thata lot of other languages (like German or French) have different words for each36 .- ‘Wissen’ (or ‘savoir’) is knowing something in the way that you know a list of ingredients or a math formula. It’s knowing through a reductive summary description.- ‘Kennen’ (or ‘connaître’) is knowing in the sense of having a feel for something orsomeone. It’s knowing by being exposed to a lot of different aspects, in all theirparticularities and analogue details, and seeing patterns emerge.Kennen is the type of knowledge that we have of a person or of things that are toocomplex and nuanced to be summarised in descriptive terms. I might not be able tosummarise Nick Kendall, but I have a feel for who he is. I don’t know him through objectivefacts (like his height or place of birth) but I intuitively know what value he is to me.The Brand Rainfall model of communication gets people to know your brand in the‘kennen’ way: by getting them exposed to many different aspects, letting themconnect the dots themselves to see patterns emerge. The more they’ve seen differentfacets, the more they have a feel for your brand.My knowledge of Nick is also personal to me: someone else might allow other aspects ofhim to come forward. In the same way, the Rainfall model of communication gives peoplea personal knowledge of your brand; each individual member of your audience can paymore attention to the elements that resonate most with them personally and attachpersonal meaning to them37.The Rainfall model of communication makes people familiar with your brand in the sensethat it’s something that’s part of their world, something they’ve lived with, something towhich they’ve attached personal meaning. It’s not, however, familiar in the sense of beingsomething that’s routine, repetitive and has nothing new to reveal38 .
4. Measuring comms effectiveness in the Rainfall modelCommunicating a single clear brand idea or attribute had the advantage of makingmeasurement feel easy (deceptively so). But if you let people connect the dotsthemselves, how do you know that you’re communicating successfully?It boils down to two questions:- are you picking the right elements to communicate, that will most effectively drive thebottom line?- are you communicating them well?Let me start with the second one:How do you know that you’re communicating your brand well?You can ask an online panel representative of your target audience to show you what yourbrand cloud looks like from their point of view.Concretely, you provide the panel with a lot of elements (coming from both your brandcloud and that of your competitors) asking them which ones intuitively feel like your brandand have a family resemblance with it.If the elements you’ve used in communication (or at any touch point) ﬁnd themselves intheir version of your brand cloud, then your communication is probably working.You can see how people’s answers are different depending on whether they’ve beenexposed to speciﬁc comms or touch points. For example you can show them pictures ofyour comms/touch points, and asking them whether they recognise seeing them before 39.This way, you get a clear picture of which of your comms efforts have been the mostsuccessful at shifting people’s perceptions of your brand.
How do you know that what you’re communicating drives the bottom line?If a lot of your sales happen online, you can make a link between which elements arepresent in someone’s view of your brand cloud and how much they’ve spent on you bylinking Google Analytics to the Brand Cloud app.But if your sales aren’t trackable in this way and you want a quicker read on your commseffectiveness, you can use other measures of brand health as lead indicators – like brandwarmth or top of mind brand awareness.For example, respondents can move a slider representing your brand on spectrum fromwarm red to cold blue – a methodology that has been used successfully before40. You cancompare your brand’s scores with the category’s average.For each respondent, you can correlate these results with which elements were present intheir view of your brand cloud.By aggregating data from the whole panel, you can have a read on which brand cloudelements have a bigger impact on brand warmth, preference and eventually sales.As always with effectiveness measurement, a number of factors need to be carefullycontrolled using regression analysis (e.g. proportion of existing customers in thesample)4142 .
Part conclusion• The Rainfall model of communication bypasses the brand description; it works by makingpeople viscerally experience a lot of things that feel like your brand.• It communicates your brand’s essence as a feel that runs through everything you do,rather than as a message.• People intuitively see patterns emerge from the different facets of your brand. This letseach individual person read your brand in the way that resonates most with thempersonally.How does this change the creative process?
V. FOCUSING CREATIVITY ON THE VISCERAL ANALOGUE DETAILSWe spend most of our time discussing and judging creative ideas from abstractdescriptions, scamps or storyboards.The consequence is that we default to a very particular type of creativity: singlereductionist creative ideas that can be judged from their description.But the things that people are experiencing and responding to in brand communicationsare the very things that we can’t judge from their description. Paul Feldwick argued thatcreative work doesn’t have to be based on a very obviously original idea. The othercreative products generally aren’t.We need a creative process that’s centred around these visceral analogue details.#1. Creative ‘clouds’, not ‘ideas’The ﬁrst step is to think about the creative output as a cloud: its about curating a veryparticular feel through an incredible coming together of a myriad of analogue detailsA brief for a speciﬁc task won’t be about coming up with a clever, original idea to illustratea message. It’ll be about showing something or saying something in a way that ‘feels’powerfully and distinctly like your brand essence.#2. Use the Brand Cloud as creative fodderThe particular comms challenge you’re facing brings the brand cloud into focus: once youknow what the problem is, you can look for inspiration in the cloud and pick elements thatare most relevant to the task.What inevitably happens in the traditional creative process is that random elements arebrought in that don’t feel like the brand. Starting from your brand cloud helps youanswer any brief in a way that feels distinctly like your brand.For example if Natwest wants to communicate around great saving rates or acquisitionincentives, they could look into their own brand cloud for inspiration:- Gavin & Stacey could be used as a sitcom reference
- Natwest could talk about its products through real events and real people, for examplereferring to things that were recently in the news.If Natwest wants to communicate around their helpful service, it helps to know what sort of‘helpful’ they identify with speciﬁcally. They could compare their staff to the broom army ofClapham for example.And obviously this big set of references informs the tonality and feel of everything Natwestdoes. The Brand Cloud should make the PPM an ongoing discussion.As you bring a lot of elements in, some will feel like they belong together in one area andothers in other areas. You might put these up on different walls, discuss which elementsbelong or don’t, what else could be brought in, reﬁne them, mix them up with somethingdifferent .. These creative clouds are machines for creative accidents to happen.#3. Prototype everythingWe need to judge this sort of work in its concrete, material form, not in the abstract.(Imagine presenting iPod Silhouette as a concept or a storyboard: it’d be hard to seewhat’s compelling about it).No other creative industry judges ideas in the abstract to the same extent that wedo. At Apple a design idea is only seen by four or ﬁve people before it’s prototyped 43. Themovie industry too has moved on from the elevator pitch. Pixar doesn’t start from a story,but from a rough setting and characters (e.g. ﬁsh under the sea) and then collectively addas many cool moments as they can. It’s only after several cycles of prototyping andreviews that story elements start to emerge44.Our prototypes can be anything. If you make TV ads, prototyping can be shooting verycheaply on the ﬂy during creative exploration, with whatever equipment and people youhave to hand. If you make products, you can get a simple 3D printer for under £2,000.Production and prototyping costs have decreased incredibly fast in the last ﬁve years. Incontrast the cost of ten marketing executives sitting in a room trying to make decisionswithout the right elements is still as high.And instead of making one big bet on one idea judged in its abstract form, you can make aseries of smaller bets. That’s how TV executives at Channel 4 make investment decisions:they seed 50 projects, then invest a bit more in 10, before commissioning pilot episodesfor 2 of them45 .
#4. Adopt a truly iterative processWe need an iterative process, rather than a try-again-and-again process.When the creativity you’re looking for is about ﬁnding an original way to illustrate amessage, you can do that by trying again and again until one really good idea comes toyou.But the kind of creativity that centres on the analogue elements requires that you take theoutput of the previous iteration as a starting point for the next. Because this sort of creativework is never good in its ﬁrst showing, you need to improve it bits by bits. Pixar calls theircreative process “going from suck to non-suck”46.Another reason why we need to iterate together with our clients is what Stephen Johnsoncalls “the adjacent possible”47: only some ideas are possible at a given time from yourcurrent way of seeing things. To go further you need to ‘evolve your consciousness’.Seeing things in concrete, material form helps you think more clearly about the problemand better articulate what it requires.#5. Iterate the strategy together with the creative explorationIf the visceral, analogue elements are the most important, then we can’t know whichcreative strategy is the best until we see the work that comes out of it. We need a way forstrategy to happen mostly during creative exploration, not upstream of it.We may start with a temporary formulation of the creative strategy, expressing it thebest you can. The creative strategy document is versioned. In its ﬁrst iterations it’ll bebroad and abstract, but more concrete and speciﬁc as we prototype and iterate.The planner’s job is to capture the conversation after each iteration, and revise thecreative strategy document to include lessons learnt so far. It’s a process of homing in.Strategy is discussed through the details, not abstractly. Instead of revising a singledescriptive formulation of what is required, it points to very speciﬁc elements from previousiterations that capture important learnings: “not like this, more like this”.
CONCLUSIONI believe that any brand can have the power of Batman if we approach it as cloud ratherthan clock.This means learning to work with elements that are too textured, emotionally nuanced orpuzzling to be pinned down in general descriptive terms.The Brand Cloud helps us do this.It lets us create a brand essence intuitively and pre-verbally, by bringing elements in andmoving them around.It puts the all-important visceral details at the centre of everything we do. It gives us theconcrete vocabulary to talk about them and make them strategy.It helps our brands evolve organically with culture.It gives each brand its own emotional signature. You can communicate your brand throughthat very particular feel, rather than as a message.The Brand Cloud is the brand book for the hyperlinked, networked, fast-changing age welive in. It’s the right brain counterpart of the single reductive brand idea. Word count: 6,974
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