The Clear­ing’s skill for find­ing a unique po­si­tion for a client – and hold­ing off all ri­vals to main­tain it – is elo­quently ex­pressed by its em­blem of a stag: “A beau­ti­ful beast, made for fight­ing...”

Computer Arts - - Contents -

The four co-founders of The Clear­ing re­veal how they carve out clear, de­fend­able ter­ri­tory for brands

Fol­low­ing stints at var­i­ous large agen­cies – in­clud­ing Wolff Olins, The Part­ners and most re­cently In­ter­brand, where all their paths first crossed – Richard Buchanan, Jonathan Hub­bard, Andy Howell and Pete De­war founded The Clear­ing in 2010.

“We didn’t feel there were any agen­cies who worked in the way we wanted: a col­le­giate way of putting de­sign­ers, writ­ers, strate­gists and project peo­ple to­gether to re­ally solve prob­lems,” ex­plains Buchanan. “It was about this very lin­ear process, where a con­sul­tant would go and crack a prob­lem, lob a hand grenade of a brief over the wall to the de­signer and writer, and they’d try and fig­ure out what to do with that.”

Rep­re­sent­ing strat­egy, de­sign and writ­ing be­tween them, Buchanan, Hub­bard, Howell and De­war found a sweet spot: a flat agency struc­ture that puts equal em­pha­sis on all three dis­ci­plines, and have stuck to this prin­ci­ple.

‘Clear, de­fend­able ter­ri­tory’ is the mantra for their seven-year-old agency, which com­bined with its name and logo con­jures a pow­er­ful metaphor: a ma­jes­tic stag, in a for­est clear­ing, ready to re­pel all chal­lengers.

We spent a day with the four co-founders to dis­cover what all of this sym­bol­ism re­ally means in prac­tice, and how said ter­ri­tory can be claimed, and de­fended, ef­fec­tively...

Why is the stag such an im­por­tant sym­bol for The Clear­ing? What does it mean to you? Jonathan Hub­bard:

‘Clear, de­fend­able ter­ri­tory’ has been our mantra since we set the busi­ness up – partly to try and find these spa­ces for our cus­tomers, but also for our­selves.

There are two rea­sons be­hind it. One was when we looked at our com­peti­tors, so many of them were set up more like man­age­ment con­sul­tants and se­ri­ous busi­nesses, and they didn’t take the el­e­ment of brand and de­sign as close to them­selves as they should have done.

But we also wanted a sym­bol that ac­tu­ally summed what we did. Clear de­fend­able ter­ri­tory is the mantra with which we look at every piece of work we do. The stag is a beau­ti­ful beast made for fight­ing, and that’s a nice metaphor. A brand should be a beau­ti­ful thing, which can de­fend its space. We wanted some­thing of beauty to rally be­hind, which made us feel dif­fer­ent.

What ex­actly is clear, de­fend­able ter­ri­tory from a brand’s per­spec­tive? Richard Buchanan:

We’re in­ter­ested in find­ing a clear space in a mar­ket. And when you talk about that clear space, think of some­body’s mind. Brands are ba­si­cally short­hand for what we re­call in our head. When you say Nike, or Ap­ple, it trig­gers some­thing in your brain. We’re try­ing to find that space in the mar­ket, in­side your head, where that brand is as­so­ci­ated with a set of val­ues – a mean­ing that no one else can own.

In any given mar­ket, there are prob­a­bly four po­si­tions. You’ve got the leader po­si­tion, and then you’ve got a cus­tomer ser­vice brand which does what the leader orig­i­nally did, pack­aged up in a more friendly, cus­tomer ori­en­tated way. Then as mar­kets ma­ture you get a no frills, bud­get propo­si­tion, and the fourth one is a challenger, which is very nar­row in fo­cus and just goes af­ter a part of the mar­ket.

Is it eas­ier to cre­ate that clear ter­ri­tory in one mar­ket po­si­tion than an­other? RB:

They’re like dif­fer­ent per­son­al­ity types. If you’re a leader, you can get away with a whiff of ar­ro­gance be­cause you’ve got some

pro­pri­eto­rial tech­nol­ogy, or a re­ally tan­gi­ble USP that you have in­vested in.

If you’re a cus­tomer cham­pion, it be­comes more emo­tive. You’re friend­lier, and warmer as a brand. Whereas if you’re play­ing in that bud­get space, it’s no frills. It’s re­ally di­rect.

There are cer­tain be­hav­iours and at­tributes that all of them have. Are any of them eas­ier? Well, I guess brands in the bud­get space rarely come to a brand con­sul­tancy, so they’d prob­a­bly do it them­selves. But none of them are eas­ier as such. They’re all in­ter­est­ing in dif­fer­ent ways.

Can you give us a good ex­am­ple of how you found clear de­fend­able ter­ri­tory for a client? Andy Howell:

One good ex­am­ple is Fit­ness First. Most gyms talk about how you look; how to get ready for the beach. Our in­sight was more around the in­ner con­fi­dence that fit­ness un­locks. It put us into a very dif­fer­ent space – not how fit­ness makes you look, but how it makes you feel.

That gave us our clear, de­fend­able ter­ri­tory. It needed to look like a fit­ness leader, and be­have more like an ap­parel brand than a gym.

Pete De­war: We built Fit­ness First’s tone of voice out of three val­ues: it’s per­sonal, pro­gres­sive and provoca­tive. Imag­ine the voice of an in­spi­ra­tional coach. That guy who’s in your cor­ner. He’s re­ally ac­tive, en­er­getic, pos­i­tive and sup­port­ive, can cheer you up when you need it, and un­der­stands the right but­tons to push. That’s nor­mally how we try and do it – we find that mem­o­rable short­hand.

Your Breast Cancer Now cam­paign [which won a Brand Im­pact Award in 2016] puts a fresh spin on char­ity fundrais­ing – how did you find the clear ter­ri­tory there? JH:

Fit­ness First was a clear step from ev­ery­one else, but some­times it’s more sub­tle. Breast cancer char­i­ties tend to be very ‘women power’, as it’s pre­dom­i­nately women who are af­fected.

But ac­tu­ally, when we talked to them we found that men do­nate a lot of money to breast cancer char­i­ties, be­cause they are of­ten the ones left be­reaved. We re­alised the brand had to in­clude men, and that was a start­ing point for it to look a cer­tain way. It had to feel more in­clu­sive.

A lot of those ‘cause’ char­i­ties also feel top down: ‘We are go­ing to solve this.’ Breast Cancer Now was about its sup­porter base. The peo­ple who spend hours and hours rais­ing money for re­search. It was their char­ity. It didn’t be­long to a cen­tral or­gan­i­sa­tion. Those are the sort of things we look for: it may not nec­es­sar­ily be a huge leap, but we look at all the el­e­ments that can in­flu­ence the way a brand feels, looks and sounds, and ul­ti­mately try to make sure that we’re not fall­ing into the same traps as ev­ery­one else.

Be­low: De­signed to ap­peal to male donors as well as the tra­di­tional fe­male de­mo­graphic, this Breast Cancer Now cam­paign picked up the So­cial Im­pact tro­phy at last year’s Brand Im­pact Awards.


Left: The Clear­ing found clear ter­ri­tory for Fit­ness First by fo­cus­ing on how fit­ness makes you feel, rather than how you look.

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