III. THE SOLUTION: FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BRAVE
Neither you, nor I, weathered these ramblings to simply understand habituation — we set out to break it. There’s no top ten tips here, though. No thousand-times-tweeted take-aways. We’re off the edge of the map here, mates. All we have is the things we’ve just learnt: the science, and some pretty big hunches, based on a decade of experience helping leaders communicate.
I believe habituation can be beaten, and better communication accomplished, by championing the following philosophies:
BUILD A RHYTHM OF UNPREDICTABILITY AND DELIGHT.
Change the stimulus, change the frequency, change the interval, change the duration, tone down the strength — these things break the cycle.
We need to mix it up.
So — change the medium; change the channel; change the style. If you always use posters: share a video. If you use video for everything: plaster the toilet doors with a poster or two. If safety posters have been hanging since mutton chops were fashionable: tear them down; change them up. Never default to templates for the really important stuff.
Above all — foster curiosity, and seek to delight.
Like roadworks on the daily commute, engineer surprise to get big daddy back to the helm. It’s good to build rituals; establish routine — but never let them fade predictable. Make communications that matter — always. If it doesn’t matter, why are we sharing it? Attention is precious: it must be earned, rewarded, and never squandered. The greater the noise, the higher the filter — the more we must amplify our signal to cut through the static.
This leads us to…
SHRED THE STYLE GUIDE.
Words quite simply fail me when it comes to expressing the absurdity of an external brand guide used for internal comms — so let me borrow the words of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society instead:
Excrement. That's what I think of [style guides]. We're not laying pipe. We're talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? "Oh, I like [style guides]. I give [them] a 42, but I can't dance to it." Now, I want you to rip out that page. Go on. Rip out the entire page. You heard me. Rip it out. Rip it out! Go on. Rip it out!… Tell you what. Don't just tear out that page, tear out the entire introduction. I want it gone. History. Leave nothing of it. Rip it out! Rip! Be gone. Rip. Shred. Tear. Rip it out! I want to hear nothing but ripping of [style guides]. We'll perforate it, put it on a roll. It's not the Bible. You're not gonna go to Hell for this. Go on. Make a clean tear. I want nothing left of it.
Somewhere in dark rooms, comms teams tremble. Someone said a bad, bad thing. And, I do feel the tiniest bit terrible. Design and branding is an integral part of what I do every day — it’s in my organisation’s DNA. So I wage war on style guides with a heavy heart — one half admiring the perfection of their consistency, the sublime of their thoroughness. The other half: increasingly aware that for communicating internally — they are fundamentally flawed.
The problem, is in their purpose. Most brand guides are made to foster highly consistent communication in a unified aesthetic — to strip variation. This helps customers quickly identify and connect with the brand. Frequency; interval; duration; strength. The exact qualities that work so well in gaining attention from customers, when applied to communicating with the people we work with, people exposed to the same branding and messaging every day — a fast track habituation.
Yet the common process in many organisations: finish the job, send it to comms. Here, folk who’ve trained in the arts of marketing and branding do what they’ve been trained to do: standardise and conform. It’s not their fault, it’s what they’ve been taught to do — hired to do. Make sure that every bit of material is consistent; run the style guide; sweat the detail. Unintentionally — dip it invisible.
An effective internal brand should consider more than the detail, more than the visual — it should focus on vision. The why. The culture. The values. The message. The stories. Everything but the bloody usage of capitals, or the correct font weight for titles. It should hoist communication high and blow the trumpet to rally. It should foster creativity; allow for variation. Let’s push past typical; let’s create something unique. Let’s stop externally branding for the internally converted — I’m sure they all know where they work.
So — dare to create communications that matter. Dare to defy the style guide, and the people that blindly parrot them. Rip! Rip! Rip it out! It’s not the Bible. They’re not God.
You’re not gonna go to Hell for this.