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I was dead for 29 minutes Brand Consultant Nigel Davies

On today’s Engaging Marketeer, I am speaking with Nigel Davies from Pin Creative. Nigel has got two very exciting things about him, firstly he is a brand guru and was actually responsible for the rebrand of a company, you might have heard of, called Ford, secondly, he died. He was clinically dead for 29 minutes in something they call “downtime” so I’m going to be asking Nigel what brought that on, what did he see, how did it effect his life and where he went from there.

The full episode is available now on all platforms but here are some key talking points from the podcast.


The obvious place to start, the story of how Nigel died.

Darren: There’s really only one place I can start with you and that’s… you died.

Nigel: Well yes, that’s the short story.

Darren: Let’s put some meat on the bones, what happened when you died?

Nigel: So what happened was, I went to the post office one day and had a very severe cardiac arrest. Obviously I have no memory of that, what I do remember is waking up and someone saying to me “Do you know where you are?” and I said “Am I in a school?” because I was looking at the ceiling and that’s probably the last time I stared at the ceiling for so long.

Then I was in hospital and they explained the event. They gently tell you what happened then you read your medical notes. So I had an eruption in an artery which collapsed and stopped blood and oxygen from getting to my brain, they call it “downtime” and the downtime for me was 29 minutes. Most people don’t survive that, but for some reason, I did which is great because I’m still here to talk about it.

I think it was quite a shock to people who had been around me because they had got to the point of discussing end of life, who switches me off because they just assume that you’re not going to survive. You’re down to 1% survival rate by them, if you’ve gone into hospital. And yeah I just woke up one day and I thought “Am I in a school” no, I was in a hospital, then you start piecing it all together.


Nigel on any pre warnings to this event

Darren: Did you have any symptoms before that, any sort of warning that it was going to happen?

Nigel: There was symptoms before but I wasn’t aware of what the symptoms were if that makes sense. I totally forgotten until I came back home, to the desk where I am right now, and there was a blue inhaler there. I was thinking I’m not asthmatic, I don’t have anything like that and then I remembered, about two or three weeks before, I’d spoken to the doctor and said I was having chest pains and breathing problems. He said “You may be asthmatic, I think you should get a blue inhaler” and sent me on my way.

Maybe what he should of said is “Oh my God, you’re going to have a heart attack in three weeks. We should get a chest x-ray done and block anything that’s going to happen” but no one has that amount of foresight.

But nothing sort of longer term than that, apart from the typical bad living, not exercising lifestyle that most of us seem to lead.


How Nigel changed his day to day life, following this event.

Darren: How has the whole thing changed your outlook on life now, the way you work, the way you eat, the way you live?

Nigel: I think a lot of people say you reappraise your life and you’ve got another chance but I don’t see it like that. It’s more of just a continuation of the day to day things you were doing before. I definitely haven’t cut down on the bad things, I don’t smoke but if I did beforehand I would have probably cut that out. But because the doctor said it was okay to drink Guinness, I still drink Guinness. This might not be a bad thing but I don’t drink as much as I might have done previously and I don’t like stronger alcohol, so there’s maybe an enforced slowdown anyway.

But they put you on a recovery program for exercise but there was some side effects for me, which have been quite tricky to manage. It is quite difficult for me to stand up without using my hands or arms, so a little bit of mobility issues.


Speaking on more of a professional level, Nigel talks on how to create a brand.

Nigel: My definition of a brand is something that is about the emotional connection that the customer has with that product or service. So to create a brand you need to create an emotional connection, it doesn’t matter what that product or service is. I will walk past Starbucks to get to Costa because I think that Costa’s hot chocolate is better than Starbucks’, so I’ve got an emotional connection with Costa and they have created that brand that I know I’m going to keep going back to.

So what your task is to create that emotional connection between your audience and your products and service to make them feel like they’ve made the right choice.

How do you actually then create that emotional connection? I have a methodology, which I call a brand doughnut, which has jam in the centre. Identify these different parts of what makes up the brand and then find what the emotional clue is. The vision is really important, where you’re going to be – the positioning, how you offset against the audience competition – values, what you believe in – the mission, actions and activities you take – the offer, products and services themselves. These are all the things that make up the brand so if you ask the right questions and get useful answers, you’ve then got to find the ‘jammy’ bit in the centre. Then when you’ve got that you can start to express that visually and verbally.


How to create a brand as a smaller business

Darren: You mentioned how you’ve worked with some big corporates. You gave the example of Costa’s brand speaking to you as opposed to Starbucks.

For business owners listening to this who might be start-ups or one man/woman brands. How important is it for them to have a brand just as much as it is for somebody like PlayStation?

Nigel: If you are startup, the most important thing is getting your idea out there. Get yourself a logo, get it on a website and start selling your product and services. You’ve got to have proof of concept, you’ve got to make that business work.

You won’t have a lot of money to invest in branding, so I think as you have grown a bit and have proven what is and isn’t working, that’s the time to start investing in your brand. Maybe you’ve done it for a couple of years and reached a level of sales, but again you don’t have to spend tens and tens of thousands.

To use your example of PlayStation and the only reason that costs a lot of money, the biggest brand that I’ve done is I rebranded Ford Motor Company about 20 years ago which cost one million pounds and that looked like a logo tweak.

Darren: Did you say Ford Motor Company?

Nigel: Yeah, Ford Motor Company, the blue oval.

Darren: Yeah, I’m familiar with it. I did not know that, wow!

Nigel: So in 2003, I lead the redesign of that blue oval. I went out to Detroit, was working for a big agency at the time that just got appointed to do the project. That cost a million pounds and a lot of people can’t see the difference.

The reason why that cost a lot of money, like the PlayStation one, is because there is more people involved, more stakeholders to talk to, there is less certainty about the direction. They can spend money, having 15 people create 50 different versions before they settle on one.

If you are an independent business owner just starting out, firstly you don’t have the money but you don’t have the complexity of the large firm making decisions or teams making decisions on your behalf, so it can be a lot more efficient. You can actually just use your instinct, working with decent professionals who can visualize your ideas, you can get there quite quickly without a large budget.

So it is only really when you involve lots of people, it starts to cost a lot of money.


About Nigel Davies:

Nigel is a brand guru and has helped many companies to create their brand and identity, the biggest of which being Ford! He also had a horrifying experience a few years back, where he was clinically dead for 29 minutes in what the doctors described as “downtime.”

Connect with Nigel:






About your host:

Darren has worked within digital marketing since the last century, and was the first in-house web designer for video games retailer GAME in the UK, known as Electronics Boutique in the States. After co-founding his own agency, Engage Web, in 2009, Darren has worked with clients around the world, including Australia, Canada and the USA.



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