A number of liquid crystal dimers have been synthesised and characterised containing secondary or tertiary (N-methyl) benzanilide-based mesogenic groups. The secondary amides all form nematic phases, and we present the first example of an amide to show the twist-bend nematic (NTB) phase. Only two of the corresponding N-methylated dimers formed a nematic phase and with greatly reduced nematic–isotropic transition temperatures. Characterisation using 2D ROESY NMR experiments, DFT geometry optimisation and X-ray diffraction reveal that there is a change in the preferred conformation of the benzanilide core on methylation, from Z to E. The rotational barrier around the N–C(O) bond has been measured using variable temperature 1H NMR spectroscopy. This dramatic change in shape accounts for the remarkable difference in liquid crystalline behaviour between these secondary and tertiary amide-based materials.