Branding ‘Personal’ Expression in the Circular Economy


The Silent Generation were used to renting...
The Silent Generation were used to renting…

These are interesting times for consumption. On the one hand we feel like we own too much ‘stuff’, and on the other that we shouldn’t throw it away. So in the future how can we bring these two paradoxes together to make them more meaningful?

‘Temporary Ownership’ was ‘normal’ with the Silent Generation. Houses and TVs were rented, clothes were “passed down”. But brands like Mud Jeans are now developing economic models based on the past’. Buying behaviour and self-identity

We are defined by what we buy. We buy brands that say something about us. Tom Peters was the first person to coin the expression ‘The Brand Called You!’ in his article for the Fast Company in 1997, but this idea, didn’t really start to take off until social media became the platform for our self-expression. His premise was that what we buy defines who we are. So, if as many believe, the future is about leasing, not buying, will this be enough? Will brands make the same impact on our sense of self-expression?
Well it already is. In the collaborative economies, we don’t need to own a car when we have BlaBlaCar, a fast-growing, alternative way of travelling around using car-sharing. With BlaBarCar, it’s not just about getting from A to B, it’s also about socializing – hence the BlaBla…. In the car I recently took from Bordeaux to Nantes, I shared the journey with a Polish lady, An English man, and a French driver. But, doesn’t it also say a lot more about me. I want to be more ecological. I think about the environment and my budget. Why take 4 cars from Bordeaux to Nantes, when we can use 1? I can also ‘rate’ my driver and she can ‘rate’ me, so I can build a profile, as someone who is interesting to drive with, who arrives on time, who plays the game.

In this way, we are building new ways to express our self-identity by “using” rather than “owning”.

Another example is Mud Jeans, based in Holland. They have already i jeans on an annual basis for a monthly fee. At the end of the year, you can upgrade to a new pair of jeans, but, if in the meantime, you rip your jeans, they will repair them or replace them free of charge under your leasing fee. This is nothing new you might think, we have been leasing cars for quite some time, but we haven’t seen this model implemented in the fashion industry so muchimage

Why is usership interesting for brands? It’s interesting on many levels:

1. It creates customer loyalty, something which is particularly more difficult with Gen Y and Gen Z, as we build longer term leasing agreements.

2. It opens up new ways to communicate with customers on a regular basis about new products, upgrades, repairs and offers a new way for the brand to open a dialogue with us.

3. It projects the brand as one that cares for the environment. As all products which are no longer useful or needed, are returned to the company to be repaired, recycled or re-used.

This is where the Circular Economy (CE) comes in.

Following her round the world victory in the Vendee Globe, Ellen McCarthur, is now the driving force behind the circular economy.

The Ellen McCarthur Foundation is working with global brands to develop new economic models. It states:

“A circular economy is one that is restorative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles.”

Starbucks is no longer just about coffee
Asia is embracing the CE as something ‘natural’. In Taiwan, used coffee grounds collected from Starbucks are transformed into T-shirts, socks, and soaps by Taiwanese firm Singtex. In the Philippines, discarded fishing nets are sold by local communities to carpet maker Interface to make fresh carpet tiles.”
Brands such as Philips Lighting are also driving the CE implementing new services and new ways of ‘using’ light to create unique branded experiences. It’s recent project for Schipol Airport is a good example. Here it used Psychological, cultural sociology, anthropology and technical innovation to collect insights from passengers and other stakeholders to uncover needs and opportunities for a new lighting strategy at Gate G7. Lighting which guides you to your seat. Which allows you to work in an adapted environment, particularly for first class passengers, and lighting at the gate reflecting the colour of the airline gives passengers a strong branded experience.

The results:

Passengers at the gate rated the experience 30 per cent higher than before.

Passengers perceived that there were more seats, even though there were less. Warmer lighting caused passengers to perceive the ambient temperature 2-3 degrees higher than it actually was, reducing energy costs.

And for the airport, this whole process which took 8 months including research and development was offered to them by Philips as a service.

DIY Brand Experience.

Brand Experience also takes on new meaning in the CE. Patagonia have been using the principles of the circular economy for a while in terms of developing long lasting products which they repair free of charge, if broken or damaged. But with the CE customers now become more implicated in ‘DIY brand experience’ – the handles on its Freewheeler bag have 3 screws, making them easy to repair. (Fig 4 )

So, it’s not business as usual…

There will be a lot of adaptation on the part of the brand and the ‘user’.

Branding agency, Dragon Rouge has explored how brands could adapt closed loop, sustainable business models while continuing to present desirable products and services. Their research document is called ‘Brand Futures and the Family of the Future’.

Working on 5 ‘user’ types and how they might be living and ‘using’ brands in the future. They imagine the future user, future values and new ways for brands to communicate.

The Multi-Gens are multiple generations of families living together with a “cloud-based family hub”. The Silver Linings families live in community-centric villages for active older people that offer amenities like yoga and fitness classes. The Ruralites are families living in rural areas that live at the cutting edge of technology using 3-D printers to get replacement parts for household items and “video walls” to communicate. Single parents sharing a family home as members of the Tandem Tribe. Finally, there are the Modular Movers, professionals who hop from one megacity to the other, exploring the world while they work, opting to walk and use bikes whenever possible.

For Argus for example, they imagine a strapline of “Lease it. Love it. Argos it.” Where Argos products have been designed for disassembly, not obsolescence. By 2030 perhaps Primark may also be operating a fully operational business model. Here is an example of their potential advertising campaign.

image image
The key things to make this work, are motivating and exciting existing consumers by these new business models. Visualizing them should be the first step in the way we make them accessible and desirable in order to create the momentum needed to make it a reality.

Looking at business models such as AirBnb and Bla Bla Car, they did exactly that. These brands offer attractive alternatives to ownership and interesting methods of marketing making them cool to use. They have also shaken up the tourism and car industries with disruptive economic models that work.

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