Going Full Circle

Redefining the notion of brand in the circular economy

I’ve always liked circles. Unlike straight lines which could go on forever into uncertainty, circles will always end up back where they started. There’s something immensely reassuring about that.

Reassurance is something we badly need in today’s volatile business environment and circular concepts have already started playing role. For instance, we’ve overcome the idea that communication is linear. Companies especially have realised that they were never really producing mass messages for a mass audience. They were part of a conversation all along. Add this realisation to the rise of social media and the result is a massive paradigm shift in the way organisations communicate with their audiences. A satisfyingly circular resolution.

Circular engagement doesn’t stop with communication, however. The time will come when, either by proactive choice, customer demand or government legislation, the majority of companies will have shifted to a circular business model. The current linear - take, make, waste - model is built on the presumption of unlimited and cheap natural resources. And we all know that’s a lie.

In this new reality, organisations are beginning to realise that they cannot exist outside of the communities in which they operate. Just as people are starting to care more about the effect of their purchases on the world - “By buying these shoes, am I supporting a sweatshop? By driving this car, am I contributing to global warming?” - so the companies they buy from are being held responsible for their impact.

And just as linear business models must be reworked for 21st-century realities, so the notion of the linear brand must also be reworked. A linear brand is built upon answering the question, "what sets us apart”? Companies usually respond with a vision statement (what you aspire to be) and a mission statement (what drives you).

A circular brand, on the other hand, also responds to the questions, “How do we impact the whole? And what can we do about it?” To answer these questions companies need to think about their purpose. There is already a trend towards organisational purpose but we've yet to fully join the dots as to its relevance in the circular economy.

In building a circular brand purpose becomes the foundation of mission and vision. Purpose implies a sense of usefulness. Whereas a mission is linear - we are going from a to b to achieve our vision - purpose is circular. It is inclusive. It articulates why your organisation matters, and why your cause is meaningful.

By communicating the why that guides your company culture, you are encouraging your audiences to connect more deeply with your organisation. When your audience is aligned to your purpose, they are activated to follow you in your mission and achieve your vision. This is the path to creating real impact.

To be truly inclusive, however, purposeful businesess need to put people at the centre. Enter stage right: design thinking. Design thinking brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. As a concept it’s not new but the rapidly changing socio-technological landscape is highlighting its importance. There is no doubt that design thinking will play an important role in the transition to circular brands.

It’s fascinating to watch all the elements unfold on the playing field. The lines are being drawn… but the jury’s still out as to whether we’ll end up in the middle of something good or at the end of the line with no hope of getting back.