Innovation in the circular economy

Ever since I identified the circular economy as my trend of the year for 2022 I have noticed more and more innovation. The latest is an idea whose time has surely come – a charity supermarket which will appear as a pop up in Brent Cross .

It hits several sweet spots:- doing good by raising money for charities big and small, saving money ( especially important right now- but always important really) and the environment ( using clothes for longer before they get thrown away)

The huge range means that browsers are likely to find something in their size and to their taste ( whereas with smaller charity shops the odds are longer. More of a lucky dip).

(Incidentally, big range is already a feature of Oxfam bookshops – which receive so many donations they are able to retail a good selection.)

Hot in 2022: Why the circular economy will grow, everywhere

The “circular economy” involves sharing, leasing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling. It is an antidote to “the throw away economy” that so blights our environments and ends up in landfill.

It develops naturally in times of shortage and low incomes. My grandmother would have called it “make do and mend”. Today the circular economy is about both saving money and doing our bit for the environment. These are big drivers of change making it an opportunity (or a necessity) in many categories.

eBay is an early hero of this movement, as is whoever rebadged “second hand clothes” as “vintage”. My local WhatsApp group, started as a community notice board during the pandemic, has also become a place where we give away things to neighbours that we used to throw away. Signs of the circular economy are emerging in many categories 

Ikea now buys back used products and offers customers both “assembly” and “disassembly instructions”

BikeFlip delivers used children’s bikes and swaps them out for larger models as your children grow

Nudie Jeans– offers free repairs for all their jeans at their shops

Chilly bottles -desirable refillables to cure you of your plastic bottle buying habit.

Even the kings of overpriced, over consumption- Apple– are now doing trade ins. It quite a change from when they just used to sell you a bright shiny new model every year.

Sides to middle sheets (See picture)- The circular economy of an earlier generation. My grandmother always used to cut worn bed sheets down the middle and then stitch the sides to the middle. You did end up sleeping on a seam but the sheets lasted twice as long. Perhaps a new service from your local dry cleaners ?

The Metaverse: tech hype or future reality

The Metaverse is not going to arrive any time soon and, when it does, it wont (probably) won’t be called that. Matthew Ball’s excellent new book is good primer (for non-tecchies) on the architecture of the The Internet, its limitations today and the kind of tech breakthroughs that are going to be needed to realise the promise of The Metaverse.

But it could be transformative – bear in mind that we are limited by what we can imagine now.

Just 15 years ago, we could not conceive of today’s mobile, location based web of text, images and video before the arrival of the transformative 4G smartphones.

The next decade is bound to bring more tech breakthroughs that will lead in unanticipated directions. The Internet is a surprise generating machine

My review of his book has just been published by Aurora here

What sustainability means for brand reputation

My students on the AIA Diploma have been working on a live sustainability brief for a well known brand (I can’t say which as it is covered by an NDA). I have had a think about this topic, which I have just published in Aurora here.

Most old brands are encumbered by legacies of bad practice – but for a few, newer challenger brands, like Patagonia (pictured), there is an opportunity to transform those categories with particularly dire track records ( like apparel)

My top tips on making procurement work for you

I confess that my heart did not quicken when Aurora in Pakistan asked me to write on this topic. But, as the saying goes, there are no boring topics just boring minds. As I thought and researched more, two things emerged

  1. The best outcomes are achieved through good relationships .This of course goes for most things in the creative industries- it is vanishingly rare for great work to be produced out of a poor agency/client relationship
  2. There is plenty of good free advice available. Especially in the UK thanks to the IPA. Just go to their website and search ” procurement” to find videos and papers -below is a screen grab of what you might find :

For my full article on procurement in Aurora – click here

Coming soon two new articles to be published by Aurora

“To have a good idea you need lots of ideas”. How and why strategy has to be creatively fertile including my favourite idea generating methods

“What sustainability means for brands” – My students on the AIA diploma course have been working on a (confidential) sustainability brief – these are my reflections on how brands in general should think about sustainability

I will post links after Aurora have published

Are the government about to make a dumb choice?

Here’s is a true scenario. What would you do ?

You own a highly trusted, famous, global brand

In a world full of disinformation, trust is highly prized and increasingly rare

During a national crisis this brand has been an essential source of reliable information that people have turned to.

There will be more national crises.

The brand has a brilliant, motivated workforce

Within the wider society there is diverse, deep and highly creative talent you can commission to be a part of your brand.

You have a track record of innovation, using digital to develop highly valued new services

You have over 50 years of intellectual property

Big American competition is arriving. ( which is also consolidating). They are all looking to sign your customers and charge them fees.

Yet in this increasingly competitive context you represent value for money. You provide more high quality than these competitors at a lower price. Cash strapped customers will not be able to afford all these competitor services.

Your service is delivered in the global lingua franca (English)

The winners will likely be those that provide high quality for a reasonable price. The brand that you own is well placed to be one of the winners.

All of the above is a reasonably objective description of the BBC. You don’t have to be part of any political tribe to find it credible.

If you were (say) the Chinese, French or German governments and you owned this brand you would think all your Christmas’s had come at once. You would support it and help it to keep innovating so that it could remain a strong brand, attract new fans and develop global revenue.

Now a government committee is meeting in secret – and we don’t know what their ideas are.

The lack of transparency excites suspicion.

The government is capable of self – confidence and innovation. Look at the approach to developing vaccines

The government’s objections to the BBC- that it is a left leaning, metropolitan, remainer organisation – are shallow and self – interested. Even if they are partly true ( and bear in mind that governments of all stripes think the BBC is against them) they can be remedied.

But when it comes to the BBC the government seems to lack self-confidence. Before the pandemic government ministers refused to go on The Today program. This is was behaviour of a petulant toddler.

A self-confident business person would think that the attitude of the Government is a narrow minded failure to spot opportunity.

Which is a pity because the idea of Brexit was for a more independent minded, self-confident, global Britain. Isn’t that the idea?

What can Snow White teach us?

Disney made people feel good during The Great Depression- it was the start of a great brand.

This is my fourth recession. I don’t think Rishi Sunak can prevent an even darker employment picture after the end of the furlough schemes. And there is a pattern. So, perhaps you will give me a hearing.

Some things have radically changed this time round. Covid has produced different winners and losers. The dynamic of digital media drives the restructuring of agencies and the trend towards in house agencies. This year, just before lockdown, I was working with Amazon – their marketing department is really an integrated media and creative agency as well. They buy in services from small creative shops and consultants like me. It’s natural to follow the lead of successful companies – so no doubt this trend will continue.

If you are running an agency all this is very challenging – business is both down and big clients are spending less on fees. Inevitably agency CEOs will therefore spend a lot of time worrying about numbers and structures. It was ever thus. I speak from the experience of losing 50% of my agency revenue during the tech crash of 2002 when I was CEO of a WPP creative agency called red cell. I spent the next 6 months laying off staff and restructuring the agency. My energy and thinking turned inwards.

Don’t turn inwards

It’s a bad idea- because you lose sight what really matters. Agencies and their clients achieve little when they are pre-occupied with restructuring. People get worried about their role (have they got a job or not?) rather than looking outwards, analysing external trends and scanning the horizon for opportunity.

(A brief note to agency CEOs. You may have to make staff redundant to survive as a business. It is painful. But you would be wise to do this quickly and then gather your new team around you and inspire them to focus on the bigger prize. Building back confidence after lay-offs can take a while. It’s a kind of psychic scar that takes a while to heal. This was a useful piece of advice I received from Sir Martin Sorrel, my boss in 2002.)

The bigger prize has not changed, however. Clients always need trusted advisers and new ideas – whose energy and imagination are focussed on how to strengthen their brands.

Think like a challenger

So, here is my old-fashioned advice. Do regular planning. Plans may not survive contact with reality. As Mike Tyson once said – “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Planning, however, is invaluable. It helps you to explore different scenarios and develop ideas to cope and or profit from them. Successful planning generates solutions and ideas. My tip is this- think like a challenger (even if you are the incumbent brand leader). Here are good planning questions to ask: –  

Who is succeeding in the changing landscape and why?

Analyse the strategies of dynamic challengers in all categories (not just your immediate competitors) because they have latched onto a vector of change – such as an underserved audience, an unmet need, a new way to communicate and/or deliver service, or a radically different pricing model. Remember that true challengers are not just smaller, paler versions of the brand leader- but rather they have found a way to disrupt market norms. They are worth watching like a hawk.

There is likely to be turbulence ahead.

Youthful populations, who were born into the digital revolution, recession and now COVID are a potent and explosive cocktail. Under-employed, but highly educated populations, spell big trouble for governments and anyone else who is complacent. It will also produce opportunity to do things differently and satisfy new needs. Which leads logically to my next key question

What really matters to my customers now?

Here are good themes to explore in your planning sessions. (It’s not a comprehensive list)

How can we make things easier?

Ease reduces stress and strain, especially appealing at a time when people are anxious and fractious. In fact, ease is always something we want. As Daniel Kahneman explained in Thinking Fast and Slow, ease feels good and feels true. The brands that have become powerhouses over the past decade, like Amazon and Google, work hard at making their ‘user experience” as easy and intuitive as possible. Right now, they are conducting many A/B tests to make their customers’ experience as frictionless as possible.

How can we be generous?

Generosity breeds reciprocation- the sense of a debt to be paid. Flexible terms (like payment holidays) or reduced prices for those who are hard up are going to be welcome. But generosity does not just mean giving money. Companies have many resources they can share. For example, a new whole generation are worried about employment and employability. How can you help with learning and work experience?  

What is our positive contribution to society?

The next generation are much more activist than their parents- and are likely to be ever more so as the issue of climate change has moved centre stage. They therefore favour companies with high ethical standards. Commitment to, for example, sustainability and sharing the fruits of success with staff are baked into the DNA of a number of successful challengers. The contribution must be real. Yet it can be transformative –inspiring commitment from both staff and customer in a virtuous circle.

Can we radically re-examine our pricing?

There is no two ways about it – things are going to be very tight. Government furlough schemes will not last for ever, incomes will be lower and unemployment will rise. There will be huge demand for the lowest cost options- sold online or sold singly or made in a different way with different ingredients. This will certainly be a successful challenger strategy in many markets – and incumbents with legacy systems and sourcing will struggle with it.  

How can we bring some joy and pleasure?

Human beings can’t stand being confronted with too much reality. Hence the rise of comfort TV (in the form of documentaries about nature and rural idylls) and the simple pleasures of walking the dog. Interesting fact-the cost of buying a puppy has doubled during the pandemic in the UK. The hunger for escapism is palpable, be it through a screen or out into the open spaces. How can you support it? For most brands this is going to mean a partnership.

The UK is coming out of the second peak in the pandemic. It feels like the pressure has come out of an already deflated tire- a loss of energy and dynamism is in the air. When others are quiet, those with new ideas get even more attention because people are hungry for good news and things that make them feel good. This much is evidenced by all previous economic crises and recessions. Remember that Disney first emerged as cultural and economic force by cheering up Americans during the great depression. It is the perfect time for challenger thinking.  

( This article was first published in Aurora on 12 Jan 2020)

Book Review: The System.

At a recent workshop, I asked students to explain how online ads were planned and sold.

Puzzled faces stared back at me. The word ‘programmatic’ was mentioned.

“Okay, how does that work?”

I asked.

One student said that advertisers send a profile of the kinds of people they want to reach to a Demand Side Platform (DSP) and publishers send a request to a Supply Side Platform (SSP).

“And what happens in the middle?” I asked.

No answers.

James Ball’s new book provides the answers – and is therefore essential reading for anyone in advertising or marketing

My full review is published now in Aurora here

Two new training courses for MAAG

We are all Zoomers now. I have been working with MAAG to design new, shorter courses for ” the new normal”

Here they are- Book now at MAAGs website

These are short, interactive, with inspiring examples and deliver jargon free planning and idea generation methods.

You can use these methods by yourself or with colleagues on Zoom or face to face