It was around the end of the 2nd lockdown in the UK that I came across Mary Portas and her agency while endlessly scrolling through Instagram. Unknown to me at the time, that quite accidental find has led to some significant changes in how I run my design studio and think about the future of business in general, as well as how I am approaching brand strategy with new eyes. All thanks to her latest book, Rebuild: How to thrive in the new Kindness Economy (don’t worry, no Amazon links here!).
The kindness economy
If you haven’t heard of Mary Portas before, she is a brand and retail expert, as well as the founder of Portas consultancy and creative agency. The book is wrapped around the concept of the kindness economy, which focuses on how we (as business owners or consumers) can create an economy that switches the focus from just growth and profit to an economy that is built on kindness and the well-being of our planet and people.
To me, this is where kind and sustainable mean the same thing. Sustainable businesses (the ones that are truly working towards being more sustainable or are already sustainable) are kind – through their commitment to protect or restore our environment and planet. Kindness isn’t just about being nice to your friends and peers or giving a helping hand to the old lady down the street, it’s about being mindful and compassionate about everything around us – people, environments, animals, waters and everything else.
Kindness is the future of business
Sustainability has definitely been at the forefront a lot more in the last decade, slowly gaining traction. Especially since big events such as COP26 and the rise in popularity of sustainability advocates, we are so much more aware of the current situation and the reality of the crisis we are facing. So, understandably, we are focusing so much more of our efforts on this.
But, Mary Portas points out that we must not forget people! People, planet, profit. “In the end, it is people who matter” is what she says in one of her first chapters. In the pursuit of being kinder to the planet and working towards a more circular economy, we must not forget others. We are the ones who can make this happen, we are at the centre of making sustainability possible, so we must not forget to put ourselves at the centre as well. Because without us, working towards a more circular and greener future would not be possible. (It’s also us that have created this situation in the first place, but let’s not go there!).
And people are changing the way they shop and approach businesses. Especially in the last two years, consumers are changing the way they live and view the world, and how they relate to the climate crisis, so they have changed the way they shop and make decisions as well. They are more critical, they do more research and they care more about the items they buy and the brands they support. They look into the values and sustainability statements that businesses make, before buying from them.
More and more people are actively looking for brands that are doing good in their communities, that are helping others, and that have strong sustainability initiatives and ethical standards. Consumers have moved beyond simply wanting brands to ‘be ethical’ and are demanding to see measurable, transparent and consistent actions from the brands they choose to support. There’s more pressure from consumers to make sustainability a core part of your business and show real evidence of it.
How can you build a business that marries commercial success with the basic human principles of decency and compassion?
Customers’ purchases reflect their status (whether we like to admit this or not), they say something about who they are, their identity and their values as humans, so they want the products they buy to reflect that. The way people spend money is not purely transactional anymore. This is a huge opportunity for brands, as showing your business initiatives and values can help create connections with your customers – showing them you care and that you are doing what you can to combat the current crisis will attract the right customers to your brand.
Changing my branding process
This book made me have a really good look at my own business and see where there is room for improvement and how every stage of my process can impact my clients’ business and our planet.
With a heavy focus on providing value and kindness to other businesses, and through rethinking my own brand strategy, I came to the realisation that I have to change my brand strategy process as well. We (at Kind and Ivy) can’t be talking about building a greener and kinder future through our business and empowering business owners to do so as well, without giving them the knowledge and tools to do so.
A large part of my unique branding process revolves around the brand values and mission. I help my clients dig deep during our Brand Strategy Workshop in order to uncover who the business is at its core and where they want to go in the future – what their ultimate mission is (there’s always a reason a business exists besides making money!). Some businesses I work with want to support certain causes, others want to become fully sustainable by a certain date, and others want to be fully inclusive. It’s one of my favourite parts of the strategy process, getting to hear all about the core and the purpose of these brands and, together with the client, distil that into their business values.
But after reading this book I wanted to take things further. I want to make sure that these business values we created together don’t just remain ideas on paper. I want that “supporting young women’s education” to become a reality – so alongside a beautiful list of values I also provide frameworks on how they can showcase each of those values and turn them into reality. I turn their big business mission into goals and actionable steps that they can refer back to time and time again in the future.
I’m a strong believer that communities can propel businesses forward. Forming strong connections with other businesses and collaborating is not only a great way to grow your business and get in front of new clients, it’s also an opportunity to emphasise to your audience what your values are and inspire more people to take action. Just like I have a competitor analysis within my brand strategy process, I’m also including a collaboration analysis, where I look at adjacent or relevant businesses my clients can collaborate with (as well as how), in order to reach their goals and make a bigger impact.
Human and planet centered business
While I have made changes to the way I conduct brand strategy, it’s definitely not the only part of Kind and Ivy that has changed. I am working towards bringing the idea of a “human and planet centered” design studio to life as much as I can – but I know I can’t do it alone. I want Kind and Ivy to be the place that puts our brands and their impact at the forefront of what we do. I want to empower other business owners. It’s becoming our new purpose as a design studio – we don’t want to just provide valuable brand strategy and beautiful brand identities – we want to help make real changes in the world (through our work and the brands we build) and inspire others (business owners, designers and studios) to do the same.
This comes in many forms throughout the branding process, which starts with being very upfront about the branding experience and communicating everything clearly from the start with clients. At the end of our project together, they receive a very thorough document that walks them through every aspect of their new brand and how to implement it into their business and any new products they might release in the future. Through everything they receive while working together, whether it’s a digital file or simply advice, I want to give my clients the confidence to achieve their business goals and the tools they need to get there.
Building kind businesses for the future
Like Mary Portas says, “most businesses do care”; a lot of businesses are now playing the long game and instead of focusing on immediate profit, they are focused on the long game – on the wellbeing of the planet and people, and on the long-term goals and vision of their business. They are building brands for the future and not sacrificing the earth or others for profit. They care and are kind.
But it’s not enough to just “do care”; we have to do as well – or more importantly! We can’t simply say we want to do good in our local community, but not show up, not be there for it. We can’t say we are an eco-friendly business, but not look at the supply chain of our products.
It’s about putting in the work for the future – not just focusing on the short-term profit, but on the long-term game. If we care for the planet and others through our business, I am confident that it will show – and will attract customers. Which means profit. I absolutely believe that caring for the planet and others will lead to profit – so don’t focus so hard on making the quick money; instead focus on helping others, being there for others, being kinder to our environments and checking how sustainable that packaging you use actually is. And you’ll see that profit follows.
If you’ve never read Rebuild: how to thrive in the new kindness economy before, I strongly recommend picking it up from your local independent bookshop or library and reading it. You’ll definitely want a notepad right next to you, as you’ll be taking so many notes along the way!