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A year of so ago someone at an unnamed Management Consultancy asked my opinion on why a very rigorous and robust case for a premium beer manufactured wholly on a circular economy model might fail to light a consumer’s fire.

All the ingredients for success were there. A more than decent liquid product with a little room for some tweaking. Simple reuse strategy of bottles, a clear distribution network to run a reverse logistics offering across; state of the art cleaning and preparation process of the used bottles; no loss or tainting of liquid content or loss of quality guaranteed.

Furthermore there had been clear segmentation to suggest that there was a well disposed audience waiting in the wings to consume an intelligent beverage as defined by an interest in purpose beers, smart production and the socialisation of exception and personal identity –  the fun stuff like mass customization of the beer brand experience as pioneered by social network fuelled personalized label offerings. “I liked the beer so much they put my name on it”

The ultimate kicker was the maths. Wholly sound. Geared to grow. Great figures. Nice curve. Everything was sweet.

EXCEPT.

Some lunatic had taken the idea into a consumer research space and asked the average beer drinker what they thought; with no thought given to the story of the product and how it tied into the identity of the drinker.

Doh!

I know little, and increasingly less – but the one thing I have realized as a beer drinker and a watcher of consumers for some time is that once the base line need and accessibility issues are overcome and the financial bridge crossed:

I’m thirsty. I need a lift. There’s a bar. I have a fiver.

The last thing is the ‘lip smack moment in the 10 seconds before the order. What label on that shelf or pump head with all of its reserves of delivery, friendliness, cache and identity will hit the spot?

The matters of identity become elevated to near religious proportions especially in the realm of lager lager lager and the race to the middle (or bottom as some would frame the quality of industrial scale lager production and the brands they deliver).

To walk into a room with a load of drinkers and simply take them through the rational functional concept of circulating glassware and refilling, all backed up by a zero water strategy delivered through off setting simply isn’t going to do it.

There is no desire in the spreadsheet and rationality of a production line; even a circular one – only in what it promises, transports or delivers.

I’m feeling the beer and drinking the beer before I’m thinking the beer.

If it was real ale that would be different. If it was micro-brewery panache that would be compulsory. But not in this instance.

All I could do was to respond to the consultant with the simple question: where’s the storytelling? Where’s the everyday human insightful ‘it’ that every stakeholder can seize upon and unify around? from the brewer employee, to the bottle blower, the water strategist, the production engineer, the hop grower, the distribution partners and most importantly the drinker

Where I asked does the storytelling that draws from the circular truth of the product meet the circulating needs of and storytelling of the drinker’s identity?

If I am to drink from a recycled and reused bottle what am I to think of the bottle I hold and the beer that it carries. It’s not a smart beer. I don’t want a smart beer. I want a beer that’s ‘me’. Or a beer that ticks the badge box of the Me I’d like to be; and goes down nicely on the way to the heart of my repertoire.

So we explored a little more the idea of recycled and reused bottles and the storytelling of a ‘goes around comes’ around world.

For me, the reused bottle is etched into my psyche via the memory of the Coca-Cola bottles I used to see racked up by the side of the bars on the continent (Italy France & Spain were my direct experiences).

Their surfaces mottled pitted and misted by thousands of the tiniest scuffs, scratches and scrapes, these bottles merrily wended their way back to the bottler to be washed and refilled and resold to me and the myriad millions of others who happily consumed from them again and again.

Those bottles with their multiple rewards experience – anticipation, grasp of the bottle, the glass to the lips, the taste, the finish and the return and rewards in the shape of a deposit refund pricing system. These were complete little eco systems of joy.

(I still believe to this day that the Happiness Factory traded touching millions of hearts for touching billions of lips in their transition away from glass to the can and PET or now PLA varieties of packaging. Nothing says summer in the heart like grasping the profile bottle. If Coca Cola ever wanted to take a trip back to the future, re engage in what made them great and differentiate themselves once more they could do worse than figure out the circular logistics and shift everything back to glass. Full Stop.)

I digress. So the marking of multiple life cycles like those on those bottles is a rich texture of story telling. And sets the bottles out as something with an innate integrity of multiple existences.

This is something that we already value as human beings. We consciously or subconsciously rate and measure people by the marks life leaves behind and the marks they choose to make on themselves. The marks they carry on the outside are testament to the lives they have lived and the richness of experience therefore that may reside on the inside.

A beer that travels in such a receptacle might be viewed as a richer brew much like the human being with the abstract unexplained scar, the post operative welt, the skateboard injury, the tattoo, the tribal motif.

SO if I were to have to go into a room tomorrow and set out the story telling of a beer founded on a goes around comes around circular production system I would probably tell it thus:

A real beer comes in a bottle that’s lived a little.

It starts to tell me a story into which I the drinker am to be inextricable woven.

But more importantly it compels you the brewer to create a better product: to fill that bottle with a liquid that is defining in some way – differentiated – not a homogenous wash but a picante brew. With some spice and edge. Disquieting and memorable – but ultimately that shines some light on a grey day.

The circular compound nature of the bottle that’s lived a little also compels you to write a more interesting social nature and behaviour into the fabric of it – and to build a ‘reward’ in at every round.

Perhaps there is a trademark mark that is applied every time it goes through. Perhaps there is a diary of life for the bottle – of the lips and lives it has touched.

Crass or unpleasant to some – but to those towards the edges, looking for something with more chutzpah; perhaps a more desirable story.

So scar my glass with a promise that reaches beyond peddling same old same old. Set the spirit and authentic product truth of the product at the heart of the story: a story that elevates the fundamental brilliance of a wholly circular concept in bottled beer.

Then I might be inclined to take up that beer and tattoo it on my heart.

For a while at least.

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