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Article – Communication is central to building circular behaviours

The window in which we can act on the climate emergency is rapidly closing. We urgently need to transition to a circular economy, but most people still don’t even know what that looks like or understand the many benefits it will bring.

So should we run a communications campaign to help people understand what a circular economy is? We have learned a lot over the past eight years through our behavioural campaigns about ways of shifting the way we all live. The key is to tackle one behaviour, one audience at a time.

The best communications are highly specific. Focusing on the exact behaviour you want to change is helpful: for example, many people are often confused about what and how to recycle, but everyone can understand single-minded messages like how to recycle plastic water bottles.

We’ve learned not to expect our audience to come to us, but to go where they are.

It’s also vital to carefully target the right messages to the right people, who are either the most likely to change or the ones we most need to change. Understanding who they are and doing audience research that analyses their awareness levels, values and attitudes helps us nudge them into new approaches – and, when budgets allow, we use ethnographic research to get under the skin of behaviours in real-life situations.

And testing things first is crucial. Our new pan-London food campaign has been tested in four London boroughs to ensure we get the messaging right. We’ll adapt or ditch anything that doesn’t work – because the creative concepts we like don’t always chime with our audience.

We’ve learned not to expect our audience to come to us, but to go where they are: our London Recycles Christmas campaign took mobile adverts on bicycles into busy markets popular with younger Londoners. And with our Love Not Landfill campaign, the placement of a clothes bank was the difference between people putting 6kg a month of used garments in, versus 60kg a week.

Be persistent. People reportedly need to see the same message up to 17 times before they absorb it. Our London Recycles campaign runs on a two to three-year cycle, using the same – or very similar – messaging; it can be hard to remember that we get bored of our campaigns long before our audience does.

Finally, finding partners to share your messages really helps, particularly when budgets are tight. This will get you reach and engagement where you least expect it. At ReLondon we love working with partners and are always keen to build new collaborations and learn from each other.

This article was first published in the Local Government Chronicle.

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