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Are We There Yet? “Local” Moves into the Mainstream

Would you go miles out of your way to buy vegetables from a farm stand?  When you’re perusing the shopping aisles, are you searching for products that are made close to home?  Is it important to you that your insurance agent hangs a shingle in your neighborhood?

If your answer to any of these questions is “Well that depends…,” you are not alone.

In our most recent research report, which launched today, we explored what local buying means with nearly 1,000 consumers across 10 countries.  We found people throughout the world to be well-versed in the language of “local,” but we also found that, by its self, “local” is not a high priority for most consumers.  However, if companies fail to understand what is driving the local buying movement, they do stand to lose out on a great opportunity.  Here are some of the key insights we learned about “Local”:

  • It’s a multi-layered value proposition.  On its own, “local” is not a must-have.  But when it is paired with other valued qualities—such as reliability, trustworthiness, health benefits, or safety—then it becomes a powerful proposition.
  • It’s contextual; it can mean different things in different contexts.  Where you live and what you’re shopping for make a difference when it comes to buying local—just think of the diverse situations of, say, a Hong Kong urbanite and someone living in rural Nebraska.  In order to stay relevant, brands must flex to the context, tailoring not just their messaging but their manufacturing and distribution (and even their charitable giving) strategies as well.
  • It’s not just about food…it’s much more than that.  Brands can capitalize on this trend by making it easy for people to do good, promoting the practical advantages of a product or service in conjunction with those that appeal to people’s altruism.
  • It’s one piece of a bigger picture.  In line with what we learned in our Eyes Wide Open study, consumers are shifting toward more sustainable living solutions; the “local” movement is part of that.  For example, we observe a growing awareness of the whole product lifecycle—one’s carbon footprint, airmiles incurred during shipping, and fair labor practices are criteria consumers consider today.
  • Ultimately, it’s about connection.  In our highly individualized, personalized and commoditized world, buying “local” can provide a tangible and relevant experience, connecting neighbors to jobs, people to the land, actions to consequences, and products to their history.  Not only does the experience of buying “local” feel more personal, it also provides a sense of accountability and reciprocity that is often missing in transactions with big corporations.

What does this all mean for companies and brands? We found that no matter the size—global superstore or independent business—companies must find ways to connect with people on their “home turf.”  Invest in schools or libraries, work with local charities, feature local products, or sponsor local events; in short, be a neighbor.

Stay tuned for an additional post on Local vs. Global from Karen Seiger, author of Markets of New York City: A Guide to the Best Artisan, Farmer, Food, and Flea Markets.

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