Despite being a marketer, it should come as no surprise to anyone when I say I’m not a big fan of brands. To say you “like” brands in 2017 is like saying you enjoy smashing workers under the oppressive boots of capitalism while polishing your House of Borgezie diamond shoes. But also as a human being, living in the actual world, I am of course not immune to the dark arts of marketing. I buy brands, I buy into brands, I even buy private label brands at Harris Teeter, a Kroger brand, and decant them into utilitarian glass jars.
Because, as everyone does, I publicly present a slightly skewed version of myself, and that person doesn’t buy ready-made meals from Whole Foods on the way home from work. That person browses farmers’ markets on the weekend and supports small, local, authentic, artisan craftspeople. So as I was pondering what this unauthentic Pinterest version of myself thinks about brands, I surveyed my kitchen, and there, among the vintage ceramic pots and glass jars (carefully curated on a Saturday afternoon at Target) one branded product remained on the counter that had made it through my purge of labels – a jar of Big Spoon Roasters nutter butter. So why had this one make the cut?
Local brands for local people
If there’s a marketing buzzword we’ve noticed over the last couple of years alongside craft, purpose, disruption, and the like, it’s local. “How do we become locally relevant?” ask the big global brands. But local, like small, or cool, or luxury is a relative term. And we pick and choose its meaning and importance depending on the category and our own particular point of view.
- Big Spoon Roasters is a small nutter butter brand from Durham, NC inspired by a Zimbabwean peanut recipe encountered during the owner’s time in the Peace Corps.
- Hampton Farms is a North Carolina peanut butter brand and leading roaster of in-shell peanuts in the United States.
- Nut Butter Nation is a Nashville small batch peanut butter brand committed to using all natural, organic, non-GMO ingredients.
From these three local brands we can all choose the one that appeals to us best – I go for Big Spoon Roasters because the brand’s size hits the magic level of respectability and means I trust the product wasn’t made in a dirty bathtub. Whereas Hampton Farms, although handcrafted and high quality, can be purchased in supermarkets, so my personal “small and local” barometer tips them over the edge into the dreaded world of “mainstream.” To be fair, Nutter Butter Nation is carefully crafted and you should try it if you’re lucky enough to get ahold of some outside of Music City.
It’s a tricky balancing act, and one that “craft” brands like Big Spoon need to get right as they grow and potentially lose appeal to the consumers who are drawn to their “local” independent credentials, but perhaps one that is less important to brands like Hampton Farms who have their eyes on a broader target and the global market. After all, brands are seldom successful holding fast to the uncompromising ideals of an artisan craft project. They have ambitions to grow and impact greater than their size and means. How relevant then is this obsession with “local” to aspiring brands, and how can they have the best of both worlds?
The first question to ask yourself is this…
“How important is it to me and my target customers that my product is manufactured locally to them or that my service is locally relevant?” If you’ve answered “not really” then these are not the branding tips you are looking for.
Which leads us to…
Shinola has the kind of story that feels tailor-made for post-recession 21st century America. At a time when mass-produced goods from China flood the market, Shinola has created a clean, functional, and authentically American aesthetic that manages to feel both classic and modern at the same time. However, if you make your offer so intrinsically about place, specifically “Made In Detroit” – when it transpires that your watches are actually “built in Detroit using Swiss and imported parts” – it makes for less than subtle guidance from the FTC, a much less snappy tagline, and erodes a hefty chunk of that hard-earned consumer trust. The brand serves as a warning – if you say you’re locally made, people will certainly find out if you aren’t.
What if you’re not historically “local?”
Make the right friends
Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships. Yes, we’re all too familiar with the importance of brand bedfellows, but to a brand entering a new market, it is the stuff of gold. Need a bit of local know-how in a new town? You just need to make some friends.
Provenance Hotels are a great example of this strategy. When launching a hotel in a new location, they spend a huge amount of time and energy finding existing local, well-respected, small brands and then they give them retail space and exposure. The brand’s Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery in New Orleans celebrates local artists. Partnering with the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, the city’s premiere publicly-funded arts high school, the hotel features student art in all guest rooms. Local products, including olive, honey, and salt, are also available across the hotel portfolio. This demonstrates that they not only understand and add to the existing community, but they belong there.
Make it specific and interesting
It’s one thing to tell people where your product is made. We can all say that, and some brands will have more aspirational geographies than others. What if you went further than leveraging New York or South Carolina? What if we were actually truthful about being made in Staten Island or Charleston? How could a much more specific location add richness to your brand?
That’s not a typo: glocalization refers to the increasing market advantage of local brands versus global companies. It’s the triumph of the little guy in the face of globalization and an opportunity for would-be entrepreneurs to tap into their hometown markets and then scale. We are now more than ever connected to the rest of the world, but this makes us more protective of what we consider to be local, and more importantly authentically ours.
Craft beer and micro distillery brands embrace the opportunity in this dichotomy. As state self-distribution legislation eases, these brands are competing on a national, if not global, level. The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, a German-style brauhaus in Charlotte, has carved a fiercely loyal niche locally with its spectacular eight-acre biergarten. The brand brewed over 21,000 barrels in 2016, making it the largest brewery in the booming local market and recently announced a multi-million dollar expansion. Olde Meck is also competing directly against global brands with its “Now you know better” campaign – a shot across the bow of multinational brewing conglomerates taking shortcuts in the brewing process to save time and money.
Why do global consumers choose local brands over global brands? It’s simple. Local brands dominate the competition in their communities because they contribute to their local economies and have earned the trust of their neighbors. Whether your brand is intrinsically linked to a local audience or you’re a global brand entering smaller, distinct markets, it’s important to keep in mind this mantra and how it forms a glocal advantage.