The “local” appeal may fall on deaf ears

Nicolette Lemmon, President/Founder

My Marketing Strategy

Nicolette Lemmon, President & Founder

While taking a Hawaiian vacation, I was struck by how many ads on television pitch being “locally owned”. In the down economy, there are small businesses trying to use a message like:

“When you buy from local small businesses, most of the money flows back into the economy.”

Does this resonate with the consumer today or sound desperate?

When the only reason that a small business can promote to consumers is to support locals, it is not enough of a competitive advantage to be convincing.

If consumers are looking to save money, being a local vendor must have marketing messages tied to why that makes a difference for lower prices or more value for the dollar spent. Most often, I hear messages that just say, “help us and we can help our community.”

Another aspect is that a local business with a good story, a business narrative that is compelling can inspire more loyalty. For example, a long-time restaurant that we visited in Hanalei had added a sushi chef that was so popular that they expanded. And, the story was further embellished with the comment that local fishermen bring their catches to the restaurant first to him. The word-of-mouth with this business narrative creates an expectation of a local “must see” that has fresh local flavor! The place was packed and had an hour wait while the other half dozen restaurants down the same street did not.

Consumers buy from the businesses and the brands that have a consistent experience that continues to satisfy, provide value and most often – delight.

6 thoughts on “The “local” appeal may fall on deaf ears

  1. Nicolette

    I have to agree with Jeffry in that it did seem you underestimated the use of “local” in promoting a business. It stands to reason that making local “the” sole positioning for a business does not seem logical. But to be honest I have never seen a business use that as their sole reason for being.

    In my market Western Mass we have bumper stickers that say “Be a local Hero” buy local. So for us it’s real big. Regardless you still have to deliver value to the consumer. But some of the value is the money stays in the community.

    We had a national chain sub shop opened in Northampton recently and they had to put a sign on the door telling people the shop was locally owned because no one was doing business because it was a national chain.

    Promoting local is what Chambers are all about and they are proof that local is important. Local business should also remember that supporting local activities and events and causes are also a way to make the point about the value of local. Also local businesses realize that you do not have to do all your business locally and they know they cannot always be the best deal on every item or service, but if everyone gave just 5-7% of their business to local companies that would make a big difference.

    • Glad that this post did cause you and Jeffrey to comment! You are right that the concept of “buy local” is a good one for lots of businesses in small communities. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I didn’t see the ad that sparked the post. Certainly the “local” message doesn’t make much sense for a tourist store. I can only respond to the post itself, which I may have misinterpreted. I thought the main point was that saying you’re “local” and talking about “supporting the local economy” didn’t drive people’s decisions.

    Having lived in Alaska for a few years, I can personally testify that there are plenty of Alaskans who will pay more for a product or service if it’s available through a local provider. The basics still need to be in place — selection, service, etc. — but for some people (esp. in certain areas) the “local” thing is a huge driver of purchase decisions.

  3. It may be dangerous to give out blanket advice regarding the “local” message. The “local” message will have different levels of relevance in different areas/states/cities.

    In some areas of the country — specifically states like Hawaii and Alaska — “being local” means a lot. In both states, there is a strong, pervasive belief that you need to “take care of your own” because no one else is looking out for you. And then there’s Las Vegas, where no one talks about “being local” because no one cares; everyone comes from some other part of the country, so “supporting the local economy” means nothing to 90% of Las Vegas residents.

    Of course, the “local” message will have differing degrees of meaning for different people — some care a lot, others don’t care at all. I suppose it might have a lot to do with how long one has lived in the area, and/or if they were born there. But that’s how it goes with most brand messages. “Being local” is a key driver of some purchase decisions for some people. In all likelihood, the Hawaiian ads you saw touting “localness” were intended for Hawaiian residents and not tourists.

    Is “being local” enough to build your entire brand around? For most organizations, the answer is probably “no.” As a stand-alone message, it’s only going to get you so far. But could a credit union “own” a “local” brand? Sure. If everything they did was in some way directly tied to the benefit of the community they serve, they could develop a brand image as “the local credit union who takes care of us.”

    • Guess you missed my point, Jeffry, since the post was not about giving “blanket” advice about using “local” messaging. The ads that I cited were directed at anyone, including tourists, because the shops were not focusing on a target nor the value of their offers. The concept I put forth is that it’s too late if you haven’t established a brand that is of value to customers whether local or not. By the way, Wal-mart and Costco were doing huge business on the island of Kauai – well established brands that have proven their value and they contribute as a local employer.

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