So corporate giants are the new locavores. Or are they? As the consumer tide shifts, those who seek to make a profit from consumer desires will follow. But because of the small-ness, the personal-ness inherent in the notion of the so-called local movement, large brands are by turns positively reinventing the landscape and vocabulary of what it means to be local, and bumping up against ‘minimum standards’ of authenticity somewhat arbitrarily set by consumers.
What can we expect to see from our favorite household names in the coming months and years? What will prove to be the successful strategies that strengthen the bond between brand and man, and what pitfalls will need to be avoided? And what role will design and visual language play in all of this?
What does it mean for branding?
The increasing consumer desire for local-ness will inevitably impact how brands tell their stories and connect with consumers in their quest to inspire Brand Love.
Brands as friends.
Consumers will expect a high level of personal connection with their favorite brands; they will seek shared values and beliefs and be drawn more deeply into brand stories.
As they struggle to sort through the overwhelming number of choices, and as technology in general and social networking in particular make relationships with faraway people and entities feel up-close and personal, consumers are increasingly forging what amounts to friendships with the brands they care about. You can friend a brand on Facebook, for example, in exactly the same way that you friend a friend.
Starbucks, as was pointed out the other day in Sylvain Labs’ brilliant blog, recently celebrated its birthday. Not its anniversary, its birthday. “The significance of a birthday,” reads the entry, “of a brand and company adopting language previously reserved for living breathing entities, is huge.” Well, a friend would have a birthday, so why not?
Fundamentally, this is an opportunity for brands to connect more intimately with their consumers. We want to be connected to our food, our toys, our furniture in a way that inevitably draws us more deeply into the brand story - and that can only be a good thing for brands that get it right. But what is getting it right?
Well, for one thing, honesty.
Honesty and sincerity.
Absolute transparency and integrity will be key to establishing credibility and connection with consumers.
Let's all learn our lesson from organics that aren't really organic, and California-branded veggies that are actually from China. Brands that open the kimono and offer consumers absolute transparency will establish the credibility and connection with consumers that create brand loyalty.
That means messaging needs to be honest and straightforward, and it should convey candidly and directly what the purchase will ultimately offer that enhances the consumer’s life as well as the environment. Anything that smacks of contrived marketer-speak will immediately be rejected and hyperanalyzed. ‘Localwashing’ (the bastard stepchild of ‘greenwashing’ which was itself the bastard stepchild of ‘whitewashing’) has already become a pointed and damning insult.
Telling your localstory.
No longer enough to have an interesting ‘backstory’ plus a ‘sustainability story,’ all major brands will also need a ‘localstory’ – something that links them to the grassroots in an honest and meaningful way.
What does it mean for innovation?
Is this locavore thing a passing trend, like fondue, or will it fundamentally shift the landscape of our economy and culture? We think the latter. And that means new products, new services, even new business models are bound to emerge.
Sub-brands and local editions.
Expect to see major brands launching ‘local’ lines.
Many large brands are likely to start to have local sub-brands, the way they have organic sub-brands – kind of the way dotcoms were once essentially a sub-brand. Plus, we figure there could be lots of local edition, available-only-in versions of things, made with locally sourced ingredients and/or manufactured locally. Think: Kraft Jersey Singles or The BK Texas Burger. This is likely to happen first among brands targeted at young families, who (according to Mintel) are the most zealous local shoppers.
Meaningfully involving consumers in innovation will reinforce the grassroots connection consumers crave.
Responding effectively and speedily to shifting consumer demand can best be achieved by actually soliciting consumers' ongoing participation. Brands that manage to meaningfully involve consumers as they innovate will wind up not only best meeting consumer needs but also reinforcing a sense of authentic, localism. Crowdsourcing, for example, is already in full swing as a viable innovation model, motivated by the aforementioned, and spurred, we believe, by much of the same zeitgeist that is driving the local movement.
Corporate giants disguised as Main Street USA will begin to appear at a strip mall near you.
Imagine: the EPCOT Center of brands. It’s all owned and operated by Disney, but each little kiosk is built out to feel like a real live country! Imagine: Joe’s Hardware (a Wal-Mart family company). And a whole town full of those. They look and feel like real old-fashioned family businesses, but Wal-Mart runs them all!
We kid, but maybe it’s not such a bad idea. Maybe those Wal-Mart family companies actually support a town-full of local families – farmers, artisans, shopkeepers. At the end of the day, what’s wrong with that?
What does it mean for design?
Every trend results in a visual manifestion. From structural packaging to graphic design, the local movement will evolve the look and feel of the products that surround us in our daily lives.
Customized, thoughtful design.
Whether it’s smaller stores for urban markets or baby strollers for rugged Aussies who like to take the wee ones off-roading, Love is being understood.
When consumers feel a brand understands them, really understands the local parameters of their lives, the aspirations and desires that motivate them, the details of their day-to-day, and that that brand has gone out of its way to design products or services that address all that comprises Who They Are, that is a recipe for lasting loyalty and true brand love.
Minimal structures, sustainable substrates, on other environmentally and socially conscious choices will serve to connect with consumers’ personal values.
A brand – like a person – is defined by its choices. All of a locavore-friendly brand’s choices must support a sense of being part of a responsible community. Choices express values and beliefs. Simplicity, responsibility, accessibility… these will be the hallmarks of a successful brand persona. Low-impact packaging options like pouches, Tetra Paks, thinner glass, BPA-free plastic, and recycled / recyclable / up-cyclable materials of all kinds will grow continually more mainstream.
And the beauty part is this: not only is all this great for Brand Love, but it also happens to decrease production costs and reduce environmental life cycle costs.
Transparency – literally.
Nothing says ‘I know what’s inside’ like actually seeing what’s inside. We expect thoughtful packaging for products of all kinds to offer a window to the goods.
Personal stories and local maps will appear with frequency on-pack.
It’s already starting but will continue to grow significantly. Look in the dairy aisle – you can learn a lot about the guy that milked the cow for you. We expect to see the equivalent of McDonalds’ local hero placemats on packaging design from cereal boxes and candy bars to soap and shampoo.
Local street maps, in particular, are on the rise as a design element everywhere – from baby clothes to annual report covers.
This is all good news for the Ronnybrooks of the world. It doesn’t get more legitimately local than a small, family-run organic farm. But less so for the Pepsis and Cokes of the world. Processed foods (and other man-made items) of all kinds will have to work hard to find their legit localstory, and many will have to create one from the ground up. But you cannot be what you’re not. ‘Spinning’ a story will send consumers running, or, worse, boycotting. More than local, a brand’s story and persona must be authentic. Nobody wants to hear about locally sourced high fructose corn syrup.
To Ronnybrook and friends, we say: if you’ve got it, flaunt it. For everyone else, good branding advice is really just the same as good relationship advice. Listen. Respond. Show you care. Show you understand. Build trust. Be generous. These are the ways to inspire love. And with love comes loyalty, perhaps for a lifetime.