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Marketing and Comms
A New Opportunity for Brands to Build Trust, Authenticity and Customer Loyalty

Localism is here to stay; and brands will increasingly be expected to understand what that means, so that they can make positive contributions to communities everywhere.

COVID-19 changed everything — especially how people think about their local communities. In all corners of the world, local people, businesses and community groups suddenly became incredibly important as we all navigated the restrictions imposed by the virus. Lockdowns fostered a sense of belonging; we all felt much more connected to where we live and much more likely to support local companies, look after our neighbors, and promote our local identity.

Localism is a trend that has outlasted COVID.

As many nations grapple with rising inflation and a cost-of-living crisis, people continue to be drawn to ideas, products and organizations that promote a local agenda — whether in politics, business or ecology. As economic uncertainty and geopolitical disruption dominate, people are seeking a sense of belonging as they become more attached to their local environment.

In response, brands are making moves to link their own agendas to localism — whether that is promoting their sustainability performance, enhancing their transparency or highlighting how their business is benefitting local communities. In China, for example, many brands follow what’s known as guochao — the concept of incorporating traditional Chinese cultural elements into products, showing that they understand and acknowledge what is important to local movements.

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It is a trend supported by research that shows 53 percent of consumers say shopping with small and local businesses gives back to their communities and gives them more purpose in their shopping habits. 62 percent of Malaysian consumers say they would like to know more about the people who produce the food and drink they buy; and 63 percent of US consumers say that they try to buy from local companies where possible.

Meanwhile, the latest research from Panoptic — a trend and foresight tool developed by IFF — highlights ‘local spirit’ as one of its 30 trends currently driving change among consumers. In its analysis, it highlights that people are “dismissing mass-produced goods in favour of products and experiences that are more unique and authentic. People want to experience more personal and meaningful interactions with local communities. They appreciate products and businesses that understand local cultures and history. And there is more value being placed on the stories behind products, brands and experiences.”

Brand examples

So, how are brands leveraging the love for localism? Last year, for example, McDonald’s supported Spanish farmers affected by wildfires by launching the “Burger That Could Not Be.” The profits from the limited-edition product — merely an empty, charcoal-black box to act as a reminder of the crops destroyed and all the burgers that could not be produced due to agricultural losses — were donated to farmers struggling to rebuild after the wildfires destroyed more than 47,000 acres of land in Valencia.

Elsewhere, Nike launched Nike Unite — a concept designed to help locals connect more closely with sport. Each concept store ensures that only local people get hired; and the design and visual merchandising is all about showcasing local partnerships with hometown athletes and local landmarks.

Food-delivery company Deliveroo has teamed up with the Singapore Red Cross to deliver first-aid training for its drivers. They are now equipped with vital skills and first-aid knowledge that could help them respond to situations when they are out delivering food in their communities.

Localism is big in beer

Building more authentic and locally focused brands has been a real focus for the beer market in recent years. As the world’s most popular alcoholic drink, beer has both a big environmental footprint and a significant opportunity to effect change.

Most beer relies on barley — by far the biggest raw material used in brewing — which is malted in a process that goes back more than 5,000 years. However, beer makers have always played around with different raw materials to save money and create new tastes — from oats and rye to cassava and sorghum. They have also added adjuncts to their process, such as un-malted grains or grain products to supplement the main mash ingredient, along with enzymes to overcome the challenge of low enzyme content in many adjuncts and lower the viscosity in the process.

All of this is good news for the localism agenda. Using locally sourced ingredients can offer consumers a more authentic experience from their favourite beer brands, making them feel more connected to the local community. Guinness parent company Diageo, for example, runs East African Breweries in Kenya. It has been buying sorghum from 60,000 smallholder farmers, using the barley alternative for its Senator Keg product.

Authenticity and transparency are key

Tapping into the localism agenda is a great way for brands to bring local communities together, creating a sense of society that more and more people crave. But it’s important for brands to be authentic and transparent in doing so. For example, companies will need to go further in giving consumers access to information that explains the local relevance of their products, why local ingredients and products are more sustainable, and how these products are providing local communities with a source of income.

Beyond product localisation, brands must also demonstrate they understand the local culture, how they fit into it and how their approach will benefit local people.

Localism is here to stay; and brands will increasingly be expected to understand what that means, so that they can continue making positive contributions to communities everywhere.