Localism’s potential is limited by the scale needed to innovate
The pandemic has accentuated consumers’ already strong affinity for local brands, but innovation budgets remain big brands’ advantage.
On a sticky London night a little while back, after walking past the queue outside McDonald’s, then joining one to get some much-needed Evian, I found myself contemplating one of the big consumer behaviour changes being touted as a new post-crisis norm: localism.
According to a study from research company Kantar, the Covid experience has driven a surge of support for local produce in all parts of the world. Chinese consumers felt most strongly about sticking to the buy-local mantra, with 87% agreement, followed by consumers in Italy (81%), South Korea (76%) and Spain (73%). Overall, 42% say they now pay more attention to the origin of products. Localism has gone global.
The ideology of localism predates the crisis, of course, and – to do justice to its proponents – embraces more than just whether you happen to choose a domestic cola over a Coke. Much of what it espouses concerns the natural levels of governance appropriate for societies – with argument for decision-making layers somewhere between the ‘Dunbar number’ of around 150 people that any individual will personally know and the 3,000 to 5,000 people that make up a small community. Hyperlocal sourcing and even homesteading are the main consumption themes.
For marketers, though, and especially those with ‘global’ in their title, it is the unknowns of the consumer behavioural trend that send shivers down the spine. Will mighty brands that have been nurtured and nuanced over decades be felled by artisan offerings in a million farmers’ markets? What scale of seismic shift are we talking about here? And what can be done to confront it?