Thinking local

In a city where people can barely make eye contact, it was a surprise to hear a group of London consumers talk about a desire to get closer to their communities.

Jo Roberts
Jo Roberts

At a recent Promise expert forum that I attended, there was a wide range of people in attendance, from the so-called “influencers” who seem to live their lives on Twitter, to a mum with two children, who has struggled through the recession.

But almost without exception, everyone talked about getting closer to their local community in different ways. Some wanted to learn new skills by taking up a hobby, while others talked about having more social interaction by organising dinner parties at home for their friends.

Others spoke excitedly about how technology was allowing them to live completely different lifestyles than previously, linking to communities with common interests rather than thinking about community as their next-door neighbours.

The co-creation event was an interesting way to observe how people talk about their lives, and their hopes for the future. While brands are trying to outdo each other by developing snazzy technology, many people at the forum talked about getting back to the ’simple life’ or the ’good old days’.

This, say the Promise researchers, is a natural reaction to the recession. Konstantin Pinaev, a senior consultant at Promise says: “People want to feel part of something because it’s about safety and security. This is a natural reaction to the credit crunch.”

But this doesn’t mean that bigger brands and retailers have to miss out on this trend. In this week’s cover story, I explore how some brands are already getting more local in their outlook. Location-based tools like Foursquare are being used by some high street chains to create a much more local feel to their marketing strategy. Debenhams has signed up, and every time someone ’checks in’ to his or her local department store they can claim a free coffee once a week – a simple way of creating loyalty at a local level.

Other brands are trying to get to know local communities by facilitating local football training, like Tesco and McDonald’s. Both companies encourage their employees to get involved with their schemes too. High-street retailers are talking much more about local produce to their shoppers.

What the Promise forum indicated to me is that this craving by consumers for closer connections with communities is something that is only going to get stronger throughout this year. As a result, brands will have to learn to adapt their outlook to think a lot more about the local communities in which they operate.

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