Popular will be all things local
Globalization and digital connectedness have given brands unprecedented chances to grow. But bigger doesn’t always mean better. Globe-striding corporate behemoths may look unassailable today, but they’re increasingly vulnerable to disruption from artisanal local brands. After years of large-scale expansion, things might just be about to get smaller.
Today’s interconnected world offers countless opportunities for companies to cash in on our desire for quality. Starbucks, for example, is meeting growing demand for refined, artisanal products with its Reserve store format, offering micro-lot coffees paired with food offerings from Princi, a chain of upscale Italian bakeries. The same motivations can be seen in Nestlé’s moves to buy Blue Bottle Coffee and Sweet Earth Foods.
Digital allows any brand to sell globally. At the same time, big-box companies have grown exponentially, often at the expense of the local mom-and-pop business. But change is in the air. The post-recession road to recovery has been bumpy, and has changed consumers’ views on the brands they want to buy. A global revival of nationalism is adding a spirit of protectionism to the mix.
International audiences don’t always think the same as those at home either. When Wal-Mart went to China, for example, the company stumbled as it found huge challenges in adapting the right product mix for each region. Global big box retailers historically haven’t been best equipped to meet the demands of local markets. China is an example of this for virtually all US born companies.
As such, brands will need to find the balance between looking inwards to nurture the local – and looking outwards to explore the global. Maybe it’s about major decentralization, where local providers deliver services. Maybe it’s about tapping into hyper-networked consumers’ urban pride. Or maybe it’s about creating a buzz with product scarcity, pop-up stores, and transparent sustainability.
Everlane is a direct-to-consumer startup producing high-quality, small batch wardrobe staples and continuously iterating its designs to improve product lines. Part of its unique selling position (USP) is radical transparency – shoppers can view evidence of the working conditions in the factory that made each item.
For a brand like Cuyana, eschewing the high-volume, low-price mentality of globalized fashion retailers is a key part of their ‘lean closet’ approach. Guided by the motto “Buy Fewer, Better Things,” the company is tapping into consumers’ desire for quality by producing, subtly branded, luxury goods through a global network of artisanal workshops and factories.
For today’s consumers, sustainability sells. The founders of Allbirds set out to make the world’s most comfortable shoe using one of the most sustainable materials: local New Zealand merino wool. The minimalist brand uses Instagram to both build a strong consumer following, and act as a focus group for its product lines. This is the modern day example of Shinola, which happened to grow as Detroit started its revival.
This kind of commerce is all about buying quality while ‘doing the right thing’. Warby Parker, for example, has transformed the way consumers buy trendy prescription eyewear by enabling them to try on reasonably-priced high-quality frames at home for free. Their buy-a-pair, give-a-pair program has also made over a million pairs of glasses available at affordable prices in the developing world. More and more, we will see this from new product or service offerings. How are the products or services I buy making a difference?
So, we should expect an evolving definition of globalization going forward. To succeed, you need to think local too.