Most of us are lucky enough to live lives of incredible choice - so why can life sometimes feel more impersonal and homogenous than ever before? It’s one of the ironies of our age of globalisation (or perhaps because of it) that consumers increasingly aspire to buy from smaller brands rooted in specific locations.
Could it be that our current economic and social models of mass consumption and production have left us yearning for a rose-tinted time in which we felt closer to the people, places and processes behind the things we buy?
At the heart of the virtuous aspiration now known as ‘localism’ is the belief that where we live, who we do business with and how we’re anchored in the world around us matters. Brand owners have been quick to realise that a brand from somewhere has advantages over a brand from anywhere - specific provenance can trigger the belief that local is better quality, made by people who care and ultimately presents a more meaningful choice.
To find out more, we turned to with Creative Director Ellen Munro and Brand Strategist Jon Hillier, who shared their thoughts on localist design strategy and how brands can ensure they tap into localism at it’s most meaningful and authentic.
THE SPIRIT OF PLACE
‘There’s only so much you can learn from Google Maps’, says Jon. “The first step in any project is to go and visit – get a feel for what makes somewhere distinct and different. Of course, you can choose to literally depict a place on pack, but everywhere has an intangible energy – and you can only really find it by immersing yourself”.
For our work with Square Pie, our first point of call was the brand’s original stall in Spitalfields Market, where we took in the sights, sounds, smells and organized chaos of one of London’s most vibrant markets. “We took photos, spoke to people and really soaked up the atmosphere… and it proved essential to bringing some East London energy to the brand”.
PEOPLE MAKE A PLACE
A key driver within localism is the belief that we’re supporting someone real behind the brand, not just a faceless anyone. Brands can drive a sense of local connection through people, their stories and access to makers and regional ways of life. “Made by Farmers”, the evocative line that sits across every packet of Piper’s, may not be rationally relevant at a product level, but tells an important story about Piper’s scale, skill and humanity.
It’s often said that one of the benchmarks of a strong and successful brand is consistency, but most small local brands don’t have the luxury of global brand teams or a strict set of guidelines. “They’ve got a realness that doesn’t roll of a manufacturing line and consumers really embrace those quirks and hand-crafted touches and embellishments” says Ellen. Large brands looking to embrace a more local feel would do well to embrace quirk, irregularity and relax into a more authentically imperfect appearance.
Sticking with Pipers for a moment, we believe that when it comes to localism, specificity at a product level counts. “Be as local and as specific as possible”, adds Jon. “One needn’t know where Biggleswade is, for example, to know that if Pipers’ chilies are grown there and care enough to point it out, that they must be different, special or more characterful”.
DON’T FAKE IT
When it comes to big brands, unless you’ve got real local roots or a provenance story to tell, avoid being something you’re not. “It’s easy to get caught out in today’s connected world, we all still remember the Tesco fake farm fiasco and Waterstone’s getting caught out posing as local high street booksellers”.
Big brands that lack the capability to go truly ‘local’ could look to engaging with local communities, instead, believes Jon. “Being rooted somewhere isn’t a one way relationship. Healthy communities sustain healthy businesses and vice versa. Civically minded brands are taking steps to be proactively involved in their community: Hyundai are building libraries in Asia, New Balance a train station in Boston and Google are investing in Toronto’s urban infrastructure. All of a sudden, they’ve each got powerful local stories to tell”.
LOOK PAST THE POSTCARD
Many brands fall foul to lazy or literal ‘postcard’ branding using obvious references to provenance: a red bus for London or the Eiffel Tower for Paris. But these generic tourist board icons don’t provide depth or differentiation for seen-it-all consumers who’re looking for something more distinctive.
In their recent rebrand, Davidstow Cheddar sought to emphasise their Cornish roots not with St. Piran’s flag or Pasties, but by conveying the laid back regional attitude of ‘living on Cornish time’. “Try to find a unique angle and lay claim to a specific aspect of what makes your area special”.