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2010 and the rise of localization: Why we should be building city brands as much as our national brand.
Globalisation has a new edge. It is much less unidirectional, much less obvious, and much less Western than it has been for the past twenty years. The global village may still be shrinking, but this village is no longer run from one leafy suburb. The 21st Century will be grittier and more diverse. We know that Asia is on the rise, and that the next big brand may be South American, or even African. Globalisation is, in fact, finally starting to resemble what its advocates always said it was; a tighter community, but not a generic or homogenised one.
And it is in this context of shifting globalisation that local pride is gathering momentum. There are a number of reasons for this. The grip of one dominant culture on the world is slipping, freeing up alternative points of view. Media channels have become more targeted, fractured, democratic and participatory. Content is now produced as much as it is consumed - everyone has a voice, and truth therefore becomes relative. The previously disempowered have opinions and the freedom to coalesce around real interests and participate in forming their own identity. There is also frustration with all things overly smooth, stylised and fake that is powering a new drive for what is authentic, real and relevant. And, lastly, the eco-minded are searching for products and brands that are locally made, locally sourced and haven't travelled across the world.
And so the backlash against global generica is strong. We feel this particularly in this country as the World Cup has given a huge boost to local pride, and encouraged the exploration of what makes each nation unique. The streets are awash with brands celebrating local, from the massive MTN billboard at the top of Long Street telling us how 'ayoba' our city is, to the "Levi's Loves Local" celebration of African urban style. But what matters for brands is not localisation for localisation sake. What matters in this new love for community, culture and location is that what you offer is real, and that your audience can relate to it. It is not driven from above by brand managers or political parties; it is a groundswell of community, self-expression, and consumers filtering out that which is irrelevant to them.
A sense of belonging and community is far more powerful the more local you go. It is tangible if you buy a grapefruit from a valley that you have been to or seen (something that Ceres, and the wine industry, understand so well). The residents of a city share real interests, experiences and annoyances. There is a rapport established when you hear the noon-day gun from Signal Hill and commiserate with your colleagues as to how much more you had hoped to have achieved by then, or when you recognise the person in front of you in the queue from a party that you went to last Saturday. Nothing has felt so genuinely communal as the dancing we have been doing with our neighbours and visitors on our very own streets. This rapport transfers to brands that are proudly and visibly Jozi, or Glaswegian or New York - brands that allow consumers to share a meaningful common identity. Targeted digital advertising sends ads for your city, and your phone will suggest restaurants based on your location. As these technologies improve, consumers will increasingly view untargeted, blunt and generic messages as dull and irrelevant.
So while globalisation now enables regional and national idiosyncrasies, and the World Cup is fostering national pride, consider that even the nation may be too grand and too distant a concept. Tangible, real locality is being celebrated. We see brands celebrating the uniqueness of cities, from Absolut reintroducing their limited edition range of city vodkas - such as tea-infused Absolut Boston - to the ubiquitous 'I heart NY' t-shirts and 'LoveJozi' apparel. Other brands, such as onesmallseed or cream culture, are protectively hailed as particular to a region by their followers; a localised unifying force.
Global brands are accustomed to tailoring their products and communications for national markets, but now the customisation needs to be far closer to the ground. Think cities or suburbs. Marketing in the empowered world is about finding real communities and engaging with them about things that truly interest them and help them express themselves. It is the end of mass communications, and the dawn of the era of conversations and word of mouth marketing (both on and offline). Meaningful communities are smaller than big brands are accustomed to targeting. They are based on real commonalities, rather than glib or contrived claims. Understanding this will become crucial for brands in order to stay relevant to consumers who have had enough of marketing-speak.
2010 is giving us an increasingly rare opportunity to build national shared experiences, but is there not even more potential in leveraging the uniqueness of each of our cities? Would some of our energy not better be spent building Brand Jozi or Brand Durban, rather than Brand South Africa? The cities are what visitors have been experiencing; it is their discrete, quirky and interesting people that they have been interacting with. And their memories will be of our bars, and streets and stadiums.
Global citizens are first and foremost from a city. It's where the word comes from, after all.
About the author
Al Mackay's diverse interests have pulled him in many directions to date. But he believes in the old clichéd affirmation that diversity is the spice of life, and that every experience is an enriching one. He grew up in Johannesburg, but left to study fine art in Italy immediately after high school, before moving to Scotland, where he graduated with a Master of Arts in Politics from the University of Edinburgh. Al joined the Yellowwood Cape Town team in January 2009 on the discovery that brand strategy is the perfect art to nourish his fascination with human relationships and his creativity. He believes branding can be a force for positive change in today's world; adding true value to organizations by aligning them with what their consumers really want and in ways which are sustainable, inspiring and participatory. He loves that he can do this in an environment that constantly evolves and comes into contact with diverse industries, new people, and exciting business and branding challenges. His interests include travelling far and wide, digital media, and in his spare time you will find him writing, painting or spending as much time on the mountains and beaches of Cape Town as he can.
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