Don’t buy local if local sucks

I’m not a fan of “buy local” campaigns when loser brands try to guilt you into buying their inferior products from people who could care less, just because you live in the same zip code.

I said the same thing about “Made in America” campaigns in a Toastmasters presentation more than 20 years.

Too many organizations rely on locale rather than provide good service or good products – or a good experience.

If you buy exclusively from a company just because it’s local or just because it’s made in the USA, all you’re doing is rewarding a real estate decision. You’re not confirming a good brand. In many cases, you’re actually encouraging lousy service, crappy products or behavior that’s not worth encouraging.

Several years ago, I walked in the door of a local car dealership to talk to the general manager about sponsoring the local soccer club. Local charitable contributions can be a very strategic move by a company with the courage to carefully and purposefully make the right connection for their brand. This guy didn’t want to hear any of it. He unleashed a 10-minute monologue about the locals who have never supported his dealership, who buy their cars from other dealerships in central Iowa and how he was going to show them all by moving the dealership to another nearby community.

The first thing that crossed my mind was “how long ago did he make the decision to move?” Secondly, I realized he had put all his eggs in the “buy local” basket. He thought that all he had to do was open his doors and the locals would come running. Something tells me put on his suit of disappointment every day before heading off to work.

Here’s an alternative: How about a “LOOK Local First” campaign?

Such an effort would replace guilt with a beneficial suggestion. Then, local companies that were built to serve their customers would have a chance to shine while the losers would be exposed for what they were. In a smaller business community, there might even be a bit of accountability put into place so the bad apples don’t spoil it for the rest of them.

Brand happens every time a customer experiences a business, and local companies have only a slight advantage because of proximity to their customer. That advantage can evaporate, however, when the company takes the customer – and the experience – for granted, and expects loyalty because they’re close by.

When “Buy Local” has a demonstrable benefit – such as the freshness you can get with local produce, for example – there’s a brand-building moment. Even better? Make a great brand experience that has nothing to do with your location. When you do that, people will seek you out, no matter where you are.

One of my favorite examples is Barratta‘s, an Italian restaurant that has created a loyal following despite its hard-to-find location deep within the south side Des Moines neighborhood.

Are you taking something for granted about your brand? Do you expect your customers to love you just because you’re nearby? Are you able to demonstrate value in your proximity or are you relying on guilt?

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