Brand Building: All Marketing Is Local

Walker SmithMarch 2, 20123 min

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill coined a famous phrase after his first and only losing election campaign in 1935 when he said, “All politics is local.” Political scientists have debated his observation ever since, but there is no doubt that it captures something fundamental about connecting with people in a way that will influence their choices. Not just votes, but brand choices, too. Particularly in today’s economy, brand marketers would do well to remember that all marketing is local.

I was reminded of this when I ran across a recent story in the German newspaper Der Spiegel. As reported in this story, the trend of outsourcing jobs and manufacturing to China has a new twist with Chinese auto company Great Wall becoming the first to outsource jobs to Europe, a harbinger of things to come and, more importantly, a way for marketers to grow their brands in distressed developed markets. In those local areas, Chinese outsourcing will create jobs, which in turn will ripple out to the local economy.  Brand marketers following closely behind Chinese outsourcing will find pockets of strong demand in the midst of otherwise hard-pressed localities.

Indeed, this is one of the keys to growing brands in slow-growth developed markets like the U.S., the U.K. and Europe, as explored in greater detail in a recent Future Perspective white paper from The Futures Company entitled, Quickening the Pace: What a Slow-Growth West Demands of Brands.  One of the distinctive features of this downturn and stagnant recovery has been the concentration of its impact on certain consumer groups and geographic regions. The aggregate effects have been huge and virtually unprecedented, but many consumers and localities – most, in fact – have skated by as others have suffered disproportionately. This is no consolation for those who have been severely affected, but marketing that is specific, and local, to those who still have the wherewithal to buy is a big avenue of opportunity for brands.

For example, the contrasting economic performance of U.S. citiescan be arrayed on dimensions ranging from overall economic output to employment to home values. As these contrasts demonstrate, any assessment other than local is inexact. Some localities are doing well, with abundant opportunities for smart marketers.

Similarly, the Great Recession did not affect all consumers equally. All studies have shown unequivocally that many consumers escaped the worst and are jumping back into the marketplace.

Brand marketers can find a path to success by concentrating their efforts where potential is available, an imperative that is not going away. Though recent signs are positive for the U.S. economy, a slow-growth recovery still looms. Brand marketers need to focus their efforts. Some localities and consumer groups should be skipped, not only because they offer little potential but because marketing to them would make a brand seem insensitive, irrelevant and irresponsible.

That said, many localities and consumer groups are doing well and offer big opportunities. This is where brand marketers need to focus. This is the strategy for growth in a slow-growth marketplace. This is the recipe for success in the current economy. Simply put, brand marketers need to pinpoint marketing initiatives. More than ever, make all marketing local.

The corollary is that in this recovery local marketing becomes an intense local share battle. To make up for lost potential with hard-hit consumer groups or localities, brands will need to grow with other consumers or markets. While it is well recognized that competition in a weak economy is all about share, it is even more so in an economy in which, more than ever, all marketing is local.

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