Customization and personalization are increasingly important marketing opportunities. Customization means flexibility of product and service design. Personalization means respecting and reflecting personal differences, attitudes and values. Personalization conveys respect for customers as individuals.
There is another powerful force… the lure of localization. Localization is more than the farmers’ market or the neighborhood craft brewery. Local is a distinctive feeling of community. Local creates a sense of belonging.
Locally sourced, locally crafted, locally owned, regionally authentic, one-of-a-kind, bring a sense of cultural, ethnic, economic, and social connection. Artisanal, regional cheeses, local distilleries and breweries, grass-fed cows on local farms, cage-free chickens, arts and crafts, non-GMO, fresh, organic, locally made employing local people, and other local elements and activities that bring “real” into our lives continue to grow and are increasingly attractive and affordable. Homemade items from Etsy; retro items from eBay; and modern vintage from Restoration Hardware – all of these give us a sense of truth.
Local is more than location. It is also about local values. It is the comfort of belonging to a familiar community. Localism provides authenticity, genuineness, and a true sense of reality as in “This is what it is really all about.” It is a feeling of being a part of people just like me.
Feeling like a local gives us a sense of belonging to a social group with distinctive interests and priorities. In our current world, we have this need to belong while we consciously attempt to maintain our individuality. Feeling like a local means that we can stand out while we blend in.
For Millennials especially, it is important to feel like a local. Millennials value living and working in the same neighborhood. They like “walking neighborhoods where you step outside your home, and have opportunities to have exchanges with others. In walking neighborhoods, people pass others on the street, and can connect. In a digital, AI, VR, and AR world, we need neighbors and belonging more than ever before.
Short-term residential rental housing is leveraging this need. For many people, staying away from home creates a sense of loss. We lose our anchors. Instead of staying at a standardized global hotel brand, people are searching for hotels with a local, neighborhood feeling. As Airbnb says, short-term rentals let us choose a neighborhood where we can “live like a local.” Feeling and acting like a resident is important. Barry Sternlicht (former CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and creator of W Hotel and Westin’s Heavenly Bed) is investing in short-term residential rentals. His investment in a start-up goes to support the addition of new upscale, branded residences for short stays to compete with brands like Lyric, which is listed on Airbnb. Airbnb has its own brand as well, “Friendly Buildings Program” that features rental units provided by “friendly” landlords. The short-term residential rental market appeals to corporate travelers who prefer integrated neighborhood lodging experiences.
WeWork is another example of creating feelings of belonging. WeWork generates feelings of community. Not only does the brand provide communal office space, but, also, through its WeLive brand, it offers apartments. And, to provide for physical and mental wellness, We Work just opened Rise, its gym and spa featuring treadmills, boxing bags, saunas, and massage studios. (The New York Times indicates that the Rise memberships are from $100 to $360 a month.)
Brands have an amazing opportunity to leverage the need for feeling like a local – enhancing the sense of belonging – for all individual customers. Here are three things brands can do right now:
- Figure out what makes your brand “authentic” to its audience and then consistently and creatively deliver that authenticity in its experience. Increasingly, deliver the local “real thing” over a who-knows-who-how-where it-was-made. We want something genuine, honest, we can trust. People trust local over distant. People trust locally grown over imported from Mexico.
- Design ways that customers can become involved in the brand community. People want to feel like a local – this need to belong is a need to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Create personalized participation for customers. Don’t automate everything. People see certain services as being more authentic when delivered by a human. All-digital-all-the-time can be dehumanizing and deadly. Feeling like a local entails being within a neighborhood of real people.
- Create conversations. Employ the art of conversation. Conversation is collaborative: it is an engaging, connecting, channel-agnostic interactive, and integrative force. Whether vocal or digital, it can be used to generate a feeling of local. Conversation builds trust.
Feeling like a local helps us understand our places: our communities, our neighborhoods, our homes, or our countries. Feeling local binds us together as belonging to some place or communal physical, psychological, geographical or virtual space. Local provides kinship with a particular place, wherever that is, and in whatever physical/virtual state that is. Technology is transforming the world by lowering the physical barriers of place. By respecting local values and tastes and ideas, by rooting in the local space, brands deepen trust.