Size Does Matter: Consumers Rally Behind the Small and Local Movement
Posted on February 27, 2015 by Marian Salzman
[Originally posted by The Guardian.]
Are we tired of small and local? They’ve become part of everyday life, but most of us are probably followed around by the guilt that we’re not doing more to support businesses on our doorstep.
Small and local aren’t new concepts, but we are craving—even needing—them now more than ever. It’s not just that food from the local farmers’ market tastes better than food that has spent a week on a truck. It’s the idea of something we can recognise, relate to, connect with and simply know. (Although size might not matter to some, micro is the new macro, and this means artisan-made and locally curated is aspirational luxury.)
Small and local has been a mainstay on trendspotters’ annual reports, including mine, in the recent past. But for 2015, I took a fresh look, delving into small business and the shifting definition of local in a world lived increasingly online. The internet collapses space and time, shrinking the world into the palm of your hand yet making it unimaginably big. We feel dislocated, alienated and probably overwhelmed. And why wouldn’t we, with 41,000 new Facebook posts per second, 278,000 tweets per minute and 300 hours of YouTube video uploaded for every one minute we watch. Global images—from our virtual communities and from complete strangers—are delivered on demand to anyone with a mobile device, so that global has become everyone’s local. You can’t get much more local than a screen held inches from your face.
What’s real, what’s acted and what’s computer-simulated blur together on our screens. Actors, legendary CEOs and politicians can all seem more vividly familiar than a neighbour a few doors down. But the global community isn’t the same thing as in-the-flesh local. That DIY guy on YouTube might seem like our BFF, but when we need someone to fix our stuff, we need a real person. Social media friends might be full of virtual compassion and advice, but when something bad happens, it’s local friends and neighbours who will provide the tea and sympathy.
Now that the rush and novelty of accessing the whole world is wearing off, we’re exploring how to balance global and local, and marketers are puzzling over how to answer our calls for each. Take small business. The garage is cooler than the corner office and the scrappy-startup-that-struck-gold is the new Horatio Alger myth. As we root for these low-rent entrepreneurs, marketers scramble to write the most compelling stories of one-man bands who have bootstrapped their way to success.
Of course, we also benefit—by doing business with smaller companies that don’t blow our money on overheads. And since their social and strategic causes are likely to be rooted in our community, we can all feel like we’re doing well by doing good.
Speaking of which … good causes also reveal the global-local dynamic. Over the years, consumers have become increasingly aware of the plight of stricken individuals in far-off places, but it’s simpler to focus on local causes where the needs and results are tangible and where we don’t feel as powerless.
Surprisingly, it’s the digital-native millennials who are most likely to hanker for a life that’s more local. They like compact mixed-use developments, for instance, where they can walk to stores, restaurants and offices—the sort of geographic closeness that fosters a sense of physical closeness.
For better or worse, digital connectivity is helping to drive the trend toward local, and marketers and entrepreneurs are cashing in. Location-aware apps provide a sixth sense for what’s happening locally, while location-aware social media enables users to move seamlessly between online and offline interaction. This can sometimes lead to the puzzling situation of a group of people physically together in the same place but each peering at their smartphone.
Living in the global village is a great idea in theory, but in practice it’s billions of people holding trillions of conversations. The din can be overwhelming, making the small and local movement more appealing by the day.
[photo: creativecommons.org/Gonzalo Baeza H]