As the pendulum swings away from big brands and globalization, demand for localization increases

Originally published in Greenville's Upstate Business Journal. View the original article here.

Time to Get Real

Localization is now one of the most significant trends deeply affecting subsets of our culture, gaining momentum, and increasingly affecting a broad array of business interests.

In the 1980s and 1990s, we saw the rise of globalization. As consumers sought to be unique, they bought goods from diverse geographic places and they stood out from their local peers. Baby boomers were the primary drivers of big-brand loyalty and this global trend. Technological advances in automation, logistics, transportation and even currency exchanges enabled the demand for globally sourced products to be fulfilled. Consumer demands and technology simultaneously globalized in response to one another.

It’s no longer unique to buy big-brand or globalized products. Instead, they want locally grown, artisan-produced, small-batch and transparently sourced. They want organic rather than synthetic. They want authentic rather than perfect and glossy; flaws are embraced since they are genuine. They want “real” in a real sense, not in marketing-speak. These younger consumers are a key target audience that collectively serves as a key leading indicator of broader, cultural-trend adoption (think social media, smartphones, farmers markets, the shared economy like Uber and Airbnb). This subset, with its record of catalyzing movements, is giving us a glimpse of broader emerging business trends toward localization.

It’s not just the product economy, though, that is gravitating toward localization. In our increasingly pervasive information economy, nearly all demographics are overwhelmed by white noise online; what some are now calling “content clutter.” For instance, according to a report from software developer Domo, Google receives over 4 million search queries per minute. While most websites and content within those sites are not quality per se, there’s still an ever-increasing amount of data that no one has the time or interest to sift through.

In the same way that localization is now permeating lifestyle, it is permeating user trends online. Google’s core value proposition is providing relevant search results based on content. You could draw the parallel that content has been in its globalization phase of development. But demands on information-consumers’ time have caused the pendulum to swing toward a technologically novel form of localization where content is identified as relevant by the new curators.

This curated content is the new leading edge and its expert collectors are the new centers of influence on the Web. Web users want to trust a source and have that source make recommendations to them because they don’t have time to evaluate everything for themselves. The new brand loyalty online says, “If you give me authentically sourced, locally grown, artisan-produced information, I will listen to you when you suggest I explore or follow or recommend other sources of content.”

In many ways, this burgeoning trend toward localization does not have the gravitational pull to force significant change in how most industries go about their daily business… yet. The momentum is primarily among a subset of consumers, the information they consume, and the lifestyle products they buy. However, the likes and dislikes of leading-indicator consumers usually have a trickle-down effect among the masses. And once larger brands believe they’ve seen enough data to warrant their time and investment, you can be sure that they will follow suit.

The Upstate of South Carolina already has a good foothold on the edge of this localization through locally focused information resources like, TOWN magazine, and the Upstate Business Journal. It also has an ever-increasing amount of local craftsmanship (Merrimack Canoe Company), locally sourced goods (Swamp Rabbit Cafe), local artisans (Methodical Coffee) and local flavors (Soby’s, High Cotton, and many more) that have caused Greenville to become a destination of choice.

Coupled with a thriving business community, this localization has caused Greenville to be viewed as a quintessential example of commercial and cultural flourishing. And any cultural reaction that results in human flourishing is not only worthy of our acknowledgement, but also worthy of our pursuit.