bad_marketing“Buy Local” is Bad Marketing

I understand the importance of community. We’re small business owners who volunteer in our community and we lend our marketing talents to local groups. We also teach our kids to have community spirit. When we volunteer, they’re volunteering as well. Being community active and working to make our home town of Lac du Bonnet, MB better is both a privilege and responsibility.

With that said, it seems every business advocacy group in every community has a “Buy Local” campaign. I’ll be honest, I hate it and, in most cases, won’t participate. Buy Local campaigns suck and are a gigantic waste of time and energy.

Why Are “Buy Local” Campaigns Terrible?

I know “Buy Local” campaigns are well intentioned but, with few exceptions, they’re not effective. That’s the first thing I hate about them. They waste time. People spend their money to serve they’re own self-interest – as they should.

I understand that people “like” the concept of Buy Local when asked. I also understand most people don’t make their purchasing decisions based on a moral imperative to Buy Local – nor should they. Good luck attempting to get consumers to go against human nature. Buy Local campaigns completely ignore how people make purchasing decisions.

Which leads me to my second reason – “Buy Local” campaigns sends a terrible message to entrepreneurs and customers. You’re not – in any way, shape, or form – entitled to someones business. You need to earn it! Simple geography simply isn’t good enough!

When other small business owners complain that people don’t support local business, what they’re really saying is, “I can’t compete.” It’s crutch and it can keep entrepreneurs from improving. It’s not that people have an aversion to shopping local – it’s that someone else earned their purchase.

Consumers shouldn’t be shamed because they purchased outside of the local community nor should they feel like they have to settle for a lesser product or service just to “Buy Local”.

Third. What is “Local”? It’s a term that isn’t well defined. What if a local restaurant opens more restaurants in other places? Are they no longer local? Are they now one of those evil corporations we here about? Tim Hortons was once a local coffee shop. What if the owner of the corner store lives out of town? What if you live next door to a franchise owner of a multi-national chain – does he/she operate a local business? They employ local people and your kids might go to the same school and be on the same hockey team.

Number four (and this one really annoys me) the fake multiple of the benefit when money is spent locally. Usually organizations claim money circulates 7 times through the community. It’s a fake number. They came up with it by reaching down pulling it straight out of their keister.

Supplies and services (including loans or other capitalization) purchased by local businesses are often from out-of-town suppliers. The owner(s) also spend and invest their money (profits earned from their business you bought from) outside of the community. Very simply, you can not know where the money goes after you spend it locally. But hey, it sounds good.

Finally, it adds no value to consumers. Free markets and competition improve products and services for consumers. Anti-competitive ideas don’t endear local merchants to local people.

An Exception to the Rule

On occasion local business groups do things under the Buy Local umbrella which I can get behind. I’ve seen local groups do a fake paper currency which can only be spent at participating local vendors. I’ve also seen “Moonlight Madness Sales” where local businesses stay open really late. In both instances sales and special offers are involved.
I like these because they offer an actual benefit to the consumer, usually in the form of a discount. It’s also an event where multiple businesses are coming together to combine and leverage their marketing power – similarly to a trade show. Both of these are competitive actions and strive to earn a sale.

Business advocacy groups should encourage more competitive actions by entrepreneurs instead of shaming consumers to Buy Local. Learn how your potential customers are making their purchasing decisions and be more competitive.

We need to focus on satisfying the market and earning customers.

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