It's been a busy few weeks. After talking at the launch of ACT (www.actirelandwales.org) I was asked no to Jason Mohammed Radio Wales show to talk about branding and companies online presence. The segment centred around a recent story from Totnes where they had successfully stopped a COSTA coffee from being allowed to open in the town. I think that planning had been allowed however the locals had objected to it strongly, which then made COSTA decide not to open for fear of tarnishing their brand.
The conversation moved quickly onto why people seem to becoming anti-big brand. There are a lot of thoughts as to why people are challenging brands and looking at their responsibilities as companies, but I though tI would look at this a bit deeper than I could while on a radio show. Also I hope to put it down in more of a cohesive train of thought.
Firstly for me there are two strands of this argument. On the one hand we are discussing big business and looking at how the recession has shone new light onto how businesses conduct themselves – banking is obviously been the main thrust to the outcry – I believe people have become more aware as to where their money is going. So if they spend £20 in their local Tesco they are realising that this doesn't necessarily go back into their community. This was recently pointed out through the disclosure of Starbucks and their tax avoidance measures. Equally while prices are low which is appreciated during a recession there seems to be a growing awareness that this is due to farmers and other producers being forced to reduce their prices by the big supermarkets and other retail chains. The power they have allows them almost to call their own costs and if producers don't match it they realise someone else will. The questions that start to surface in this scenario are.
They are always lowering their prices how can they make money?, and How can their produce ever be the best quality when competing in such a cut throat environment?
In the past we have worked with a number of companies that have supplied to supermarkets and their experiences have been mixed. Some like the constant orders and money coming in. Others feel like they have been squeezed by the supermarkets and have vowed never to supply to them again. Looking at other opportunities such as cash and carries, wholesale and supplying to local stores.
The second strand in my eyes was something centred around need. I believe competition is a great thing and the way our society has developed with the fittest surviving and thriving has always been the mantra. However what seems to be crazy for example is that somewhere like Totnes has over 40 odd coffee shops. In a population of 8,000. So there is thinking along the lines of how we responsibly create and develop our spaces in our towns? do we need 6 huge supermarkets surrounding towns? do we need 40 coffee shops?
I think the answer is NO. And I think we should look at it like this. Each town is very much it's own. They are geographically different, they have different populations and they have different histories and cultures. To this end they are almost like different people. So just like people, each person having similarities, they also have differences and therefore different needs. People need a balance of shelter, play, exercise, socialising, food and work and this is how I believe we should look at our towns. So we do not indulge solely in supermarkets, Equally we don't gorge on independent stores. We need a rich and varied diet. There seems to be a need for a lot of things that need to intersect for this to happen.
Policy, business, brands, local governance and communities all have to look at the spaces and places we inhabit and look at how we can bring the thinking together that responds to it's unique characters.