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Speaking at a recent event in London, Bola Gibson of TSB Bank and Mike Barry of M&S outlined their respective approaches to ‘going local’, discussing the ways that corporations can respond to what many see as growing trends of personalisation and localisation.

However, while more and more big brands are going down this path, is ‘local’ what people are looking for when they choose to shop in a place like M&S? While many of us like the idea of lots of local shops lining our high-streets, when faced with the commitments of a busy life, it is the big chains — or increasingly the Internet — that often win out. So, what role is there for corporations to be local, and how do they do it while preserving the convenience for the consumer that comes with being a big national brand?

According to Barry, the aim of M&S is to localise not in terms of product, but in terms of “footfall and customer service”, giving people “humanity, warmth, and the desire to be in a shop”. This means that rather than stocking local products, staff and store managers themselves are empowered to become a part of the community, working to develop an identity for the store that’s rooted in the local area. Another example is the new M&S email strategy, where the generic, nation-wide email update has been replaced with news tailored to a member’s local area.

Both M&S and TSB Bank are also concerned about being local not just in terms of the consumer, but also in their wider impact in the community — benefiting the areas in which they operate irrespective of whether the people they help are customers. M&S do this through donating excess food, and then volunteering in the local food banks that distribute it. For TSB, it is about empowering branch managers to take control of charity partnerships, volunteering links and sponsorship in their local area. For example, in 2015 they scrapped the National Charity of the Year, and allowed every branch to select their own organisation from the local area to support.

Bola Gibson describes the incredible results and feedback they have had from this approach. After going local, funds raised by staff for charity nearly tripled, and managers reported increased morale in the branches. Local people were overwhelming positive about seeing TSB support local causes, and the supported organisations themselves benefited from increased exposure in the community.

From the stories of M&S and TSB Bank, perhaps we can conclude that the key to going local for big brands is to think not only about product or service, but instead about what impact and benefit a corporation can have in the local communities in which they operate. If schools, charities and community cohesion are the beneficiaries of a move towards local, then consumers can continue enjoying the familiarity of supermarkets, or the convenience of a bank branch in every town, while knowing that the places they spend (or save) their money do care about and support what is local to them.

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