Sell Local

February 2, 2023

Live it, like it, don’t leave… I think. 

No, eat pray live, that’s it… nope- that’s not it. 

Love. Laugh. Lactate… augh!

I can’t remember what the motto was, but it was something super catchy a community put out on a tourism video that really resonated with me. 

It was like no place else, it had trees and kids’ sports and people and some quads and fish, and a catchy tagline. Pack your bags kids, this town I saw online has white people outdoors! 

I hate to be cynical but, wait- no I don’t. But these promotional videos just don’t matter. Such projects give an organization something to do, but does it sway people? Every town has Little League and some trees, and probably even a fish or two. It was a well-done video and all, so that’s nice, but was it really worth it? The amount of time and effort that was spent on trying to attract people to visit the woods around town, could have (and should have) been spent on making the town better.

But this isn’t even my main point. Why is it so damn important to sell your town to people that don’t live in your town? What do outsiders have that locals don’t have? I mean, if my wife was constantly on Tinder, it might start to bother me. 

It was commonly touted amongst businessy type folk that it cost 5x as much to attract a new customer as it does to retain an existing one. Well, most towns have a lot of existing customers and yet they seem intent on ignoring them. Why not pay them a little love? Why not sell local? 

There are quite a few people that already call your town their home. They already own your product, whether they bought it or inherited it. They have an enormous vested interest in your product’s success. Why aren’t you considering them? Wouldn’t it be incredible if they liked your community as much- or even more than the people from two towns over? 

Friend, colleague, Michigan native, and multimedia wizard, Phil Eich of Storyville Social, encapsulated this concept best when he responded to a request from the community development organization, Saginaw Riverfront for a proposal to head up a traditional marketing and tourism effort. Phil responded by saying he had no interest in selling the community to people that lived the next county over because it was the residents that mattered, the residents were the ones that needed to buy in. They were the ones that needed to be sold on their own town. They needed to chance to tell and hear their own story in their own words. 

Saginaw took a flyer on Phil’s ‘sell-local’ approach- and it worked. The organization managed to achieve 3 million reads on its posts in the first 3 months of Phil running the campaign. It wasn’t fake or phony- and people could tell. This approach wasn’t about selling a concept, or trying to convince people something vaguely true about a place… it was about telling the story of its people. 

Phil understands something that most of us are a little slow to realize. People aren’t seeking to be sold on something new, they want to find appreciation in what they already have. They want to have a deeper relationship and more attachment to what is already in their life. We have enough companies selling us the best new and shiny whateverthingy, we don’t need our cities in the same game, thirsty for our likes. It simply isn’t about attracting new customers, it’s about deepening the relationship with the ones you already have. 

It is inherently easier for the city people currently call home to win them over and turn them into fans than it is to try and convince someone 30 miles down the road to up and move. And there is such a benefit in gaining the affection of locals. It’s the locals who pick up trash and show up to council to speak up, locals that can hype their town, renovate buildings and open new businesses. It’s the locals that run for school board and council and donate money to the t-ball team. A great town has passionately committed residents and this is why they deserve some attention. 

I’m not looking for a shiny new town to win me over. I don’t care about the trails or the strip mall or whatever it is that is being sold. I want dumb old boring stuff like a handsome downtown I can be proud of, local shops I can feel good about patronizing, neighbors I can get to know and grow a lifelong bond with, a place where I feel a sense of attachment and a town that makes me a more civic-minded person. I want a place where I can grow deep roots and can experience a sense of community. When a place makes people feel connected and proud, the best marketing in the world will pale in comparison to the way it feels just to get to call that place home. 

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