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Life is Brand in the Village

Category: , Posted:19 Mar 2011 | 06:00 am

For the all-knowing barfly the "local" is where it's at. Of course American television jumped late into the act with well-known "Cheers", but who can argue about a place where everyone knows your name.
Being known is not always the best thing for an ignominious few, say the likes of those in the witness protection program or taking a deserved break from a stalker or temporary restraining order, but in business it is the be all or end all of survival.
As with many concepts imported to Phuket, much of 'being local' falls between the cracks on the island. Globally trace back to The Stepford Wives, McDonald's or more the recent Starbucks craze and it's increasingly hard to capture or experience life in the hood. International brands have taken on a more friendly face to woo an androgynous client base that transcends international borders, sex, nationality or economic standing.
Politics caught on back in the '90s, when Wild Bill Clinton's long-suffering wife Hillary became the poster child for going low in the food chain with the New York Times bestseller 'It Takes a Village'.
Over the past decade, a growing number of businesses and wily entrepreneurs in the West have developed just about everything from hotels to restaurants to any other consumer brand – all playing on individualized localism.
Small businesses commanded premium prices against the corporate giants by pushing "smaller is better" and using words like "niche", "lifestyle" or "boutique".
I can't quite put my finger on all the reasons why but consumer behavior in Asia remains locked back in time. Perhaps it's the jet stream over the dateline, but the region remains brand-centric. Truth be known, in this respect the gap between east and west is getting more profound.
A sterling example was the Crispy Kreme donut chain opening at Bangkok's ultra-swank Siam Paragon mall last year. For months, queues of people lined the sidewalks each day, all waiting anxiously for those wan ton sugar-coated objects of desire.
On Phuket we have a large selection of local, regional and globally branded hotels. The same goes for real estate agents, retail shops and of course that beacon of ingenuity: 7-Eleven. Freedom of choice is everywhere.
The big question in "going local" is whether to go with the tried and tested formula or to walk on the wild side. For both expatriate residents and tourists it is often difficult to punt for one or the other, as either the business owner or the customer, as it always took a leap of faith to go to another country much yet a small island in the Andaman Sea.
Comfort food, nostalgia or perhaps a hint of homesickness could play minor roles in making the decision, but brandologists would have us believe that bigger is better. As most of us know, that's not always the case.
Taking a glance in the mirror is always good. Reflecting on our values and what inner force drove us to live in a foreign land in the first place took a good amount of independent thinking.
But more to the point is that choice is good, and to celebrate the full palette of Brand Thailand and the island can always lead to surprising results.
I have my own feet firmly planted in both camps. There is an amazing selection of good local services, shops and businesses that deserve our attention. After all, life in the village is pretty good.

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