Advertisers face a massive challenge to win new customers as global lockdowns ease and the threat from Covid-19 remains ever present. Paps Shaikh advises going local.

People are helping one another during this crisis and they are expecting brands to play their part too. This coming together can be seen nowhere more strongly than on community websites and apps.

Right now, people are looking no further than their neighbours and local community for their everyday essentials. On community platforms, they’re asking for local recommendations for goods and services, such as a good plumber or handyman. They’re also coming together to form local bonds based around common interests and hobbies.

These platforms, where people are helping one another, offer brands the perfect channel to get their messages across.

Covid community spirit

This isn’t just a marketer’s observation; research backs up the gut feeling that local communities are becoming stronger and more important in daily life.

Government figures show more than a third of Brits “exchanged favours” with neighbours before lockdown, and now around a half are regularly checking in on each other every week. At the same time, the marketing press has reminded brands that this sense of neighbourly compassion means they have an opportunity to “shine” – as GfK puts it – by being relevant and helpful to customers in a difficult time.

That is because this community spirit is impacting purchasing behaviour. It is not a stretch to presume nearly half of consumers in the UK (44%) and the US (40%) are thinking of shopping more locally with trusted, responsible brands. According to McKinsey, lockdown has made consumers more mindful about how and where they spend their money. The biggest change to buying attitudes in both markets has been a switch in loyalty to those brands which have been kind to their employees during lockdown.

It may be tempting to think this need to be helpful and local is a short-term blip. However, two in three UK and US consumers surveyed in July 2020 reveal they expect Covid measures to last either longer than the next six months or an entire year.

How brands can add value to consumers’ lives

There has never been a more important time for brands to show up for their customers. The brands that understand how to put their customers front and centre are going to be the ones that thrive on the other side of this pandemic. While some feel helpless in these uncertain times, many are choosing to be helpful.

Right now, brand value propositions must be rooted in utility. Ask first how your brand might add value to consumers in this moment, then communicate it. No matter what business you are in or how you have been affected by the current crisis, being in touch with your customers is more critical than ever. They want to hear from you if you have relevant information and can deliver it with the right cadence, tone, and in the right way. This will help build trust with consumers, which is paramount, and advertising on a community platform where proximity is at the forefront is one way to do this.

Community sweet spots

Community platforms serve a neighbourhood, allowing people to share local requests and help one another out. Of more interest to businesses, they are often packed with appeals for recommendations for great restaurants, electricians, accountants and the like, as well as questions on when a business is open and which is offering the best deal.

Local community sites have groups forming around interests, such as cyclists coming together, answering questions for one another, arranging group rides and giving product recommendations. Or perhaps a book club picking their next page-turner or a group of foodies planning their next meal. Whatever the interest, community sites have natural groupings of people with shared interests.

This means local community sites become the social equivalent of a search engine, or more accurately, a recommendation engine. People type in questions because they don’t want an answer from an algorithm, they are looking for local knowledge from their neighbourhood that they can trust.

This provides the perfect opportunity for brands to engage with consumers when they are in the right mind frame. Take for example home management site Hoppy, which helps customers find trusted tradespeople. By advertising on a community platform, Hoppy can engage and reach consumers when they are looking for recommendations from people they trust the most – their neighbours.

Creating local awareness

Every business from the local corner store to national brands has an impact in the neighbourhood and therefore a role to play in the community. To communicate with consumers, brands need to pivot to community advertising as consumers shop local more often.

For a small local company, a starting point may be to set up a profile on a community website or app. This not only allows you to make announcements about things like changes to your operating hours or what you’ve got in stock, but it also allows people to suggest you are a good fit for what another neighbour is looking for.

National brands can utilize sponsored posts on community platforms as a way to engage locally with national scale. This allows for advertisers to reach highly engaged audiences who are actively in-market and seeking recommendations for their products and services.

Above all, brands are going to find they need to tap into this community spirit to reach new customers. Community platforms allow a business to achieve the real nirvana of marketing, promoting themselves while being helpful at the same time.